Object 2: ‘Greensleeves’ – a traditional English folk song

May 28, 2021


‘Greensleeves’ is an English folk song that is famously known by most of the British population. It was often sung in my primary school and nowadays I play its tune on my guitar. As a traditional song composed in the 16th century, the origin of ‘Greensleeves’ is unclear. However, the persistent claim is that King Henry VIII wrote it for Anne Boleyn who was his lover at the time and later on famously became his second wife. I was first informed of this claim by a friend, and as I took a glance through multiple historical websites and textbooks which supported the claim, I was convinced enough to accept it.

This claim is similar to the one about Harry Styles’ signature in a sense that it is not backed up by any specific evidence. Some experts do provide explanations to how ‘Greensleeves’ had been written by Henry VIII, yet they fail to provide impartial explanations. For example, 1the lyrics “I have both waged life and limb/your love and good will for to have”, is believed to be of ‘a man who divorced Catherine of Aragon, subsequently split from the Roman Catholic Church and executed several of his closest advisors, just so he could marry Anne Boleyn’, hence Henry VIII. However, this connection may be perceived as historians’ mere attempt to link suitable parts of the lyrics with the story of the King and Anne Boleyn. Therefore, we can conclude that a clear justification to the claim is unprovided even by the experts. People cannot be convinced and as a result, doubt this claim about Henry VIII’s contribution to the origin of ‘Greensleeves’.

This song is a helpful addition to this exhibition because it holds a similarity to the box of cassette tapes from a different time period in history. Both claims of ‘Greensleeves’ and of the box of cassette tapes are doubted, with the box not only lacking sufficient justification but also failing to provide any justification. It is interesting to note that the claim on ‘Greensleeves’ written back around five- hundred years ago has been meticulously analysed, yet it is capable of being doubted. By examining ‘Greensleeves’, I have realised that an argument itself does not hold the ability to justify a claim but instead, have to be detailed and convincing to do so.

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