A ew Northern Dittye of the Lady Green-Sleeves (Richard Jones. Ed. 1580)

So, this card was done in 2004.  It was third in what became an inadvertent, unplanned,  series of cards that wound up combining Christmas songs with current pop culture interests (the First: 2002 – Good King Wenceslas* with thematic variation suggested by Jesse Klein – a Good King Wenceslas /Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi/Star Wars mash-up.   The Second: 2003 – Drink Up Me, Hearties. Yo Ho – a Jimmy Buffett-Ho Ho Ho And a Bottle of Rhum (Santa’s run off to the Caribbean)/Jack Sparrow(as Santa)/Pirates of the Caribbean fusion. And Third: 2004 – this card – A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Green-Sleeves (Richard Jones, Ed. 1580) – Greensleeves meets Lord of the Rings/with – as i wave my hand in front of you – with a hint of Jedi influence in the tunic).

What can i say – 2002, 20o3 and 2004 were obsession-heavy years for my daughter and i (my beloved Partner In Crime – which is another pop culture reference, but that comes later) and the annual Christmas card has long become a sort of illustrative representation of the Year In Review (whatever the year may happen to be).  Whatever the current passion, interest, hi-light or activity winds up becoming the subject of the card and then i just twist myself into a pretzel finding a way to make it Christmas-y.

Thus, Page and Monarch became Padawan and Master (Jedi) and fit Good King Wenceslas perfectly (there’s more about that in an earlier blog by the way).  Santa running off to the Caribbean in Buffett’s song gave me the ideal springboard for a Pirate Santa (who just so happened to wind up looking like Jack Sparrow. What can i say – it was Young Santa, in his earlier, wild days). And in 2004 Lord of the Rings topped our Mother-Daughter list of obsessions and a favorite Medieval Christmas ballad automatically conjured up images of knights which, then, segued easily into Tolkien’s Fellowship.

Of course things didn’t stop there (they never do). Then came the research – because there is truly nothing i enjoy more than looking up obscure facts to enhance an illustration, or enliven the subsequent background story.  Greensleeves, has long been a favorite Christmas carol (along with good ol’ Wenceslas) and i have actually used it once before as the subject of a card (that year it was a Medieval ermine troubadour and his Lady, cos nothing says “Merrie Chrystmas” like dancing weasels) so i already had a bit of working knowledge about the song’s origins. Such as legend has it that Henry VIII wrote it for Anne Boleyn (never substantiated, and probably not true, but let’s not have the facts get in the way of a good story).

I wound up finding all sorts of fascinating information about the song. There is an entry in the Stationer’s Register in 1580 licensing Richard Jones to print A new Northern Dittye of the Lady Green-Sleeves, so that was the source of the card’s title.  And the earliest lyrics that survive are in A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584). The tune, i should note, first appears in 1652. More fun (at least for me) a reading of the lyrics shows that it is not a sweet, innocuous love song, but a plea from a 16th century gentleman to his bored mistress. And there are countless versions of the lyrics (including 14 Cavalier songs and John Gay’s lyrics to the tune for The Beggar’s Opera) before William Chatterson Dix wrote the Christmas carol, What Child Is This, to the tune shortly after the Civil war. What can is say – the bawdy history behind a, seemingly innocent, Christmas carol appeals to my devilish side.

Of course i had to squish all that information into the little note i included with the card (this was years before i just started writing page-long explanatory notes in eensy-weensy font size) so many people who got the card that year were a bit flummoxed by the subject and the contents.  I still have people refer to it as “that weird card” (and think it kind of set the standard for the weirder cards to follow.

So on that note, i give you the actual story i included with the card back in 2004 ~

It appears i’ve gone and created another carol-related Christmas card… Okay, technically “Greensleeves” is not a Christmas carol but rather an Elizabethan ballad about a bored mistress of dubious repute. The tune however is wonderfully medieval and there is just something about the music of wandering minstrels and troubadours that can’t help but conjure up images of Christmas ~ at least to me. So whether you prefer William Chatterton Dix’s carol, “What Child Is This”, or John Gay’s lyrics written for “The Beggar’s Opera”, or any of the countless other versions of the tune (including 14 Cavalier songs) may we humbly share this “Handful of Pleasant Delights (where the earliest lyrics of this song can be found, Circa 1584). “Delighting in your company”.  LAK Christmas 2004

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