Matty Groves

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For the English footballer, see Matt Groves.
"Matty Groves"
Writer(s) Traditional

"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 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 hung, 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]

The name Musgrave originates in Westmoreland, a former county in the north of England now part of Cumbria.[2]

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]

Collected Versions[edit]

The Roud Folk Song Index contains 302 instances of this ballad. Child published 14 examples.

This 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), Kentucky (23), the Virginias (24) and Tennessee (9). 16 examples were found in New England. 18 versions were found in Canada, 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.[4]

A number of songs and tales collected in the Caribbean are based on or refer to the ballad.[5][6][7][8]

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 [9]
Matty Groves Darnell Matty Groves [10]

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.[9]

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


Album/Single Performer Year Variant Notes
John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs John Jacob Niles 1956 Little Mattie Groves
Shep Ginandes Sings Folk Songs Shep Ginandes 1958 Mattie Groves [11]
British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 2 Jean Ritchie 1960 Little Musgrave
Joan Baez in Concert Joan Baez 1962 Matty Groves
Introducing the Beers Family Beers Family 1964 Mattie 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
YouTube (live) Planxty 2004 Little Musgrave Trad. Arr. Planxty; acoustic
"Bound For Glory" Dillard Chandler 2005 Little Mathie Groves Acapella Appalachian.[12]
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 & 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 In 2012's season 5 episode 2 ("Gently with Class") 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.
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".[13]

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.[14]


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.[15]

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]

shares a mid-song stanza with Fair Margaret and Sweet William

The previous and next Child Ballads:


External links[edit]