[Updated December 2016]

Greensleeves: a brief history

Believed to be composed in the late 16th/early 17th century, ‘Greensleeves’ never began it’s many incarnations as a Christmas song. It was only until William Chatterton Dix wrote the carol What Child is This (set to the Greensleeves tune) in 1865 — that this traditional English folk tune became a seasonal song.

There is a legend that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen Anne Boleyn. Allegedly, she rejected King Henry’s attempts to seduce her, and this rejection is referred to in the lyric, she cast me off discourteously.

Another interpretation of the lyrics is that, Lady Green Sleeves, was a promiscuous young woman or a prostitute. “Green” referring to the grass stains on her dress.

Some believe that Lady Green Sleeves was not promiscuous, as she levels a “discourteous” rejection toward the storyteller’s advances.

The truth however, is that Greensleeves, is a beautiful and classic hymn, whose author and intent will always be a mystery.

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How to play Greensleeves for classical guitar

Greensleeves is known to be very easy to play on classical guitar in it’s A minor variation.  However, this version however begins in D minor, which I believe breathes a little life into an old classic, and is an appropriate “next step” for practicing guitarists.

The guitar tab is very short and barely two pages long. Essentially, there’s an intro and one long passage that’s played twice through. I’ve isolated certain chord shapes within the guitar tab to help you get your bearings.

Enjoy, the tab is available below:

Greensleeves is played in standard tuning:

Greensleeves for classical guitar

Written by:

Matthew's dad, Jennifer's husband, bass player - New Invisible Joy, YouTuber, short-film composer, creator of modern content for guitar.