Posts Tagged ‘Greensleeves’

photo by Ruth1066 on Fkickr (Click image)

photo by Ruth1066 on Flickr (Click image)


Alas, my love, you do me wrong,

To cast me off discourteously.

For I have loved you well and long,

Delighting in your company.


Greensleeves was all my joy

Greensleeves was my delight,

Greensleeves was my heart of gold,

And who but my lady greensleeves.

Your vows you’ve broken, like my heart,

Oh, why did you so enrapture me?

Now I remain in a world apart

But my heart remains in captivity.


I have been ready at your hand,

To grant whatever you would crave,

I have both wagered life and land,

Your love and good-will for to have.


If you intend thus to disdain,

It does the more enrapture me,

And even so, I still remain

A lover in captivity.


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.


Thou couldst desire no earthly thing,

but still thou hadst it readily.

Thy music still to play and sing;

And yet thou wouldst not love me.


Well, I will pray to God on high,

that thou my constancy mayst see,

And that yet once before I die,

Thou wilt vouchsafe to 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.


Greensleeves was all my joy

Greensleeves was my delight,

Greensleeves was my heart of gold,

And who but my lady greensleeves.

Most people thinking about Greensleeeves from a Tudor point of view imagine it played on a lute – a round-backed string instrument which was popular from the early renaissance, up until about 1800.

Image from little Miss sunnydale on Flickr (Click image)

Taken from Little_miss_sunnydales Flickr photostream (Click image)

The golden age of the lute was during the 16th and 17th centuries, during which time notated music became the custom – rather than the fashion for improvisation which had gone before.

John Dowland (1563–1626) is probably the most famous lutenist of the era. He is most famous today for his melancholy songs ‘Flow my tears’, ‘I saw my lady weep’ and ‘In darkness let me dwell’. Karl Schumann writes,

The art of playing the lute … was a refined, soft, and at the same time colorful art, in sharp contrast to the agitated times in which it was practised’.

Greensleeves too is a song of yearning and heart-break. No-one knows who wrote it. Some say Henry VIII penned the verse and tune for Anne Boleyn. Whatever its origin it has achieved lasting popularity.

(For more about the history and background of this song click here)

PS – regarding the forthcoming David Starkey TV series about Henry VIII entitled  ‘Henry, Mind of a Tyrant’. Philip Sheppard who composed the theme music dropped us an email to say that the dates for the TV show have been announced.

He also mentioned that the soundtrack will be freely available on his blog from next week & there is a preview available now

Take a look (& a listen) here – the preview sounds absolutely superb!


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For many people, the song ‘Greensleeves’ is associated with the Tudors, England and with traditional English music. If the hit counters on ‘YouTube‘ are any guide it is still popular, the version above has been watched over 25,000 times whilst another has had over a million hits!

There is a persistent myth that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen Anne Boleyn. Anne rejected Henry’s attempts to seduce her and this rejection is apparently referred to in the song, when the writer’s love “cast [him] off discourteously.” However, it seems Henry did not write Greensleeves, which is probably an Elizabethan tune.

In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, written around 1602, the character Mistress Ford refers twice without any explanation to the tune of Greensleeves, and Falstaff later exclaims:

Let the sky rain potatoes! Let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’!

I like the idea of the sky raining potatoes! These allusions suggest that the song was already well known at that time.

A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves

A broadside ballad by the name of Greensleeves was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in 1580 as “A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves”. It then appears in the surviving A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) as “A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves. To the new tune of Green Sleeves.”

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

No-one really knows who wrote Greensleeves but we do know that music played a huge part in Tudor court life.  Dancing was a form of exercise enjoyed by the royal family and practised every morning. Dancing was accompanied by the Court musicians. Low born but talented musicians sought places at the court of the Tudors, and one such musician, Mark Smeaton, featured strongly in the tragic story of Anne Boleyn. Favoured by Anne Boleyn he was falsely accused of being her lover, tortured and finally put to death.

A rich time for music

The Tudor period was a rich time for music making – and I play and listen to music which would have been familiar to Tudor ears. Music and dancing were at the heart of life for rich and poor alike. The medieval music of the pipe and tabor was still very much in evidence, and many tunes that were played then are still used for English Country Dancing and Morris Dancing. I know many of these well as I play the melodeon for dancing. New instruments were being developed during the Tudor period; and the religious turmoil of the age acted as a stimulus for the music of Tallis, Byrd, which will be the subject of a future post.

(For more about this song including Lyrics click here)

nb dont have permission yet!

Image courtesy of Sandmania on Flickr (click picture)


PS On the subject of Tudor music we had a comment from Philip Sheppard who is composing music for the forthcoming David Starkey TV program about Henry VIII . If you want to hear a preview of the music go to his blog “radiomovies


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