A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer's Company in 1580 as "A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves". It then appears in the surviving A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) as "A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves. To the new tune of Green sleeves." It remains debatable whether this suggests that an 'old' tune of "Greensleeves" was in circulation, or which one the familiar tune is.
Many surviving sets of lyrics were written to this tune. The tune is also found in several late 16th century and early 17th century sources, such as Ballet's MS Lute Book and Het Luitboek van Thysius, as well as various manuscripts preserved in the Cambridge University libraries.