DESCRIPTION: A song of a man rejected by "Lady Greensleeves," whom he describes as "all my joy" and "my delight." He offers various gifts and honors if she will return to him and complains about what he has already spent upon her.
EARLIEST DATE: 1580 (Stationer's Register; the first surviving printing is from _A Handful of Pleasant Delights_,1584, and we first find the tune in 1652)
KEYWORDS: love courting rejection
FOUND IN: Britain
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Leather-FolkLoreOfHerefordshire, p. 137, "Handkerchief Dance [Greensleeves]" (1 tune, with dance instructions but no text)
Chappell-PopularMusicOfTheOldenTime, pp. 227-234, "Green Sleeves" (1 full text plus many excerpts, 2 tunes plus "My Robin Is to the Greenwood Gone")
Chappell/Wooldridge-OldEnglishPopularMusic I, pp. 239-242, "Green Sleeves" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bell-Combined-EarlyBallads-CustomsBalladsSongsPeasantryEngland, pp. 170-174, "Lady Greensleeves" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 140, "Greensleeves" (1 text)
Fuld-BookOfWorldFamousMusic, p. 259, "Greensleeves"
Averill-CampSongsFolkSongs, p. 544, "Greensleeves"
Tobitt-TheDittyBag, p. 80, "My Lady Greensleeves" (1 text, 1 tune)
SongsOfManyNations, "Greensleeves" (1 text, 1 tune) (12th edition, p. 5)
ADDITIONAL: Norman Ault, _Elizabethan Lyrics_, 1949 (I use the 1960 Capricorn Books edition), pp. 86-89, "A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Greensleeves" (1 text)
DT, GRNSLVS* GRNSLV3*
ST ChWI239 (Full)
Pete Seeger, "Greensleeves" [probably instrumental] (on PeteSeeger47)
cf. "O Shepherd, O Shepherd" (tune)
cf. "The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward" [Child 271] (tune)
cf. "What Child Is This?" (tune)
Allan o Maut (II) (How Mault Deals With Every Man) (File: WhBA0M2)
At Rome there is a most fearful rout/New Song of Lulla By (Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex ZN331; Bodleian Wood E 25(110); Bodleian Harding B 39(131))
You traitors all that doo deuise, to hurt our Queen in trewcherous wise/A warning to all false Traitors.. [execution of 14 traitors, Aug. 1588] (Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex ZN3138)
Good Lord what a wicked world is this/A most excellent godly new Ballad (Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex ZN1009)
Come listen a while both young and old/Which nobody can deny (Reginald Nettel, _Seven Centuries of Popular Song_, Phoenix House, 1956, p. 109; it is not a good fit for the tune)
NOTES [569 words]: I have heard that green sleeves betokened a prostitute, and that this song is about a young man who yearned for a woman he could not marry because of her occupation. Kelly Eberhard informs me of a contrary legend, that green sleeves betokened English royalty. (I wonder, in all seriousness, if green sleeves did not betoken a "queen," which means of course both the female member of the ruling family and a prostitute.)
Also, Briggs, volume A.1, p. 296, has a tale of "Green Sleeves," in which Green Sleeves is a robber and magical being to whom the hero must appeal for answers; the tale reminds me a bit of the Loathly Women/"What Do Women Want" story (for which see the notes to "The Marriage of Sir Gawain" [Child 31].
The song has sometimes been credited to Henry VIII. There is nothing inherently impossible about this; Henry was a reasonably skilled musical performer, and he did fool around with composing -- and he was not the first English king to be a composer; the early fifteenth century "Old Hall Manuscript" (British Library Add. MS. 57.950) contains two pieces credited to "Roy Henry" -- King Henry -- which must mean either Henry IV or Henry V, although we can't be sure which (Given-Wilson, p. 386. Personally, I'd guess it was Henry IV, who seems to have been a good musician before becoming king; Kirby, p. 254). But there is little sign that Henry VIII had the skill to write such a tune. The actual origin of this tune is unknown -- but it became popular almost instantly after its registration. Shakespeare mentions it twice in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (II.i.57 and V.v.18); Chappell lists many other mentions from before 1600. Ault notes that the title was registered to Richard Jones (who would later print the Handful of Pleasant Delights version) on Sept. 3, 1580 (cf. the Stationer's Register entry "A newe northen (sic.) Dittye of ye Ladye Grene Sleves, Rollins, #1892, p. 165) -- and, that, on the same day, another printer (Edward White, according to Rollins, #1390, p. 120) registered "The Ladie Greene Sleeves Answere to Donkyn her frende," implying that the piece was already well enough known to draw knock-offs. Examples of the latter include:
Rollins #1049, p. 94, "Greene Sleves and Countenaunce in Countenaunce is Greene Sleves" (Edward White, September 18, 1580)
Rollins #1050, p. 94, "Greene Sleves is worse awaie, Yellow Sleeves Comme to decaie, Black Sleeves I holde in despite, But White Sleeve is my delight" (Edward White, September 18, 1580; apparently White wanted to corner the market on lousy imitations)
Rollins #1742, p. 151, "a merry newe Northen songe of Greenesleves begynninge the boniest lasse in all the land" (Richard Jones, December 14, 1580)
Rollins #2276, p. 197, "A Reprehension against Greene Sleves by William Elderton" (Richard Jones, February 13, 1581)
There is also this inimitable 1580 item (Rollins, #1051, p. 94): "Greene Sleves moralised to the scripture Declaringe the manifold benefites and blessinges of God bestowed on sinful manne (Sept. 15, 1580, II, 378, Henry Carr)."
Whether the piece ever really took a place in the traditional repertoire is another matter. - RBW
The words perhaps [did] not [become traditional], but the tune certainly did, being found in various forms as a morris dance, a country dance ("Green Sleeves and Yellow Lace") and two carols ("What Child Is This," of course, and "Dame Get Up and Bake You Pies"). -PJS
Last updated in version 6.3
- Ault: Norman Ault, Elizabethan Lyrics, 1949 (I use the 1960 Capricorn Books edition)
- Briggs: Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2)
- Given-Wilson: Chris Given-Wilson, Henry IV, Yale University Press, 2016
- Kirby: J. L. Kirby, Henry IV of England, Constable & Company, 1970
- Rollins: Hyder E. Rollins, An Analytical Index to the Ballad-Entries (1557-1709) In the Register of the Company of Stationers of London, 1924 (I use the 1967 Tradition Press reprint with a new Foreword by Leslie Shepard)
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