"Greensleeves" is a traditional English folk song and tune, over a ground either of the form called a romanesca; or its slight variant, the passamezzo antico; or the passamezzo antico in its verses and the romanesca in its reprise; or of the Andalusian progression in its verses and the romanesca or passamezzo antico in its reprise. The romanesca originated in Spain[1] and is composed of a sequence of four chords with a simple, repeating bass, which provide the groundwork for variations and improvisation. British neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote in Musicophilia that the melody of Greensleeves was found to be one of the most common and problematic earworms. A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer's Company in September 1580,[2] by Richard Jones, as "A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves".[3] 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").[4] 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 of Cambridge.

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.[5] 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, the piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry's death, making it more likely to be Elizabethan in origin.[6]

Lyrical interpretation

One possible interpretation of the lyrics is that Lady Green Sleeves was a promiscuous young woman and perhaps a prostitute.[7] At the time, the word "green" had sexual connotations, most notably in the phrase "a green gown", a reference to the grass stains on a woman's dress from engaging in sexual intercourse outdoors.[8]

An alternative explanation is that Lady Green Sleeves was, through her costume, incorrectly assumed to be sexually promiscuous. Her "discourteous" rejection of the singer's advances supports the contention that she is not.[8]

In Nevill Coghill's translation of The Canterbury Tales,[9] 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."

Alternative lyrics

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".[10] One of the most popular of these is "What Child Is This?", written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix.[11]

Early literary references

In Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (written c. 1597; first published in 1602), the character Mistress Ford refers twice 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 the song was already well known at that time.

In popular culture

Since Greensleeves is a folk tune, it has many different forms. This is one version, but the version Vaughan Williams uses in his "Fantasy" is nearer than this one to the English folk tradition, being in the Dorian mode (having no F sharps in lines 1 & 3) (Play )
  • The tune was used (as "My Lady Greensleeves") as the slow march of the London Trained Bands in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Later the 7th (City of London) Battalion London Regiment, which claimed descent from the Yellow Regiment of London Trained Bands, adopted the tune as its quick march during World War I, replacing "Austria" (to the same tune as Deutschland über Alles), which had been used until then.[15]
  • According to one source, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a Fantasia on "Greensleeves" based on the "Greensleeves" melody, in 1934.[16] However, according to others, the 1934 Fantasia is actually an arrangement made by Ralph Greaves (1889–1966) from Vaughan Williams' opera Sir John in Love in 1928; 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 Williams himself.[17][18][19][20]
  • A rendering of the tune, titled the "Lassie Theme" was used extensively in the Lassie television show, especially the ending credits.[21]


