Matty Groves

"Matty Groves", also known as "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" or "Little Musgrave", is a ballad probably originating in Northern England that describes an adulterous tryst between a young man and a noblewoman that is ended when the woman's husband discovers and kills them. This song exists in many textual variants and has several variant names. The song dates to at least the 17th century, and under the title Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard is one of the Child Ballads collected by 19th-century American scholar Francis James Child.


Little Musgrave (or Matty Groves, Little Matthew Grew and other variations) goes to church on a holy day either "the holy word to hear" or "to see fair ladies there". He sees Lord Barnard's wife, the fairest lady there, and realises that she is attracted to him. She invites him to spend the night with her, and he agrees when she tells him her husband is away from home. Her page goes to find Lord Barnard (Arnel, Daniel, Arnold, Donald, Darnell, Darlington) and tells him that Musgrave is in bed with his wife. Lord Barnard promises the page a large reward if he is telling the truth and to hang him if he is lying. Lord Barnard and his men ride to his home, where he surprises the lovers in bed. Lord Barnard tells Musgrave to dress because he doesn't want to be accused of killing a naked man. Musgrave says he dare not because he has no weapon, and Lord Barnard gives him the better of two swords. In the subsequent duel Little Musgrave wounds Lord Barnard, who then kills him. Lord Barnard then asks his wife whether she still prefers Little Musgrave to him and when she says she would prefer a kiss from the dead man's lips to her husband and all his kin, he kills her. He then says he regrets what he has done and orders the lovers to be buried in a single grave, with the lady at the top because "she came of the better kin". In some versions Barnard is hanged, or kills himself, or finds his own infant son dead in his wife's body. Many versions omit one or more parts of the story.[1]

It has been speculated that the original names of the characters, Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, come from place names in the north of England (specifically Little Musgrave in Westmorland and Barnard Castle in County Durham). The place name "Bucklesfordbury," found in both English and American versions of the song, is of uncertain origin.

Some versions of the ballad include elements of an alba, a poetic form in which lovers part after spending a night together.

Standard references

Early printed versions

There are few broadside versions. There are three different printings in the Bodleian Library's Broadside Ballads Online, all dating from the second half of the seventeenth century. One, The lamentable Ditty of the little Mousgrove, and the Lady Barnet from the collection of Anthony Wood, has a handwritten note by Wood on the reverse stating that "the protagonists were alive in 1543".[3][4][5][6]

Collected versions

Child published 14 examples.[1]

The Roud Folk Song Index contains over 300 instances of this ballad,[7] and shows that the ballad has been collected mostly in North America: 113 versions listed in Roud were found in the USA, with the bulk in North Carolina (24), the Virginias (24), Kentucky (23), New England (16) and Tennessee (9). In Canada, 18 versions were found, the majority in Nova Scotia. Scotland produced 9 versions, and England only 2. Cecil Sharp is listed as the collector for 22 of the versions.[7]

A number of songs and tales collected in the Caribbean are based on, or refer to, the ballad.[8][9][10][11]

VariantLord/Lady's surnameLoverNotes
The Old ballad of Little Musgrave and the Lady BarnardBarnardLittle MusgraveThis version has the foot-page
Mattie GrovesArlenLittle Mattie Groves[12]
Matty GrovesDarnellMatty Groves[13]

Some of the versions of the song subsequently recorded differ from Child's catalogued version.[14] The earliest published version appeared in 1658 (see Literature section below). A copy was also printed on a broadside by Henry Gosson, who is said to have printed between 1607 and 1641.[12] Some variation occurs in where Matty is first seen; sometimes at church, sometimes playing ball.

Matty Groves also shares some mid-song stanzas with the ballad "Fair Margaret and Sweet William" (Child 74, Roud 253).[15][16]

Other names for the ballad:

  • Based on the lover
    • Matthy Groves
    • Young Musgrave
    • Wee Messgrove
    • Little Musgrave
    • Little Sir Grove
    • Little Mushiegrove
    • Little Massgrove
  • Based on the lord
    • Lord Barnard
    • Lord Barnaby
    • Lord Barlibas
    • Lord Barnabas
    • Lord Bengwill
    • Lord Barnett
    • Lord Arlen
    • Lord Arnold
    • Lord Aaron
    • Lord Donald
    • Lord Darlen
    • Lord Darnell
  • Based on a combination of names
    • Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
    • Lord Barnett and Little Munsgrove
    • Little Musgrave and Lady Barnet


There is an allusion to the ballad in Beaumont and Fletcher's play The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1613); this is the earliest known reference.

