Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard / Matty Groves
Jeannie Robertson sang Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard in Aberdeen in 1958 to Peter Kennedy. This recording was included in 2000 on the extended Rounder re-issue of Volume 4 of The Folk Songs of Britain, Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland Volume 1.
Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl sang Matty Groves in 1961 on their Folkways album of American, Scots and English folksongs, Two-Way Trip. They commented in the album's booklet:
This extremely popular traditional ballad is of considerable antiquity and a great number of different versions have been collected. According to Chappell, the first broadside version was published as early as 1607 by Henry Gosson. Child prints 14 texts. The version here is a collation of American and Nova Scotian variants.
Hedy West sang Little Matty Groves in 1965 on her Topic album of Appalachian ballads, Pretty Saro. She commented in her sleeve notes:
Little Matty Groves (Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard) was quoted in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning Pestle, written about 1611. Both Grandma and Gus’ wife Jane sing a fragment of Little Matty Groves that breaks off before Lord Arnold discovers his wife and Matty Groves in bed together. Neither Grandma nor Jane ever knew more of the ballad. An earlier singer has fragmented the song either by censoring or forgetting. This family version is completed with another American text collected by Vance Randolph. I find the ballad intensely tragic because its characters knowingly pursue ruin by insisting on unbending truthfulness.
Matty Groves is one of Fairport Convention's best known songs. They recorded it lots of times both with and without Sandy Denny: The first (and most famous) version with Sandy appeared in 1969 on Liege and Lief where the line-up is Denny / Hutchings / Mattacks / Nicol / Swarbrick / Thompson. This version also appears on The History of Fairport Convention, on the double CD compilation Meet on the Ledge: The Classic Years 1967-1975 and on the Island samplers Island Life: 25 Years of Island Records and Folk Routes. The tune used as the basis for the instrumental at the end comes from a banjo piece by Eddie West, and was also used by Martin Carthy in his version of the song Famous Flower of Serving Men.
The second version with Sandy was recorded on January 26, 1974 at the Sydney Opera House, Australia, with Denny / Donahue / Lucas / Mattacks / Pegg / Swarbrick. It was released on Fairport's Live album. Two more performances from Ebbets Field, Denver, Colorado of May 1974 were published in 2002 on Before the Moon.
A Danish TV broadcast from November 1969 is not available.
Fairport Convention's first version without Sandy Denny appeared on Live at the L.A. Troubadour, recorded in 1970 with Mattacks / Nicol / Pegg / Swarbrick / Thompson, and the second version is on the 1979 live album Farewell, Farewell. The third version without Sandy was recorded for the 1987 live-in-the-studio album In Real Time, as part of the “Big Three Medley”; this version also appeared in the video It All Comes 'Round Again.
And this Fairport perennial is treated to yet another arrangements, e.g. live at Cropredy 1983, which was released on the cassette The Boot—1983 Fairport Reunion, in the 1990 video Live Legends, and on the 25th Anniversary Concert CD (1992).
A specially multi-version compiled of several Matty Groves versions—among them Sandy in the classic Liege and Lief rendering—is on the Fairport unConventioNal 4CD set. It is framed by excerpts from “The Matty Groves Crime Report” which began Fairport's set at Cropredy in 1998.
Martin Carthy sang Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard unaccompanied on his 1969 album with Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:
The story speaks for itself and really needs nothing written about it at all. The tune I pinched from a version of the Holy Well.
Nic Jones sang Little Musgrave in 1970 on his first solo album, Ballads and Songs. He commented in his album sleeve notes:
Three very common ballads are included in this record: Sir Patrick Spens, The Outlandish Knight and Little Musgrave. All three are well-known to anyone with a knowledge of balladry, as they are well represented in most ballad collections. … Musgrave's tune is more a creation of my one than anything else, although the bulk of it is based on an American variant of the same ballad, entitled Little Matty Groves.
Pete Morton sang Little Musgrave on his 1998 Harbourtown album Trespass. He noted:
Lord Barnard is an honourable man, who gives Musgrave his best sword but he is probably a miserable rich git too. Musgrave is good looking, likes married women and is little. Lady Barnard is a beautiful women—things don't turn out well.