  1. ^ Harvey Turnbull, The Guitar from the Renaissance to the Present (1992), p.31. ISBN 0-933224-57-5. See: "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 June 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link).
  2. ^ Frank Kidson, English Folk-Song and Dance. READ BOOKS, 2008, p.26. ISBN 1-4437-7289-5
  3. ^ John M. Ward, "'And Who But Ladie Greensleeues?'", in The Well Enchanting Skill: Music, Poetry, and Drama in the Culture of the Renaissance: Essays in Honour of F. W. Sternfeld, edited by John Caldwell, Edward Olleson, and Susan Wollenberg, 181–211 (Oxford:Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990): 181. ISBN 0-19-316124-9.
  4. ^ Hyder Edward Rollins, An Analytical Index to the Ballad-Entries (1557–1709 in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1924): nos, 1892, 1390, 1051, 1049, 1742, 2276, 1050. Cited in John M. Ward, "'And Who But Ladie Greensleeues?'", in The Well Enchanting Skill: Music, Poetry, and Drama in the Culture of the Renaissance: Essays in Honour of F. W. Sternfeld, edited by John Caldwell, Edward Olleson, and Susan Wollenberg, 181–211 (Oxford:Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990): 181–82. ISBN 0-19-316124-9.
  5. ^ "Greensleeves: Mythology, History and Music. Part 1 of 3: Mythology". Early Music Muse. 2015-07-03. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  6. ^ Alison Weir, Henry VIII: The King and His Court (New York: Ballantine Books, 2001): 131. ISBN 0-345-43708-X.
  7. ^ Meg Lota Brown and Kari Boyd McBride, Women's Roles in the Renaissance (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 101. ISBN 0-313-32210-4
  8. ^ a b Vance Randolph "Unprintable" Ozark Folksongs and Folklore, Volume I, Folksongs and Music, page 47, University of Arkansas Press, 1992, ISBN 1-55728-231-5
  9. ^ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, revised edition, translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill (Harmondsworth and Baltimore, Penguin Books, 1958): 517, note 422. Reprinted in The Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection (London and New York: Penguin Books, 2003). ISBN 0-14-042438-5.
  10. ^ John M. Ward, "'And Who But Ladie Greensleeues?'", in The Well Enchanting Skill: Music, Poetry, and Drama in the Culture of the Renaissance: Essays in Honour of F. W. Sternfeld, edited by John Caldwell, Edward Olleson, and Susan Wollenberg, 181–211 (Oxford:Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990): 193. ISBN 0-19-316124-9.
  11. ^ "Greensleeves: Mythology, History and Music. Part 2 of 3: History". Early Music Muse. 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Barton, Laura (12 July 2013). "Ice-cream van chimes: the sound of the British summer". The Guardian.
  14. ^ Dorman, Nick (3 Aug 2013). "Ice cream vans, Greensleeves chime and 99s make Brits happier according to poll". Mirror.
  15. ^ C. Digby Planck, The Shiny Seventh: History of the 7th (City of London) Battalion London Regiment, London: Old Comrades' Association, 1946/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2002, ISBN 1-84342-366-9, pp. 219–20.
  16. ^ Julius H. Jacobson II, The Classical Music Experience: Discover the Music of the World's Greatest Composers (Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2003): 221. ISBN 9781570719509,
  17. ^ Ralph Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on Greensleeves, arranged from the opera Sir John in Love for string orchestra and harp (or pianoforte) with one or two optional flutes by Ralph Greaves, Oxford Orchestral Series no. 102 (London: Oxford University Press, 1934).
  18. ^ Hugh Ottaway and Alain Frogley, "Vaughan Williams, Ralph", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  19. ^ Michael Kennedy, "Fantasia on 'Greensleeves'", The Oxford Dictionary of Music, second edition, revised; associate editor, Joyce Bourne (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) ISBN 9780198614593.
  20. ^ "The Halle Orchestra Conducted By John Barbirolli – Fantasia On "Greensleeves"/ Londonderry Air". Discogs. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Lassie theme".

External links

Ballads (John Coltrane album)

Ballads is a jazz album by John Coltrane. It was recorded in December 1961 and 1962, and released on the Impulse! label in 1963 as A-32 (mono) and later AS-32 (stereo). Critic Gene Lees stated that the quartet had never played the tunes before. "They arrived with music-store sheet music of the songs" and just before the recordings, they "would discuss each tune, write out copies of the changes they'd use, semi-rehearse for a half hour and then do it". Each piece was recorded in one take, except for "All or Nothing at All". In 2008, the album was a recipient of the Grammy Hall of Fame award.


Greensleeves Rhythm Album #1: Bellyas is the first album in Greensleeves Records' rhythm album series. It was released in February 2000 on CD and LP. The album features various artists recorded over the "Bellyas" riddim, produced by reggae-dancehall artists and producers Ward 21.

Burgess (title)

Burgess originally meant a freeman of a borough (England, Wales, Ireland) or burgh (Scotland). It later came to mean an elected or unelected official of a municipality, or the representative of a borough in the English House of Commons.The term was also used in some of the original American colonies. In the Colony of Virginia, a "burgess" was a member of the legislative body, which was termed the "House of Burgesses".

