How Did “Greensleeves” The Christmas Song Get its Name and Where Did it Come From?

The ballad “Greensleeves” was first published in 1580, but no doubt had been known long before that.

One early lyric, “Lady Greensleeves” was a love song to a well-dressed woman, possibly a prostitute.

The music’s first application to Christmas appeared in New Christmas Carols of 1642 and was entitled “The Old Year Now Is Fled.” William Dix, a British insurance agent, wrote a poem in 1865 entitled “The Manger Throne.”

In 1872 a publisher took three of the poem’s many verses, set them to the “Greensleeves” melody, and published the resulting song as “What Child Is This?”

Contrary to a popular legend, England’s King Henry VIII (1491-1547) did not write the music for “Greensleeves.”

The song has been around for 500 years and has been used to cover a myriad of lyrics within almost as many different theatrical productions and has even been referenced by William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Its most successful modem secular rendition was as the theme for the 1962 John Ford (1895-1973) movie How the West Was Won.