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Greensleeves - the debate

If you would like to listen to greensleeves while reading the paper please click here

The aim of this paper is to ascertain whether or not the musical piece Greensleeves was written by and performed by King Henry the VIII of England. Many arguments have risen from the fact that there are now many versions of Greensleeves, particularly famous versions include 'Enya' and 'BENI supporters Band, Brass division'. The particular version this paper will be focusing on is the version widely thought to be the original. The sheet music for this version is available, to save confusion.

There has always been great debate around the writer of the music to Greensleeves. Leading 14th Century historians in this field fall into two categories; Henryites or positivists and those who do not believe that Henry wrote the song. Robertson who has always been particularly vocal in his literature against the case for Henry, has said:

"Greensleeves was written sometime back during the 14th century. The reason why there isn't an original composer is because some parts where composed from one guy, and some from the other.Kind of hard to explain but there is a more recent example of this called "the House of the Rising Sun." I would certainly label both of these songs as Various Artists."

However findings of the original song sheets with King Henry VIII coat of arms and royal seal, in the area widely thought to have been the royal court have lead people to believe that it was not simply a 'mish mash' of composers who wrote greensleeves. Indeed Robertson has backtracked a lot in his latest paper 'greensleeves- a royal mess'. However it is not the aim of this paper to attack other writers on the subject. Sen is a master at a Cambridge college that King Henry VIII set up to teach his own syllabus so that bigamy could be seen as less of an issue. Sen had this to say on the subject of the composer of greensleeves:

"To tell you who Henry VIII wrote the lyrics for, some people beleive that he wrote the lyrics for his recently met love, Anne Boleyn. But they might have been for his frist wife, Katherine of Argon."

Sen does not deny in this response that Henry also wrote the music, he indeed merely confirms that King Henry VIII wrote the lyrics. It is however the opinion of most historians that Henry wrote the words for Anne Boleyn.

Recent proof has lead to new developments in the debate. The finding of what is believed to be King Henry VIII's signature has caused much debate as to whether some of the writing on the original parchment of song music from greensleeves matches the signature. They certainly seem to have both been written in ink. Having run carbon data tests, statisticians can be 90% sure that the two parchments (the signature and song music) were written within a year of each other. The dates point to it having been around the time that King Henry VIII would have been with Anne Boleyn, settling the argument of who the song was written for. However the debate around the music roars on, with Clarke, Aswad and Eyers certain that Henry's signature matches the writing on the music sheet. Others including Lord Vigo of Carpathia are more sceptical.

The breakthrough which has led to conclusive proof was surprisingly simple a handwriting specialist was able to analyse the signature and verify that it was written left handed. The music sheet was also written left handed, and it was common believe in ye olde days that those who were left handed were the scourge of the earth and children of Satan. Hence anyone but a king, hiding his perceived handicap would have been sentenced to death for writing the music left handed.

In conclusion the music and lyrics of Greensleeves were written in hand by King Henry VIII. These findings have purposely been published at the same time as findings that the King also played a ancient version of football, to encourage more interest in one of England's greatest Kings.

Dr.John Smith
of the London institute of Royal Behavioural Science