Diwali Riddim

Greensleeves Rhythm Album #27: Diwali, also known as the Diwali Riddim, is an album and popular dancehall riddim that came to prominence in 2002. The riddim is credited to Jamaican producer Steven "Lenky" Marsden. This has appeared on several international hit songs by Sean Paul, Bounty Killer, Elephant Man, Lumidee, Brick & Lace (although its single "Love is Wicked" was not released until 2007), and Wayne Wonder.

It is recognized as arguably the most prominent and popular riddim of 2002 based on the number of top-ten hit songs that charted in Jamaica or internationally that used the instrumental, such as "Get Busy," "No Letting Go," "Pon de Replay," "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)," "Overcome," "Elephant Message," "Sufferer," "Party Time," and "Love Is Wicked." To this day, the riddim and the songs sampling it are still played on Jamaican radio stations every so often and is considered a classic.

The beat is characterized by syncopated clapping, and it was given the name Diwali for its Indian dance-music influence. The riddim has been featured in American television commercials via Sean Paul's song "Get Busy."

Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Eloise Jarvis McGraw (December 9, 1915 – November 30, 2000) was an American author of children's books and young adult novels. She was awarded the Newbery Honor three times in three different decades, for her novels Moccasin Trail (1952), The Golden Goblet (1962), and The Moorchild (1997). A Really Weird Summer (1977) won an Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America. McGraw had a very strong interest in history, and among the many books she wrote for children are Greensleeves, The Seventeenth Swap, The Striped Ships and Mara, Daughter of the Nile. A Lewis Carroll Shelf Award was given to Moccasin Trail in 1963.

McGraw also contributed to the Oz series started by L. Frank Baum; working with her daughter, graphic artist and librarian Lauren Lynn McGraw (Wagner), she wrote Merry Go Round in Oz (the last of the Oz books issued by Baum's publisher) and The Forbidden Fountain of Oz. The actual writing of the books was done entirely by Eloise; Lauren made story contributions significant enough for Eloise to assign her co-authorship credit. McGraw's The Rundelstone of Oz was published in 2000 without a credit to her daughter.

Gina Wickwar credited McGraw with help in the editing of her book The Hidden Prince of Oz (2000).McGraw lived for many years in Portland, Oregon before dying in late 2000 of "complications of cancer." She was married to William Corbin McGraw, who died in 1999. They had two children, Peter and Lauren.

Gravitational Systems

Gravitational Systems is an album by American jazz pianist Matthew Shipp featuring a duo with violinist Mat Maneri, which was recorded in 1998 and released on the Swiss hatOLOGY label. Shipp played previously with Maneri on the albums Critical Mass, The Flow of X and By the Law of Music, but this was their first duo performance. The recording includes a rendition of the English traditional song "Greensleeves" and a version of John Coltrane's classic "Naima".

Greensleeves Records

Greensleeves Records & Publishing is a record label specialising in dancehall and reggae music. The company was founded by Chris Cracknell and Chris Sedgwick and started as a small record store in West Ealing, London, in November 1975 and is based in Britain.They have released records by Red Rat, Anthony Johnson, Barrington Levy, Billy Boyo, Chezidek, Dennis Brown, Dr Alimantado, Eek-A-Mouse, Elephant Man, Freddie McGregor, Gregory Isaacs, Keith Hudson, Mad Cobra, Scientist, Shabba Ranks, Sizzla, Vybz Kartel and Yellowman, and have had crossover pop hits with Tippa Irie's "Hello, Darling", Shaggy's "Oh Carolina", Beenie Man's "Who Am I (Sim Simma)" and Mr Vegas's "Head High." In 2002, Greensleeves released the popular Diwali album, which launched a global resurgence in dancehall reggae music. The album contained the global hits "No Letting Go" by Wayne Wonder and "Get Busy" by Sean Paul. The riddim (slightly altered) was also used by Lumidee on the hit "Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)". The label has a catalogue of close to 500 albums.Greensleeves Publishing has the largest catalogue of reggae songs in the world, including the copyrights of Shaggy's "Oh Carolina", Sean Paul's "Get Busy", and "Break It Off" among over 20,000 copyrights.The company was bought by Zest Inc. in 2006, and in 2008 was bought by VP Records.

