"Matty Groves" is a Border ballad probably originating in Northern England that describes an adulterous tryst between a man and a woman 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.
Some versions of the ballad include elements of an alba, a poetic form in which lovers part after spending a night together.
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".
Child published 14 examples.
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.
|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:
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.
|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. 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|
|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|
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".
The previous and next Child Ballads: