The old song Greensleeves is a traditional English folk song dating back to the sixteenth century. There has been considerable debate regarding the identity of the composer of the lyrics and music or melody of the song Greensleeves. The most popular belief about the identity of the composer relates to the legend that the words and lyrics of the song were written for Anne Boleyn (1502-1536) by King Henry VIII (1491-1547) during their turbulent courtship.
Publication of Greensleeves
Greensleeves was first believed to have been published in September 1580 when a printer named Richard Jones had licensed to him the lyrics and music of a song called "A new Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves". Another printer called Edward White also had a license to publish Greensleeves under the name of "A ballad, being the Ladie Greene Sleeves Answere to Donkyn his frende". The two printers argued for the rights of Greensleeves and various versions were published. Eventually in 1584 Richard Jones printed his final version of the words, lyrics and music to Greensleeves which appeared in a collection of songs called "A Handful of Pleasant Delights", which is the version we know today.
King Henry VIII and Greensleeves
King Henry VIII was an extremely accomplished Musician and Composer. Music and the ability to play musical instruments was essential during the Tudor era and the education of King Henry VIII included great attention to the development of musical skills. The obsession of King Henry VIII with Anne Boleyn started in 1526. King Henry VIII wrote the following in an excerpt from a love letter to Anne Boleyn which was written in 1528:
"...having been for more than a year now struck by the dart of love, and being uncertain either of failure or of finding a place in your heart and affection..."
This King Henry VIII quotation clearly illustrates the unfamiliar position of apparent unrequited love that King Henry had found himself in during his early courtship of Anne Boleyn. The connection between King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the words and lyrics to Greensleeves has been made due to the interpretation of the following words of the song which could be interpreted to reflect the relationship between Anne Boleyn and King Henry:
Alas, my love, you do me wrong,
To cast me off discourteously.
For I have loved you well and long,
Delighting in your company.
So must I meditate alone
Upon your insincerity.
If you intend thus to disdain,
It does the more enrapture me,
And even so, I still remain
A lover in captivity.
I have been ready at your hand,
To grant whatever you would crave
Thou couldst desire no earthly thing,
But still thou hadst it readily.
I bought thee petticoats of the best,
The cloth so fine as it might be;
I gave thee jewels for thy chest,
And all this cost I spent on thee.
My men were clothed all in green,
And they did ever wait on thee;
All this was gallant to be seen,
And yet thou wouldst not love me.
Ah, Greensleeves, now farewell, adieu,
To God I pray to prosper thee,
For I am still thy lover true,
Come once again and love me.
When the above verses are considered and compared to the relationship between Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII it is easy to interpret the lyrics and words of Greensleeves as a reflection of their relationship. Other verses of Greensleeves talk of the clothes which have been bought for the Lady Greensleeves - "The cloth so fine as it might be" and "With gold embroidered gorgeously". The "petticoat of sendal" refers to a thin light silk used in the Middle Ages for fine garments. So its easy to interpret the lyrics and words of Greensleeves as a reflection of the famous love story between Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII.
- The unrequited love felt by King Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn
- The length of time she had kept him waiting to return his love
- His frustration at this treatment and his reaction to it as in the words "why did you so enrapture me?"
- His readiness to give the Lady Greensleeves anything she wanted
- The clothes and jewels he gave her "Which cost my purse well-favoredly"
- Liveried men waited upon her - all aware of the game she was playing
- His confusion as to whether the Lady Greensleeves would ever love him
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