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
Alas, my love, you do me
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
It does the more enrapture me,
And even so, I still remain
A lover in captivity.
I have been ready at your
To grant whatever you would crave
Thou couldst desire no
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
And they did ever wait on thee;
All this was gallant to be seen,
And yet thou wouldst not love me.
Ah, Greensleeves, now
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.
love felt by King Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn
The length of
time she had kept him waiting to return his love
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"
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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