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My Ladye Greensleeves – to give it its full title – is a ballad forever associated with Henry VIII. For centuries, it was said that the lovelorn monarch wrote it for his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Some of the lyrics – "I have both waged life and limb/Your love and good will for to have" appear to be the words of a man who divorced his wife, split from the Roman Catholic Church and executed several of his most trusted advisors, merely so he could marry Anne.
However, the truth is far less romantic – most historians now believe this most British ballad dates from Elizabethan times, and is based on an Italian style of song that did not reach England until after Henry's death.

Henry's much-documented love and aptitude for music obviously gave rise to the belief that he was the author of Greensleeves. He was proficient on a number of instruments and wrote music and poems – including a number for his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Thirty-three of his compositions were collected in the Henry VIII Manuscript – but they do not include Greensleeves. If the song had been written during his reign, its author was likely to have been Dr Robert Fairfax, a great favourite of the King, who wrote masses for the Chapel Royal and secular ballads for the court.


Your comments

As Flanders & Swann said, in nearly every 'period' movie, be it set in 1500 or 1800....you'll hear Greensleeves played. No matter what words you might know to the tune, it is easily recognized around the world. Besides, it's probably one of the least controversial legacies of Henry VIII.....

Harriet Engle

Oh Yes. Greensleeves is a great piece. Even though it was written by Henry VIII
Stephanie Knight



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