Greensleeves Rhythm Album (series)

Greensleeves Rhythm Album is a series of various artists compilation albums released by Greensleeves Records. Each volume of the series features tracks from multiple artists recorded over one or two reggae or dancehall riddims produced by various producers. The series began in February 2000 with the release of the Bellyas riddim album as a way of collecting various artists' 7 inch recordings on a single CD or vinyl record. Greensleeves has since released over 80 installments in the series, making it one of the longest running reggae record compilation series. VP Records has a similar series of compilation albums, known as Riddim Driven.

Gregory Isaacs

Gregory Anthony Isaacs OD (15 July 1951 – 25 October 2010) was a Jamaican reggae musician. Milo Miles, writing in The New York Times, described Isaacs as "the most exquisite vocalist in reggae".'.

Riddim Driven (series)

Riddim Driven is a series of various artists compilation albums released by VP Records. Each volume of the series features tracks from multiple artists recorded over one or two reggae or dancehall riddims produced by various producers. The series began in January 2001 with the release of the Chiney Gal & Blazing riddim album. Greensleeves Records has a similar series of compilation albums, known as Greensleeves Rhythm Album.

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (sometimes stylised Ritchie Blackmore's R-A-I-N-B-O-W) is the first studio album by British rock band Rainbow, released in 1975.

The Africa/Brass Sessions, Volume 2

The Africa/Brass Sessions, Vol. 2 is a posthumous compilation album by American jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, released in 1974 by Impulse Records. It compiles outtakes from the same 1961 sessions that produced his Africa/Brass album. "Song of the Underground Railroad" and "Greensleeves" were recorded on May 23, while "Africa" was recorded on June 4. On October 10, 1995, Impulse incorporated the tracks issued here into a two-disc set entitled The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions.

The Essential Glen Campbell Volume Two

The Essential Glen Campbell Volume Two is the second of a series of three albums which cover Glen Campbell's recordings for Capitol Records between 1962 and 1979. The tracks are presented in a non-chronological order. All three Essential CDs contain, next to single and albums tracks, previously unreleased recordings. On The Essential Glen Campbell Volume Two, these are "My Special Angel", an uptempo version of "Last Thing on My Mind", "Oh Boy" and "Don't It Make You Want To Go Home". The Essential albums are also notable for containing some of the songs from The Artistry of Glen Campbell, the only original studio album by Glen Campbell that has not been released on CD or as a digital download. Included here is "Greensleeves".

The Wailing Souls

The Wailing Souls (originally The Renegades) are a Jamaican reggae vocal group whose origins date back to the 1960s. The group has undergone several line-up changes over the years with Winston "Pipe" Matthews and Lloyd "Bread" McDonald the only constant members. They have been nominated for Grammy Awards three times.

VP Records

VP Records is an independent record label in Queens, New York. The label is known for releasing music by notable artists in reggae, dancehall and soca.

What Child Is This?

"What Child Is This?" is a Christmas carol whose lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, in 1865. At the time of composing the carol, Dix worked as an insurance company manager and had been struck by a severe illness. While recovering, he underwent a spiritual renewal that led him to write several hymns, including lyrics to this carol that was subsequently set to the tune of "Greensleeves", a traditional English folk song. Although it was written in Great Britain, the carol is more popular in the United States than in its country of origin today.


Winston Foster, better known by the stage name Yellowman, is a Jamaican reggae and dancehall deejay, also known as King Yellowman. He was popular in Jamaica in the 1980s, coming to prominence with a series of singles that established his reputation.

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