Al Hine's 1961 novel Lord Love a Duck opens and closes with excerpts from the ballad, and borrows the names Musgrave and Barnard for two characters.[17]

Deborah Grabien's third book in the Haunted Ballad series, Matty Groves (2005), puts a different spin on the ballad.[18]

Field recordings

  • In August 1928, a version of the song was recorded by Mrs. Henry (for Mellinger Edward Henry) from "Uncle" Sam Harmon in Tennessee.[19]
  • In 1934, Jean Bell Thomas recorded Green Maggard singing "Lord Daniel" in Kentucky. This version was released on the anthology 'Kentucky Mountain Music' Yazoo YA 2200.[20]
  • On 2 June 1949, Jean Ritchie sang "Little Musgrave" for Alan Lomax, who made a reel-to-reel recording of it in his apartment in Greenwich Village.[21]
  • In September 1960, Hamish Henderson recorded Aberdeenshire singer Jean Robertson singing "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard ". However, the protagonists are Mattie Groves and Lord Donal, and another version by the same singer is called "Lord Donal". The notes to the recording on the Tobar an Dualchais webpage suggest that the singer learned her version from Johnny Wells and Sandy Paton. Paton was an American singer and folk song collector.[22]
  • In August 1963, John Cohen recorded Dillard Chandler singing "Mathie Groves" in Sodom, North Carolina. This version was published on Smithsonian-Folkways SFW CD 40159 ('Dark Holler').[23]

Commercial recordings

Versions of some performers could be mentioned as the most notable or successful, including the ones by Jean Ritchie[24] or Martin Carthy.[25]

YearRelease (Album / "Single")PerformerVariantNotes
1956John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk SongsJohn Jacob NilesLittle Mattie Groves
1958Shep Ginandes Sings Folk SongsShep GinandesMattie Groves[26]
1960British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 2Jean RitchieLittle Musgrave
1962Joan Baez in ConcertJoan BaezMatty Groves
1964Introducing the Beers FamilyBeers FamilyMattie Groves
1966Home Again!Doc WatsonMatty Groves
1969Liege & LiefFairport ConventionMatty GrovesSet to the tune of the otherwise unrelated Appalachian song "Shady Grove"; this hybrid version has therefore entered other performers' repertoires over time (the frequency of this as well as the similarity of the names has led to the erroneous assumption that "Shady Grove" is directly descended from "Matty Groves"). Several live recordings also.
1969Prince HeathenMartin CarthyLittle Musgrave and Lady Barnard
1970Ballads and SongsNic JonesLittle Musgrave
1976Christy MooreChristy MooreLittle MusgraveSet to a music by Andy Irvine[27]
1977Never Set the Cat on FireFrank HayesLike a Lamb to the SlaughterDone as a parody talking blues version
1980The Woman I Loved So WellPlanxtyLittle Musgrave
1990MasquePaul RolandMatty Groves
1992Just Gimme Somethin' I'm Used ToNorman Blake and his wife, Nancy BlakeLittle Matty Groves
1992Out Standing in a FieldThe Makem Brother and Brian SullivanMatty Groves
1993In Good King Arthur's DayGraham DodsworthLittle Musgrave
1994You Could Be the MeadowEden Burning
1995Live at the Mineshaft TavernThaMuseMeant
1997On and OnFiddler's GreenMatty Groves
1999Trad Arr JonesJohn Wesley HardingLittle Musgrave
2000HepsankeikkaTarujen SaariKaunis neito(In Finnish)
2001Listen, ListenContinental DriftersMatty Groves
2002Ralph StanleyRalph StanleyLittle Mathie Grove
2002Maid on the ShoreGoo Birds FlightMatty Grove
2003sings Sandy DennyLinde NijlandMatty Groves
2004Live 2004PlanxtyLittle Musgrave
2005Dark Holler: Old Love Songs and BalladsDillard ChandlerMathie GroveAcapella Appalachian.[28]
2005De Andere KustKadrilMatty Groves
2006Bucket of Guts: Sea Shanties 1Rant & RoarMaddie Grove
2007Season of the WitchThe StrangelingsMatty Groves
2007Prodigal SonMartin SimpsonLittle Musgrave
2008The Peacemaker's ChauffeurJason WilsonMatty GrovesReggae version, featuring Dave Swarbrick & Brownman Ali
2009Foxhat CompilationThe Fox Hat!Matty Groves
2009Folk SongsJames Yorkston and the Big Eyes Family PlayersLittle Musgrave
2009Alela & AlinaAlela Diane featuring Alina HardinMatty Groves, Lord Arland
2009Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & BastardsTom WaitsMathie Grove
2009Tales from the Crow ManDamh The BardMatty Groves
2010Sweet JoanSherwoodMatty Groves(In Russian)
2011Birds' Advice Elizabeth LaprelleMathey Groves
2011"Little Musgrave"The MusgravesLittle MusgraveYouTube video recorded to explain the band's name
2011In SilenceMarc CarrollMatty Groves
2012RetrospectiveThe KennedysMatty Groves
2012AlohaContranymMatty GrovesDub Folk version[29]
2013The Irish Connection 2Johnny Logan
2013FugitivesMoriartyMatty Groves

