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.


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.)

The actual origin of this tune is unknown (some have credited it to Henry VIII!), 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 Jones (who would later print the _Handful of Pleasant Delights_ version) on Sept. 3, 1580 -- and, that, on the same day, another printer registered "The Lady Greenesleeve's Answer to Donkyn her friend," implying that the piece was already well enough known to draw knock-offs.

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

Same tune

  • At Rome there is a most fearful rout/New Song of Lulla By (BBI ZN331)
  • 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] (BBI ZN3138)
  • Good Lord what a wicked world is this/A most excellent godly new Ballad (BBI ZN1009)

Cross references


  • Pete Seeger, "Greensleeves" [probably instrumental] (on PeteSeeger47)


  1. Leather, p. 137, "Handkerchief Dance [Greensleeves]" (1 tune, with dance instructions but no text)
  2. Chappell/Wooldridge I, pp. 239-242, "Green Sleeves" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Silber-FSWB, p. 140, "Greensleeves" (1 text)
  4. Fuld-WFM, p. 259, "Greensleeves"
  5. ADDITIONAL: Norman Ault, _Elizabethan Lyrics From the Original Texts_, pp. 86-89, "A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Greensleeves" (1 text)
  7. ST ChWI239 (Full)
  8. BI, ChWI239


Author: unknown
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