My Piano realisation of this traditional English folk song and tune is based on Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves which featured in his opera Sir John in Love (1924-28).
"Greensleeves" is basically a ground of the form called a romanesca. A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer's Company in 1580 as "A Handful of Pleasant Delights� (1584) as "A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves. To the new tune of Green sleeves." Notated music was generally not published in England in those days because of an exclusive agreement which Queen Elizabeth I had with two publishers. Single side printed broadsheets (broadsides) however, were published bearing just the texts of popular songs. It was assumed that the general public knew these tunes and all they needed were the lyrics of the songs to remind them of the melodies.
It is a widely-believed legend is that Greensleeves was composed by King Henry VIII (1491-1547) for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. However, it is most unlikely that King Henry VIII wrote it, as the song is written in a style which was not known in England until after Henry VIII died.
It is broadly acknowledged that Lady Green Sleeves was at the very least a promiscuous young woman and perhaps a prostitute. The reference to the colour of her sleeves suggests grass stains from a recent rendezvous with a suitor. Additionally, in England the colour green was associated with prostitution. It is said that the green sleeves were removable and required to be worn by prostitutes as a label of their profession. An alternative explanation is that Lady Green Sleeves was, as a result of her attire, incorrectly assumed to be immoral. Her "discourteous" rejection of the singer's advances quite clearly makes the point that she is not.
(London Stationer's Company, 1580)
Alas, my love, you do me wrong, To cast me off discourteously. For I have loved you well and long, Delighting in your company.
Chorus: 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.