Matty Groves

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For the English footballer, see Matt Groves.
"Matty Groves"
Written by Traditional
Performed by Many; see main text

"Matty Groves" is an English folk ballad that describes an adulterous tryst between a man and a woman that is ended when the woman's husband discovers and kills them. It dates to at least the 17th century, and is one of the Child Ballads collected by 19th-century American scholar Francis James Child. It has several variant names, including "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard."

Synopsis[edit]

Lady Arlen (other names include Daniel, Arnold, Donald, and Barnard), entices Matty Groves (or Little Musgrave), a servant or retainer of her husband, into an adulterous affair. Lord Arlen receives word of the betrayal; in some versions a foot-page hears them planning and warns Lord Arlen; the lord promises reward if he is telling the truth – to make him his heir, or marry him to his eldest daughter – and execution if he is lying. The nobleman returns home, where he surprises the lovers in bed. The death may be put off by Matty arguing for a weapon. Lord Arlen kills Matty Groves in a duel. When his wife spurns him and expresses a preference for her lover, even in death, over her husband, he stabs her through the heart. The ballad may end there, or with the lord's death, by suicide or execution. Yet another version has him cutting off his wife's head and kicking it against the wall in anger.

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

Standard references[edit]

Textual variants[edit]

Google Books Information

Variant Lord/Lady's surname Lover Notes
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 [1]
Matty Groves Darnell Matty Groves [2]

Some of the versions of the song subsequently recorded differ from Child's catalogued version.

The earliest published version appeared in 1658 (but 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.[3]

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 Miushiegrove
    • 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
    • Lord Barnett and Little Munsgrove
    • Little Musgrave and Lady Barnet


Literature[edit]

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.

A book by Deborah Grabien (3rd in the Haunted Ballad series) puts a different spin on the ballad.[4]

Recordings[edit]

Album/Single Performer Year Variant Notes
John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs John Jacob Niles 1956 Little Mattie Groves
British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 2 Jean Ritchie 1960 Little Musgrave
Joan Baez in Concert Joan Baez 1962 Matty Groves
Home Again Doc Watson 1966 Matty Groves
Liege & Lief Fairport Convention 1969 Matty Groves Several live versions released since
Prince Heathen Martin Carthy 1969 Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
Ballads and Songs Nic Jones 1970 Little Musgrave
Just Gimme Somethin' I'm Used To Norman Blake and his wife, Nancy Blake 1992 Little Matty Groves
Christy Moore Christy Moore 1976 Little Musgrave
The Woman I Loved So Well Planxty 1980 Little Musgrave Christy Moore, who also recorded the song, was a member of Planxty
Masque Paul Roland 1990 Matty Groves
Out Standing in a Field The Makem Brother and Brian Sullivan 1992 Matty Groves
In Good King Arthur's Day Graham Dodsworth 1993 Little Musgrave
You Could Be the Meadow Eden Burning 1994
Robyn Hitchcock Matty Groves performed live; never released [1]
Live at the Mineshaft Tavern ThaMuseMeant 1995
Trad. Arr. Jones John Wesley Harding 1999 Little Musgrave
Hepsankeikka Tarujen Saari 2000 Kaunis neito (in Finnish)
On and On Fiddler's Green 1997 Matty Groves
Never Set the Cat on Fire Frank Hayes 1977 Like a Lamb to the Slaughter Done as a parody talking blues version
Listen, Listen Continental Drifters 2001 Matty Groves Trad. Arr. Fairport Convention
Ralph Stanley Ralph Stanley 2002 Little Mathie Grove
Maid on the Shore Goo Brids Flight 2002 Matty Grove
sings Sandy Denny Linde Nijland 2003 Matty Groves
De Andere Kust Kadril 2005 Matty Groves
Bucket of Guts Rant & Roar 2006 Maddie Grove
Season of the Witch The Strangelings 2007 Matty Groves
Prodigal Son Martin Simpson 2007 Little Musgrave
The Peacemaker's Chauffeur Jason Wilson 2008 Matty Groves Reggae arrangement featuring Dave Swarbrick, based largely on the Fairport version.
Foxhat Compilation The Fox Hat! 2009 Matty Groves
Folk Songs James Yorkston and the Big Eyes Family Players 2009 Little Musgrave
Alela & Alina Alela Diane featuring Alina Hardin 2009 Matty Groves, Lord Arland
Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards Tom Waits 2009 Mathie Grove
Sweet Joan Sherwood 2010 Matty Groves In Russian language
Little Musgrave The Musgraves 2011 Little Musgrave Recorded as a YouTube Video to help explain band's name origins
In Silence Marc Carroll 2011 Matty Groves
Retrospective The Kennedys 2012 Matty Groves
Aloha Contranym 2012 Matty Groves Dub Folk Version
Matty Groves Ebony Buckle, Bobby Eccles, John Steele, Phillip Granell, Cormac Byrne, Nick Hendrix 2013 Matty Groves
Fugitives Moriarty 2013 Matty Groves

Musical variants[edit]

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".[5]

Other songs with the same tune[edit]

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[edit]

The previous and next Child Ballads:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mattie Groves, http://www.contemplator.com/child/mattie.html
  2. ^ Matty Groves, http://celtic-lyrics.com/forum/index.php?autocom=tclc&code=lyrics&id=559
  3. ^ Mattie Groves, http://www.contemplator.com/child/mattie.html
  4. ^ Mattie Groves, http://www.deborahgrabien.com/matty.htm
  5. ^ Reviews at Musical Quarterly 51 (4), 722; Music & Letters 34 (2), 172.

External links[edit]