"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.
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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.
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.
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".
The Roud Folk Song Index contains over 300 instances of this ballad, 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.
Textual variants and related ballads
|The Old ballad of Little Musgrave and the Lady Barnard||Barnard||Little Musgrave||This version has the foot-page|
|Mattie Groves||Arlen||Little Mattie Groves|
|Matty Groves||Darnell||Matty Groves|
Some of the versions of the song subsequently recorded differ from Child's catalogued version. 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. Some variation occurs in where Matty is first seen; sometimes at church, sometimes playing ball.
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.
Deborah Grabien's third book in the Haunted Ballad series, Matty Groves (2005), puts a different spin on the ballad.
- In August 1928, a version of the song was recorded by Mrs. Henry (for Mellinger Edward Henry) from "Uncle" Sam Harmon in Tennessee.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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').
|Year||Release (Album / "Single")||Performer||Variant||Notes|
|1956||John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs||John Jacob Niles||Little Mattie Groves|
|1958||Shep Ginandes Sings Folk Songs||Shep Ginandes||Mattie Groves|
|1960||British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 2||Jean Ritchie||Little Musgrave|
|1962||Joan Baez in Concert||Joan Baez||Matty Groves|
|1964||Introducing the Beers Family||Beers Family||Mattie Groves|
|1966||Home Again!||Doc Watson||Matty Groves|
|1969||Liege & Lief||Fairport Convention||Matty Groves||Set 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.|
|1969||Prince Heathen||Martin Carthy||Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard|
|1970||Ballads and Songs||Nic Jones||Little Musgrave|
|1976||Christy Moore||Christy Moore||Little Musgrave||Set to a music by Andy Irvine|
|1977||Never Set the Cat on Fire||Frank Hayes||Like a Lamb to the Slaughter||Done as a parody talking blues version|
|1980||The Woman I Loved So Well||Planxty||Little Musgrave|
|1990||Masque||Paul Roland||Matty Groves|
|1992||Just Gimme Somethin' I'm Used To||Norman Blake and his wife, Nancy Blake||Little Matty Groves|
|1992||Out Standing in a Field||The Makem Brother and Brian Sullivan||Matty Groves|
|1993||In Good King Arthur's Day||Graham Dodsworth||Little Musgrave|
|1994||You Could Be the Meadow||Eden Burning|
|1995||Live at the Mineshaft Tavern||ThaMuseMeant|
|1997||On and On||Fiddler's Green||Matty Groves|
|1999||Trad Arr Jones||John Wesley Harding||Little Musgrave|
|2000||Hepsankeikka||Tarujen Saari||Kaunis neito||(In Finnish)|
|2001||Listen, Listen||Continental Drifters||Matty Groves|
|2002||Ralph Stanley||Ralph Stanley||Little Mathie Grove|
|2002||Maid on the Shore||Goo Birds Flight||Matty Grove|
|2003||sings Sandy Denny||Linde Nijland||Matty Groves|
|2004||Live 2004||Planxty||Little Musgrave|
|2005||Dark Holler: Old Love Songs and Ballads||Dillard Chandler||Mathie Grove||Acapella Appalachian.|
|2005||De Andere Kust||Kadril||Matty Groves|
|2006||Bucket of Guts: Sea Shanties 1||Rant & Roar||Maddie Grove|
|2007||Season of the Witch||The Strangelings||Matty Groves|
|2007||Prodigal Son||Martin Simpson||Little Musgrave|
|2008||The Peacemaker's Chauffeur||Jason Wilson||Matty Groves||Reggae version, featuring Dave Swarbrick & Brownman Ali|
|2009||Foxhat Compilation||The Fox Hat!||Matty Groves|
|2009||Folk Songs||James Yorkston and the Big Eyes Family Players||Little Musgrave|
|2009||Alela & Alina||Alela Diane featuring Alina Hardin||Matty Groves, Lord Arland|
|2009||Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards||Tom Waits||Mathie Grove|
|2009||Tales from the Crow Man||Damh The Bard||Matty Groves|
|2010||Sweet Joan||Sherwood||Matty Groves||(In Russian)|
|2011||Birds' Advice||Elizabeth Laprelle||Mathey Groves|
|2011||"Little Musgrave"||The Musgraves||Little Musgrave||YouTube video recorded to explain the band's name|
|2011||In Silence||Marc Carroll||Matty Groves|
|2012||Retrospective||The Kennedys||Matty Groves|
|2012||Aloha||Contranym||Matty Groves||Dub Folk version|
|2013||The Irish Connection 2||Johnny Logan|
Film and television
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".
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.
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.
- Francis James Child. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Vol. 2. Books.google.com. p. 243. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- "Matty Groves". vwml.org. English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- "A Lamentable Ballad of Little Musgrave, and the Lady Barnet". ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. Bodleian Ballads Online. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- "The lamentable Ditty of little Mousgrove, and the Lady Barnet". ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. Bodleian Ballads Online. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- "[A] Lamentable Ballad of the Little Musgrove, and the Lady Barnet". ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. Bodleian Ballads Online. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- Three broadsides from the 17th century.
- "Search results for Roud folk song No. 52". vwml.org. English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
- "Little Musgrove- Maroons (JM) pre1924 Beckwith C". bluegrassmessengers.com. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- "Garoleen- Joseph (St Vincent) 1966 Abrahams C". bluegrassmessengers.com. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- "Matty Glow- Antoine (St Vincent) 1966 Abrahams B". bluegrassmessengers.com. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- "Little Musgrove- Forbes (JM) pre1924 Beckwith A , B". bluegrassmessengers.com. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- "Mattie Groves". contemplator.com. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
- "The Celtic Lyrics Collection - Lyrics". celtic-lyrics.com. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
- Francis James Child. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. books.google.com. p. 243. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
- Keefer, Jane (2011). "Fair Margaret and Sweet William". Ibiblio. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- Niles, John Jacob (1961). The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles. Bramhall House, New York. pp. 159–161, 194–197.
- Hine, Al (1961). Lord Love a Duck. babel.hathitrust.org. Longmans, Green & Co. pp. 2, 367. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
- Grabien, Deborah (2005). Matty Groves. amazon.com. Minotaur Books. ISBN 0-312-33389-7. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
- Mellinger Edward Henry (1938). Folk-songs from the Southern Highlands. J. J. Augustin.
- "Roud Folksong Index (S243414) - "Lord Daniel"". vwml.org. English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- 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". research.culturalequity.org (Reel-to-reel). New York: Association for Cultural Equity. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- Jeannie Robertson singing "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard", recorded in Scotland by Hamish Henderson (September 1960). "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard". www.tobarandualchais.co.uk (Reel-to-reel). Scotland: Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o' Riches. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- "Roud Folksong Index (S373182) - "Mathie Groves"". vwml.org. English Folk Dance and Song Society / Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- Midwest Folklore. Indiana University. 1954.
- The Gramophone. C. Mackenzie. 1969.
- ""Mattie Groves" by Shep Ginandes". secondhandsongs.com. SecondHandSongs. 1958. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
- Smithsonian Folkways – SFW 40170
- "Aloha by Contranym". bandcamp.com. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
- Reviews at Musical Quarterly 51 (4), 722; Music & Letters 34 (2), 172.
- "Fresh Yesterday Lyrics - Big Musgrave". The Kipper Family. Retrieved 28 February 2016.