Who was Lady Greensleeves?

What is “Greensleeves”?

“Greensleeves” is a traditional English folksong from the 16th or 17th century. You might better recognize the tune as the Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?”

Trajan et Hadrian, Fair Use License.

The lyrics are as follows: 

Image courtesy of Pinterest

You can listen to an instrumental guitar version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wARiOb80Zr0

Who Was Lady Greensleeves?

There is much speculation about who the song was written by and for. Some think the spurned lover was a courtly gentleman pining after an unfeeling lady, while others believe his “lady greensleeves” may have been the sort of woman who lies down with men in the grass (hence the green-stained sleeves). Some even say Henry VIII wrote it for Anne Boleyn, but historians dismiss this as fanciful fiction. To this day, the songwriter remains anonymous, as does the identity of his Lady Greensleeves. 

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

An Idea is Born

In search of more speculation about this classic song’s origins, I began to hunt for a novelization, something akin to what Birth of Venus or Girl With the Pearl Earring did for the paintings of the same name. But I came upon nothing in print. It seemed the idea to invent the story behind “Greensleeves” was anyone’s for the taking. Why not write it myself?

“The Keys” by Edmund Blair Leighton

However, I hit a wall early on with the concept. After all, what good would it do to write about a man whining tirelessly about his unrequited love? That didn’t seem very uplifting. It wasn’t until several years later, after I’d published a series of young adult retellings of myths and legends from famous female characters’ points of view, that I realized the key was to tell the story from Lady Greensleeves’s perspective. 

Perhaps she wasn’t so aloof and ungrateful as the songwriter believed. Maybe she had other things going on. Was his love really unrequited? Or had there been some big misunderstanding? 

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

About the Book

Lady Greensleeves (Called by the Heart, 2020) is my young adult reimagining of the story behind the song. Crafted around the lyrics, it tells the tale of Sorcha, a lady-in-wait to the princess, who begins receiving lavish gifts from an anonymous suitor. Old friendships are challenged by new jealousy, and rival clans stir trouble in the kingdom against a backdrop of a  Scottish-inspired castle and highlands. 

You’ve heard the song about me. Minstrels still sing it. Musicians play the tune to this day. To any listener, the lyrics would convey the composer believed his love was unrequited.
Was it?
I am the one he called Lady Greensleeves. This is my story.” 

Cover art by AM Design Studios, 2020.

Lady Greensleeves is part of my Mythic Maidens series. It is currently available in paperback and ebook. An audio book version, narrated by British actress Cathy Overington, will be released later this year (2022). 

Start reading a free sample now!

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