Greensleeves and Henry VII...
Posted by Helen on May 01, 1998 at 10:19:08:
In response to He Didn't, written by Ken on April 30, 1998 at 08:04:47
... more than you ever wanted to know! I looked this up in all the relevant books, courtesy of my university library...
Greensleeves made its first appearance in 1580 as a broadside ballad, ie. a popular work rather than courtly music such as Henry wrote. We don't have a copy of the original, just a record of it being registered as a "new northern ditty" (at this time all books published had to be registered with the stationers' company). The printer, Richard Jones, specialized in ballad publishing. But it started a fashion: the ballad itself was imitated and responded to in 1580-81:
The Lady Greene Sleeves answer to Donkyn her friend;
Greene Sleves moralised to the Scripture declaiming the manifold benefits and blessings of God bestowed on sinful man;
Grene Sleves and countenance in countenance is Grene Sleves (I don't understand this, either);
A merry northern song of Greenesleves beginning "The bonniest lass in all the land";
A reprehension against Grene Sleves by William Elderton;
Greene Sleves is worne away/Yellow Sleeves come to decay/ Black sleeves I hold in despite/ But White Sleeves is my delight.
Finally in 1584 it was published in the text we have: a collection of ballads entitled A Handfull of Pleasant Delights, containing sundry new sonnets and delectable histories, in divers kinds of meter. Newly devised to the newest tunes that are now in use, to be sung: every sonnet orderly pointed to his proper tune. This was attributed to Clement Robinson, but he didn't necessarily write all the poems.
The text is 18 stanzas long and basically lists all the things the man gave his mistress, including "gay gilt knives", "pumps as white as was the milk" and most fetchingly "dainties... to cheare thy stomack from all woes".
The tune was first set down in a lute-song collection in 1594, and many poets including Philip Sidney wrote words to fit it. The authorities think it originated as a dance tune.
Meanwhile, Henry VIII had already written some music - there is a manuscript collection of songs and instrumentals by him and composers at his court in the British Library. Since this collection attributes works to a number of composers, there is no reason to doubt its ascription of 34 out of the 109 pieces to Henry. He is unusual as a writer of both words and music, but John Stevens, who wrote the definitive book on Henry's court music and poetry, doesn't think much of his musical skill: his harmonies, apparently, are weak and his tunes sound rather like one another... Most of his songs are love songs: some are in French, one is in the form of a holly-and-ivy carol, some adapt other tunes. His characteristic tone is one in praise of "lusty youth" going out and having a good time because that's what being young is all about, but there is one which rather ironically says, "I hurt no man, I do no wrong,/ I love true where I did marry", which is rather sad in the light of the rest of his life...
I know you didn't want to know all that, but I got interested...
- I did too, Helen! Thanks a lot! nfm Ann2 13:34:43 5/03/98 (0)
- Oops! Henry VIII, not VII! (nfm) Helen 11:49:19 5/01/98 (0)
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