Frankie Armstrong sang Little Musgrave in 1975 on her Topic album Songs and Ballads. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:
Many people connect the events of this ballad with the district of Barnard Castle, Co. Durham. Perhaps. Anyway, the song tells a powerful story that unrolls like a film scenario, exterior, interior, distant shots that cut to close-up. Frankie Armstrong finds this exceptionally powerful: the wife trapped in a marriage probably not of her own choosing; the lover whose ardour outweighs his caution; the husband who has to be seen to do the right thing and who desperately tries to avoid the tragic outcome. The words of this version are substantially those obtained by William Motherwell “from the recitation of Mrs. McConechie, Kilmarnock” at the start of the nineteenth century. A bit of the ballad is quoted in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning Pestle (1611), and it was printed on broadsides several times in the seventeenth century but by the mid-nineteenth century it was rarely reported; such a good song, one wonders why; especially as it remained popular among American folk singers.
Christy Moore sang Little Musgrave in 1980 on Planxty's Tara album The Woman I Loved So Well. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:
I was first drawn to this song by its length. The first verse appealed to me because I too went to Mass to look at girls. I collected it in a book which had no music but I was lucky to collect a tune from Nic Jones album discovered on a field trip through Liam O'Flynn's flat. I first heard the adjoining tune (Paddy Fahey's Reel) in a dressing room in Germany when, having just died the death, Matt played to us and made me forget where I was for 3 minutes 23 seconds.
John Wright sang Matty Groves in 1997 on the Fellside anthology Ballads. Paul Adams commented in the liner notes:
Adultery, lust, an unfaithful wife, revenge, crime of passion, loyalty—modern tabloids would have a field day with this story. Matty has ideas above his station. He also is one of the earliest recorded “toy boys.” This is another well travelled ballad which got a new lease of life a few years ago when it was recorded by the folk rock band, Fairport Convention. John has two versions, one from the great Scots ballad singer Jeannie Robertson via Lorna Campbell and the other from the Appalachian singer, Hedy West. Unable to choose John extracted the best elements of each and created this version. What makes the story classic tragedy is the way in which all principal characters progress inexorably to the inevitable conclusion.
Isla St Clair sang Matty Groves in 2000 on her CD Royal Lovers & Scandals.
Martin Simpson sang Little Musgrave in 2007 on his Topic CD and DVD Prodigal Son. He commented in his liner notes:
When learning a version of a big ballad, there are often many choices to be made. There may be several recorded versions that you like, or a great tune with a dubious text, or vice versa, or no tune and little text. You might have to write or re-build and collate. In the case of Little Musgrave I had spent several years reading, listening and considering, when one day I remembered Nic Jones' recorded version on his first album, Ballads and Songs. I didn't go back and listen, I just started to play.
This video shows Martin Simpson at Bournemouth Folk Club, Centre Stage, Dorset, UK, on March 8, 2009:
James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players sang Little Musgrave in 2009 on their CD Folk Songs.
Jon Boden sang Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard as the May 30, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.
Will Noble sang Little Musgrave on his 2017 Veteran CD It's Gritstone for Me. Brian Peters and John Howson commented in the album's liner notes:
Will's version of Child 81 is probably derived from that put together and recorded by Nic Jones in 1970.
“In the early 70s I got asked to a folk club. I'd never been to one before but I enjoyed it, even though I did find that the people seemed to sing in a ‘different’ way to what I was used to! I carried on going, and one chap sang this song with a guitar regularly. For some reason I really liked it and would have been happy if he'd sung it every week. I decided to learn it and found that I more or less knew it already. There weren't too many ballads in my local repertoire, but I always enjoyed them for their language: “Two swords in one scabbard”—a wonderful line!”
Iona Fyfe sang Little Musgrave on her 2019 EP Dark Turn of Mind. She noted:
This version is an amalgamation of text from Jeannie Robertson’s Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard and Version A from Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Sharp’s A Version was collected from Mrs Becky Griffin in Big Laurel, North Carolina on August 17, 1916. I got the melody from bothy ballad singer, Moira Stewart, who often sung the Matty Groves at ballad competitions in Scotland.
A classic murder ballad, Lady Darnell convinces Mattie Groves (or Little Musgrave) to sleep with her. A foot-page is standing by and runs to tell Lord Darnell. Lord Darnell discovers Matty and his wife, and challenges Matty to a duel. Matty is killed, and the Lady states that she likes Matty better than Darnell and all his kin. In some versions, the wife is killed.
Roud 52, the ballad features in Alexander Whitelaw’s 1845 collection Book of Scottish Ballads under the title Lord Barnaby. This Scottish version is localised to Angus and mentions Dundee.
