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Barry Taylor

There is an entry in the Stationers' Register in 1580 licensing Richard Jones to print A new Northern Dittye of the Lady Green-Sleeves. The earliest lyrics that survive are in A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) (see link below to those lyrics). The tune first appears in 1652.

Legend has it that Henry VIII wrote it for Anne Boleyn during their courtship (circa 1530). This has never been substantiated and is probably not true due to the fact that the Italian style used in the tune did not arrive in England until after his death.

It has beens suggested that the "Greensleeves" refers to courtesans, or prostitutes. According to Wikipedia, "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-of-doors."

Shortly after the Civil War William Chatterton Dix wrote the Christmas carol What Child is This to the tune.

A reading of the lyrics shows it is not a sweet, innocuous love song, but a plea from a 16th century gentleman to his bored mistress. There are countless versions of the lyrics, including fourteen Cavalier songs and John Gay wrote lyrics to the tune for The Beggar's Opera. And there are countless verses. This page leaves out several of them.

Alas, my love you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously
And I have loved you so 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.

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


I bought the kerchers to thy head
That were wrought fine and gallantly
I kept thee both at board and bed
Which cost my purse well favouredly.


Greensleeves, now farewell! adieu!
God I pray to prosper thee;
For I am still thy lover true
Come once again and love me.

Related Links
Information From
The American Song Treasury
One Hundred Songs of England
See Bibliography for full information.
The Ballad Index