There remains a persistent rumour which states that King Henry VIII of England wrote the song 'Greensleeves' for his (unfortunate) wife-to-be Anne Boleyn, but it's hugely unlikely. The song's style reflects its passamezzo antico origins, whose time pins it down close enough for us to be sure that it's Elizabethan in its genesis and hence post-dates Crazy Henry by some years. The name 'Greensleeves' was registered with The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers some time around 1580, when they printed a single sided sheet of paper with words and music to the song, but even that isn;t certain as there are numerous songs with the same title, all of which sprung up at the same time. It sounds like Elizabethan England had copyright issues that makes Pirate Bay seem like a minor blip. Shakespeare mentions the song by name twice twenty years later without any qualification, which implies that it was well-known by then.
And who is this lady with the viridian vestments? As usual where mystery women are concerned, there are about ten million theories, 9,999,999 of which put her down as either being a prostitute or of a women whose morals were so loose they were positively disassembling. Having a green gown - I am informed - might not be a reference to the colour of the fabric, but instead may reflect upon grass stains achieved by engaging in a spot of al fresco horizontal jogging.
Ralph Vaughan Williams' version of the tune comes from an opera he premiered in 1929 called 'Sir John in Love', whose libretto borrows from The Merry Wives of Windsor and which freely uses English folk tunes throughout, including his variant on Greensleeves. It makes its appearance in act three where the various merry wives are preparing to trap the unfortunate Falstaff with a laundry hamper (yes, you read that right) and is sung by Mistress Ford as she waits for Sir John to appear and do the business with her. What is it with opera plots?
I've tried to be as faithful to RVW's efforts as he was to the original. It's a fantasic tune that certainly has staying power. Wherever he is now, I bet Henry VIII wishes he wrote it after all. Might have taken his mind off his Great Matter.
Instrumentation: Mellotron Mk V Playing
also digital harp samples
FLAC version here.