Jimmy Hutchison recorded Mattie Groves in 1988 with a melody similar to that of Jeannie’s (SA1988.112). The antagonist of the ballad goes by several names depending on the ballad variant and region is was collected in. Titles include Barnard, Barnaby, Darlen, Darnell, Danal, Donal, Arnold, Arlen, with ‘Lord Daniel’ appearing in some North American versions,
The Kist o’ Riches archive features two versions sung by Aberdeen singer, Jeannie Robertson from 1960 and 1962, where she sings “Lord Donal ain’t at home”, which is unusual for Jeannie’s vocabulary and more typical of versions collected in America. The ballad can be found in Emily Lyle’s Scottish Ballads under the title Wee Messgrove, and was “taken down by Thomas McConechie, Kilmarnock and copied by (William) Motherwell. Although the ballad was widely known in Scotland and has remained current there up to the present, it appears to be of English origin and the lines “‘Ever as the lord Barnet’s horn blew, Away, Musgrave, away!” are quoted in Beaumont and Fletcher’s play Knight of the Burning Pestle dated c. 1611.”
Jean Ritchie sang Little Musgrave for Alan Lomax on June 2, 1949. The Roud Folk Song Index features 300 entries of this ballad, with most variants being collected in North America with 113 versions from the USA, 18 versions from Nova Scotia, Canada, 9 versions from Scotland and 2 from England.
Said to be a border ballad likely originating in the North of England, Matty Groves has been recorded by several artists worldwide. The ballad was printed on broadsides as early as the 1660’s, with three copies at the Bodleian Library Broadsides collection. One version, from the collection of Anthony Wood, has a handwritten note stating that “the protagonists were alive in 1543”. A lamentable ballad of the little Musgrove and the lady Barnet was printed in London between 1663 and 1674. The ballad features in Volume 3 of Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry in 1845.
Sandy Denny sings Matty Groves
A holiday, a holiday, and the first one of the year.
Lord Darnell's wife came into church, the gospel for to hear.
And when the meeting it was done, she cast her eyes about,
And there she saw little Matty Groves, walking in the crowd.
“Come home with me, little Matty Groves, come home with me tonight.
Come home with me, little Matty Groves, and sleep with me till light.”
“Oh, I can't come home, I won't come home and sleep with you tonight,
By the rings on your fingers I can tell you are Lord Darnell's wife.”
“What if I am Lord Darnell's wife? Lord Darnell's not at home.
For he is out in the far cornfields, bringing the yearlings home.”
And a servant who was standing by and hearing what was said,
He swore Lord Darnell he would know before the sun would set.
And in his hurry to carry the news, he bent his breast and ran,
And when he came to the broad mill stream, he took off his shoes and swam.
Little Matty Groves, he lay down and took a little sleep.
When he awoke, Lord Darnell he was standing at his feet.
Saying “How do you like my feather bed? And how do you like my sheets?
How do you like my lady who lies in your arms asleep?”
“Oh, well I like your feather bed, and well I like your sheets.
But better I like your lady gay who lies in my arms asleep.”
“Well, get up, get up,” Lord Darnell cried, “get up as quick as you can!
It'll never be said in fair England that I slew a naked man.”
“Oh, I can't get up, I won't get up, I can't get up for my life.
For you have two long beaten swords and I not a pocket-knife.”
“Well it's true I have two beaten swords, and they cost me deep in the purse.
But you will have the better of them and I will have the worse.”
“And you will strike the very first blow, and strike it like a man.
I will strike the very next blow, and I'll kill you if I can.”
So Matty struck the very first blow, and he hurt Lord Darnell sore.
Lord Darnell struck the very next blow, and Matty struck no more.
And then Lord Darnell he took his wife and he sat her on his knee,
Saying, “Who do you like the best of us, Matty Groves or me?”
And then up spoke his own dear wife, never heard to speak so free.
“I'd rather a kiss from dead Matty's lips than you and your finery.”
Lord Darnell he jumped up and loudly he did bawl,
He struck his wife right through the heart and pinned her against the wall.
“A grave, a grave!” Lord Darnell cried, “to put these lovers in.
But bury my lady at the top for she was of noble kin.”
Martin Carthy sings Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
On a day, on a day, on a bright holiday as many there be in the year
When Little Musgrave to the church did go, god's holy word to hear.
He went and he stood all at the church door; he watched the priest at his mass.
But he had more mind of the fair women than he had of Our Lady's grace.
For some of them were clad in the green and some were clad in the pall,
And in and come Lord Barnard's wife, the fairest among them all.
She cast her eye on Little Musgrave, full bright as the summer sun,
And then and thought this Little Musgrave, this lady's heart I have won.
Says she, “I have loved thee, Little Musgrave, full long and many's the day.”
“So have I loved, lady fair, yet never a word durst I say.”
“Oh I have a bower at Bucklesfordberry all daintily painted white
And if thou'd went thither, thou Little Musgrave, thou's lie in my arms all this night.”