Film and television


In the film Songcatcher (2000), the song is performed by Emmy Rossum and Janet McTeer.


In season 5 episode 2, "Gently with Class" (2012), of the British television series Inspector George Gently, the song is performed by Ebony Buckle, playing the role of singer Ellen Mallam in that episode, singing it as "Matty Groves".

Musical variants

In 1943, the English composer Benjamin Britten used this folk song as the basis of a choral piece entitled "The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard".[30]

The Big Musgrave, a parody by the Kipper Family appears on their LP Fresh Yesterday (DAM CD 020) (1988). The hero in this version is called Big Fatty Groves.[31]

Frank Hayes created a talking blues version of Matty Groves called "Like A Lamb To The Slaughter," which won the 1994 Pegasus award for "Best Risqué Song."

Other songs with the same tune

  • Dave van Ronk's version of "House of the Rising Sun" uses the tune of a version of "Matty Groves".
  • The folk/Bluegrass song "Shady Grove" from the United States also with many variations in wording, some arising in and around the Civil War, has a tune very similar to and possibly arising from the tune of Matty Groves.

See also

The previous and next Child Ballads:


  1. Francis James Child. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Vol. 2. p. 243. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  2. "Matty Groves". English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  3. "A Lamentable Ballad of Little Musgrave, and the Lady Barnet". Bodleian Ballads Online. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  4. "The lamentable Ditty of little Mousgrove, and the Lady Barnet". Bodleian Ballads Online. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  5. "[A] Lamentable Ballad of the Little Musgrove, and the Lady Barnet". Bodleian Ballads Online. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  6. Three broadsides from the 17th century.
  7. "Search results for Roud folk song No. 52". English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  8. "Little Musgrove- Maroons (JM) pre1924 Beckwith C". Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  9. "Garoleen- Joseph (St Vincent) 1966 Abrahams C". Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  10. "Matty Glow- Antoine (St Vincent) 1966 Abrahams B". Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  11. "Little Musgrove- Forbes (JM) pre1924 Beckwith A , B". Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  12. "Mattie Groves". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  13. "The Celtic Lyrics Collection - Lyrics". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  14. Francis James Child. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. p. 243. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  15. Keefer, Jane (2011). "Fair Margaret and Sweet William". Ibiblio. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  16. Niles, John Jacob (1961). The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles. Bramhall House, New York. pp. 159–161, 194–197.
  17. Hine, Al (1961). Lord Love a Duck. Longmans, Green & Co. pp. 2, 367. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  18. Grabien, Deborah (2005). Matty Groves. Minotaur Books. ISBN 0-312-33389-7. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  19. Mellinger Edward Henry (1938). Folk-songs from the Southern Highlands. J. J. Augustin.
  20. "Roud Folksong Index (S243414) - "Lord Daniel"". English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  21. Jean Ritchie singing "Little Musgrave" in Alan Lomax's apartment, 3rd Street, Greenwich Village, New York City (New York), United States (2 June 1949). "Little Musgrave". (Reel-to-reel). New York: Association for Cultural Equity. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  22. Jeannie Robertson singing "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard", recorded in Scotland by Hamish Henderson (September 1960). "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard". (Reel-to-reel). Scotland: Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o' Riches. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  23. "Roud Folksong Index (S373182) - "Mathie Groves"". English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  24. Midwest Folklore. Indiana University. 1954.
  25. The Gramophone. C. Mackenzie. 1969.
  26. ""Mattie Groves" by Shep Ginandes". SecondHandSongs. 1958. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  28. Smithsonian Folkways – SFW 40170
  29. "Aloha by Contranym". Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  30. Reviews at Musical Quarterly 51 (4), 722; Music & Letters 34 (2), 172.
  31. "Fresh Yesterday Lyrics - Big Musgrave". The Kipper Family. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
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