Greensleeves is a piece of music which has stood the test of time like no other. The song which was composed in the 16th century is still played frequently today in the 21st century although lyrics to Greensleeves seem to have fallen by the wayside. To dispel a common misconception the song is actually about green sleeves worn by a woman rather than Greens-leaves as in the leaves of a tree.
Greensleeves Song Lyrics and who wrote it?
There is a widely held misconception that the Greensleeves lyrics were actually written by King Henry VIII as part of his courtship of Anne Boleyn, as this has never been substantiated it is hard to verify it as being true. When investigating who wrote Greensleeves there is a lot of contracting evidence as a number of licenses for the music were granted in the same time period, with different musician providing the music with their own variations of lyrics and style.
As far as Greensleeves history is concerned the song is first recognised as being published in 1580. The lyrics to Greensleeves which are classed as the true version illustrate the love of a nobleman for his mistress, a somewhat unrequited love, as he is pleading for her to return to him.
Over the centuries many interpretations have been made of the lyrics to the song. There are claims that the ‘green sleeves’ belong to a lady of ill repute, her dress being stained green by the grass as she has lain with her lover.
What is the story behind the song Greensleeves?
While the creation of the song can be linked to the reign of King Henry VIII, there is nothing to suggest that even though the king was an accomplished musician that he did in fact compose the lyrics and music himself. However, a popular notion follows that Henry VIII might have written the song for his second wife Anne Boleyn.
In recorded history, the first mention of the song occurs in 1580 i.e. thirty-three years after Henry’s death.
Traditionally the words to Greensleeves describe a range of gifts and treasures that the man has given to his lover. These gifts include fine petticoats, stockings, pearls and jewels. He explains that this has all been at a great financial cost to him, and he hopes that all of his efforts to win her favour have worked.
Is Greensleeves a Medieval Song?
Although, a very popular folk tune, Greensleeves was written somewhere in the 16th century. It, therefore, cannot be referred to as a medieval song. It was an advanced composition in comparison to its time and had Spanish influence.
When was Greensleeves written?
The exact time of its creation is also unknown. Some scholars claim that it was actually composed in the Elizabethan era because it had the clear influence of Spanish and Italian styles which gained popularity in England during Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
Greensleeves Music Composition
The music which was composed in 1580, would have been traditionally played on a lute accompanied by a singer, or even flute. The name of the song Greensleeves could have reference to what the colour green represented in Tudor times, this could be love and joy, youth or even chastity and virtue.
There is still much speculation as to the real meaning, though the lyrics Greensleeves contained in the true version make it seem obvious. The chorus runs: Greensleeves was all my joy, / Greensleeves was my delight, / Greensleeves was my heart of gold,/ and who but my Lady Greensleeves. With one of the eighteen verses stating: Alas, my love, ye do me wrong, / to cast me off discourteously, / And I have loved you so long, / delighting in your company. It would seem obvious then that this is a song about unrequited love.