Says he, “I thank thee, lady fair, this kindness thou showest to me
And this night will I to Bucklesfordberry, all night for to lay with thee.”
When he heard that, her little foot page all by her foot as he run
He says, “Although I am my lady's page, yet am I Lord Barnard's man.
My Lord Barnard shall know of this, whether I do sink or do swim.”
And ever where the bridges were broke, he laid to his breast and he swum.
“Oh sleep thou wake, thou Lord Barnard, as thou art a man of life.
For Little Musgrave is at Bucklesfordberry in bed with thine own wedded wife.”
“Oh if this be true, thou little foot page, this thing that thou tellest to me
Then all my land in Bucklesfordberry freely I give it to thee.
But if this be a lie, thou little foot page, this thing that thou tellest to me
Then from the highest tree in Bucklesfordberry high hanged thou shalt be.”
And he called to him his merry men, all by one by two by three,
Says, “this night must I to Bucklesfordberry, for never had I greater need.”
And he called to him his stable boy, “Go saddle me me milk-white steed.”
And he's trampled o'er them green mossy banks, till his horse's hooves did bleed.
And some men whistled, and some men sang, and some these words did say
Whene'er my Lord Barnard's horn blew, “Away, Musgrave away.”
“Methinks I hear the thistle cock, methinks I hear the jay,
Methinks I hear the Lord Barnard's horn, and I wish I were away.”
“Lie still, lie still, thou Little Musgrave, come cuddle me from the cold,
For tis nothing but a shepherd boy, adriving his sheep to the fold.
Is not thy hawk sat upon his perch, they steed eats oats and hay,
And thou with a fair maid in thy arms and would'st thou be away.”
With that my Lord Barnard come to the door and he lit upon a stone,
And he's drawn out three silver keys and he's opened the doors each one.
And he's lifted up the green coverlet and he's lifted up the sheet:
“How now, how now, thou Little Musgrave, dost find my lady sweet?”
“I find her sweet,” says Little Musgrave, “The more tis to my pain
For I would give three hundred pounds, that I was on yonder plain.”
“Rise up, rise up,” thou Little Musgrave, “and put thy clothes on
For never shall they say in my own country i slew a naked man.
Oh I have two swords in one scabbard, full dearly they cost my purse.
And thou shall have the best of them, and I shall have the worst.”
Now the very first blow Little Musgrave struck, he hurt Lord Barnard sore;
But the very first blow Lord Barnard struck, little Musgrave ne'er struck more.
Then up and spoke his lady fair, from the bed whereon she lay,
She says, “Although thou art dead, thou Little Musgrave, yet for thee will I pray.
I will wish well to thy soul, as long as I have life,
Yet will I not for thee Lord Barnard, though I am your own wedded wife.”
Oh he's cut the paps from off her breast, great pity it was to see
How the drops of this lady's heart's blood came a-trickling down her knee.
“Oh woe be to ye, me merry men, all you were ne'er born for my good.
Why did you not offer to stay my hand, when you see me grow so mad?”
“A grave, a grave,” Lord Barnard cried, “to put these lovers in.
But lay my lady on the upper hand, she was the chiefest of her kin.”
Nic Jones sings Little Musgrave
As it fell out upon a day, as many in the year,
Musgrave to the church did go to see fair ladies there.
And some came down in red velvet and some came down in pall,
And the last to come down was the Lady Barnard, the fairest of them all.
And she's cast a look on the little Musgrave as bright as the summer's sun.
And then bethought this little Musgrave, this lady's love I've won.
“Good day, good day, you handsome youth, God make you safe and free,
What would you give this day, Musgrave, to lie one night with me?”
“Oh, I dare not for my lands, lady, I dare not for my life,
For the ring on your white finger shows you are Lord Barnard's wife.”
“Lord Barnard's to the hunting gone and I hope he'll never return;
And you shall sleep into his bed and keep his lady warm.”
“There's nothing for to fear, Musgrave, you nothing have to fear.
I'll set a page outside the gates to watch till morning clear.”
And woe be to the little footpage and an ill death may he die,
For he's away to the greenwood as fast as he could fly.
And when he came to the wide water he fell on his belly and swam,
And when he came to the other side he took to his heels and ran.
And when he came to the greenwood, 'twas dark as dark can be,
And he found Lord Barnard and his men a-sleeping 'neath the trees.
“Rise up, rise up, master,” he said, “Rise up and speak to me.
Your wife's in bed with the little Musgrave, rise up right speedily.”
“If this be truth you tell to me then gold shall be your fee,
And if it be false you tell to me then hanged you shall be.”
“Go saddle me the black,” he said, “Go saddle me the grey,
And sound you not the horn,” said he, “Lest our coming it would betray.”
