"Greensleeves" is a
traditional English folk song and tune, a ground either of
the form called a romanesca or of its slight variant, the
A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London
Stationer's Company in September 1580, by Richard Jones, as
"A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves". Six more
ballads followed in less than a year, one on the same day, 3
September 1580 ("Ye Ladie Greene Sleeves answere to Donkyn
hir frende" by Edward White), then on 15 and 18 September
(by Henry Carr and again by White), 14 December (Richard
Jones again), 13 February 1581 (Wiliam Elderton), and August
1581 (White's third contribution, "Greene Sleeves is worne
awaie, Yellow Sleeves Comme to decaie, Blacke Sleeves I
holde in despite, But White Sleeves is my delighte"). 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.
The tune is found in several late-16th-century and early
17th-century sources, such as Ballet's MS Lute Book and Het
Luitboek van Thysius, as well as various manuscripts
preserved in the Seeley Historical Library at the University
"My Lady Greensleeves" by
Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
There is a persistent belief
that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover
and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. Boleyn allegedly
rejected King Henry's attempts to seduce her and this
rejection may be referred to in the song when the writer's
love "cast me off discourteously". However, Henry did not
compose "Greensleeves", which is probably Elizabethan in
origin and is based on an Italian style of composition that
did not reach England until after his death.
One possible interpretation of the lyrics is that Lady Green
Sleeves was a promiscuous young woman and perhaps a
prostitute. At the time, the word "green" had sexual
connotations, most notably in the phrase "a green gown", a
reference to the way that grass stains might be seen on a
woman's dress if she had engaged in sexual intercourse out
An alternative explanation is that Lady Green Sleeves was,
through her costume, incorrectly assumed to be immoral. Her
"discourteous" rejection of the singer's advances supports
the contention that she is not.
In Nevill Coghill's translation of The Canterbury Tales, he
explains that "green [for Chaucer’s age] was the colour of
lightness in love. This is echoed in 'Greensleeves is my
delight' and elsewhere."
Christmas and New Year texts were associated with the tune
from as early as 1686, and by the 19th century almost every
printed collection of Christmas carols included some version
of words and music together, most of them ending with the
refrain "On Christmas Day in the morning". One of the most
popular of these is "What Child Is This?", written in 1865
by William Chatterton Dix.
Roger Quilter's setting of the song, with lyrics by an Irish
poet named John Irvine, was included in the Arnold Book of
Old Songs, published in 1950.
A variation was used extensively in the 1962 film How the
West Was Won as the song "Home in the Meadow", lyrics by
Sammy Cahn, performed by Debbie Reynolds.
"Stay Away" is the theme of the 1968 film Stay Away, Joe
performed by Elvis Presley set to the "Greensleeves" tune.
Early literary references
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'!
These allusions indicate that the song was already well
known at that time.
The earliest known source
of the tune (Trinity College, Dublin ms. D. I. 21, c.
1580—known as "William Ballet's lute book") gives the tune
in the melodic minor scale. "Greensleeves" is also often
played in a natural minor scale and sometimes in the Dorian
According to one source,
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a Fantasia on "Greensleeves"
based on the "Greensleeves" melody, in 1934. However,
according to others, the 1934 Fantasia is actually an
arrangement made by Ralph Greaves from Vaughan Williams's
1928 opera Sir John in Love; they point out that the
fantasia also incorporates a folk song called "Lovely Joan"
in the middle section. There are also several other, later
arrangements by various writers, but no version by Vaughan
The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority uses the
version played by the Sinfonia of London, which is in year
1962, in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination,
Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination and Hong Kong Diploma
of Secondary Education Listening Tests to let candidates
tidy up their answers and to confirm they've the correct
From Wikipedia, the free ediancyclope
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.
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.
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.
you intend thus to disdain,
It does the more enrapture me,
And even so, I still remain
A lover in captivity.
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.
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.
Greensleeves, now farewell, adieu,
To God I pray to prosper thee,
For I am still thy lover true,
Come once again and love me.