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The Greensleeves Project

With its haunting melody, and the romantic myth that it was written by Henry VIII as a love song for Anne Boleyn, Greensleeves has remained popular over the centuries and, today, is probably the best known of all Tudor songs. It’s also relevant to us at Passamezzo, as the tune of Greensleeves is written over the harmonies of a Passamezzo/Romanesca ground.


There is, however, no proven connection to Henry VIII. Rather, Greensleeves first appeared in September 1580, (some 33 years after his death), and became a hit immediately, with a number of imitations and parodies following.

The earliest surviving text dates from 1584. It’s a long song, with 18 verses, written in a somewhat stalker-like fashion, by a man who showers his would-be beloved with gifts, and dressing her from the skin upwards. Put together, these gifts provide us with a rich resource of information on clothing, fabrics, embroidery, and other aspects of material culture.

Passamezzo have already recorded all the verses of Greensleeves and thanks to The Society of Antiquaries who have given us the Janet Arnold Award, we are now working with a group of eminent costume historians and practitioners to examine and recreate the items described in the song.


  • Sarah Thursfield will make
      kerchers to thy head, that were wrought fine and gallantly

  • Constance Mackenzie will make
      peticotes of the best, the cloth so fine as might be

  • Juliet Braidwood will make
      a smock of silk, both faire and white,
        with gold embrodered gorgeously

  • Dr Serena Dyer will make
       a peticote of Sendall right

  • Ninya Mikhaila will make
      a girdle of gold so red, with pearles bedecked sumptuously   and
      a gown..of the grossie green, with sleeues of Satten hanging by

  • Sally Pointer will make
      crimson stockings all of silk,
       with golde all wrought aboue the knee

  • Mally Ley will make
      garters fringed with the golde, And siluer aglets hanging by

  • Eva Burnett will make
      Pumps as white as was the milke

  • Tamsin Lewis instigated the project

To go with the song we will be working with Bernadette Banner to create a video documenting our progress, and showing all of the clothes along with the other gifts and accessories described in the ballad.

Other plans for this interdisciplinary project include a book, With Gold Embroidered Gorgeously: Early Modern clothing in music, words & song.

We are also seeking funding to record a CD to accompany the book.

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