Now there was a man in Lord Barnard's train who loved the little Musgrave,
And he blew his horn both loud and shrill: “Away, Musgrave, away.”
“Oh, I think I hear the morning cock, I think I hear the jay,
I think I hear Lord Barnard's horn: Away, Musgrave, away.”
“Oh, lie still, lie still, you little Musgrave, and keep me from the cold.
It's nothing but a shepherd boy driving his flock to the fold.
Is not your hawk upon its perch, your steed has eaten hay,
And you a gay lady in your arms and yet you would away.”
So he's turned him right and round about and he fell fast asleep,
And when he woke Lord Barnard's men were standing at his feet.
“And how do you like my bed, Musgrave, and how do you like my sheets?
And how do you like my fair lady that lies in your arms asleep?”
“Oh, it's well I like your bed,” he said, “And well I like your sheets,
And better I like your fair lady that lies in me arms asleep.”
“Well get up, get up, young man,” he said, “Get up as swift you can,
For it never will be said in my country I slew an unarmed man.
I have two swords in one scabbard, full dear they cost me purse,
And you shall have the best of them and I shall have the worse.”
And so slowly, so slowly, he rose up and slowly he put on,
And slowly down the stairs he goes a-thinking to be slain.
The first stroke little Musgrave took it was both deep and sore,
And down he fell at Barnard's feet and word he never spoke more.
“And how do you like his cheeks, lady, and how do you like his chin?
And how do you like his fair body now there's no life within?”
“Oh, it's well I like his cheeks,” she said, “And well I like his chin.
And better I like his fair body than all your kith and kin.”
And he's taken up his long, long sword to strike a mortal blow,
And through and through the lady's heart the cold steel it did go.
As it fell out upon a day, as many in the year,
Musgrave to the church did go to see fair ladies there.
iona Fyfe sings Little Musgrave
One day, one day, one holyday,
the first one of the year,
Little Matty Groves has went to church, the Holy Word to hear, to hear,
The Holy Word to hear.
Lord Darnell’s wife was standing by,
she cast her eye on him,
“Go home with me, Little Matty Groves, A wedded wife to be, to be,
A wedded wife to be.”
“I can’t come home, and I won’t come home,
I cannot spare my life.
But by the rings upon your hands you are Lord Darnell’s wife, his wife,
You are Lord Darnell’s wife.”
“It’s if I am Lord Darnell’s wife,
Lord Darnell’s gone today,
He’s across the waterside, he’s gone over there to stay, to stay,
He’s gone over there to stay.”
But the little foot-page was standing by,
and hearing what was said
He swore Lord Darnell he would know before the sun was set, was set,
Before the sun was set.
He ran till he came to the riverside,
he bent his breast and swam.
He swam till he came to the other side, he picked up his heels and ran and ran,
Picked up his heels and ran.
When he came to Lord Darnell’s haa
he tinkled at the pin,
Lord Darnell he was ready there for to rise and let him in, him in,
To rise and let him in.
“Oh is my bower a-falling down,
or does my castle burn?
Or is my lady lighter yet of a daughter or a son, a son,
A daughter or a son?”
“Oh no your bower’s not fallin’ down
or does your castle burn,
But Little Matty Groves he sleeps tonight keeping your lady warm, her warm,
Keeping your lady warm”
Then Lord Darnell took his men
and lined them in a row,
The orders that he gave to them that ne’er a horn should blow, should blow,
That ne’er a horn should blow.
Matty Groves he was laid down,
he took a little sleep.
And when he woke Lord Darnell, He was standing at his feet, his feet,
He was standing at his feet.
“Rise up rise up, Little Matty Groves,
rise up as quick as you can.
It shalln’t be said in old Scotland I slew a naked man, a man,
I slew a naked man.”
“Oh, I can’t get up, and I won’t get up,
I cannot spare my life.
For you have two swords by your side and I have ne’er a knife, a knife,
And I have ne’er a knife.”
“It’s I’ve got two swords by my side,
they cost me from my purse.
And you can have the very best and I shall have the worst, the worst,
And I shall have the worst.”
Matty struck the very first blow,
he wounded Darnell sore.
Lord Darnell struck the very next blow, Little Matty struck no more, no more,
Little Matty struck no more.
Then Lord Darnell took his wife,
he sat her on his knee,
Sayin’, “Who do you like best of all, Little Matty Groves or me, or me?
Little Matty Groves or me?”
“Very well I like your rosy cheeks,
very well I like your skin,
But better I like Little Matty Groves than you and all your kin, your kin,
Than you and all your kin.”
Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.