This carol's melody is from the 16th century song "Greensleeves." In 1865 the English poet and lay theologian William Chatterton Dix wrote a Christmas poem entitled The Manger Throne and a few years later Sir John Stainer merged 3 verses of Dix's lyrics and "Greensleeves" to produce "What Child Is This."
The carol first appeared as a hymn text in Christmas Carols New and Old (1871) edited by Stainer and the Reverend H.R. Bramley. Apart From "What Child Is This," their compilation also included Stainer's arrangements of what were to become the standard versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "The First Nowell," "I Saw Three Ships" and "Good King Wenceslas" among others.
Dix was born in Bristol, England and attended the Grammar school there. His surgeon father wrote a biography of the poet Thomas Chatterton, and gave his son his middle name in his honor. William spent most of his life as manager of a Maritime insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland, but his heart was in the poetry of worship. He wrote over 40 hymns, including many songs for Christmas and Easter. Another of his carols that has endured is "As With Gladness, Men Of Old", set to a melody by Konrad Kocher. The hymns he wrote include "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus" and "To You Oh Lord Our Hearts We Raise."