This great ballad, Child 81, is probably best known these days in the version belted out by Sandy Denny on the seminal folk album ‘Liege and Lief’ under the alternative title ‘Matty Groves’, but I’ve slightly reluctantly gone back to the primary Child version, confining myself to a little modernisation of the spelling (a bolder soul than I might be tempted to make a composite text from the best the numerous versions have to offer, but at least this version includes the lady’s beautiful injunction to her lover to ‘huggle me from the cold’).
One of the things I like about these ballads is the sheer feistiness of their heroines, forever seeing what they want and going for it, which acts as a useful corrective to the demure passivity of the females in so much courtly verse of the past. Let’s face it, poor Little Musgrave never had a chance…
Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
It fell out one holy-day,
As many be in the year,
When young men and maids together did go,
Their mattins and mass to heare,
Little Musgrave came to the church-door;
The priest was at private masse;
But he had more mind of the fair women
Then he had of our lady’s grace.
The one of them was clad in green,
Another was clad in pall,
And then came in my lord Barnard’s wife,
The fairest amongst them all.
She cast an eye on Little Musgrave,
As bright as the summer sun;
And then bethought this Little Musgrave,
This lady’s heart have I won.
Quoth she, I have loved thee, Little Musgrave,
Full long and many a day;
‘So have I loved you, fair lady,
Yet never word durst I say.’
‘I have a bower at Bucklesfordbery,
Full daintily it is dight;
If thou wilt wend thither, thou Little Musgrave,
Thou’s lig in mine arms all night.’
Quoth he, I thank yee, faire lady,
This kindness thou showest to me;
But whether it be to my weal or woe,
This night I will lig with thee.
With that he heard, a little tiny page,
By this lady’s coach as he ran:
‘All though I am my lady’s foot-page,
Yet I am Lord Barnard’s man.
‘My lord Barnard shall know of this,
Whether I sink or swim;’
And ever where the bridges were broke
He laid him down to swim.
‘Asleep or wake, thou Lord Barnard,
As thou art a man of life,
For Little Musgrave is at Bucklesfordbery,
Abed with thy own wedded wife.’
‘If this be true, thou little tiny page,
This thing thou tellest to me,
Then all the land in Bucklesfordbery
I freely will give to thee.
‘But if it be a lie, thou little tiny page,
This thing thou tellest to me,
On the highest tree in Bucklesfordbery
Then hanged shalt thou be.’
He called up his merry men all:
‘Come saddle me my steed;
This night must I to Bucklesfordbery,
For I never had greater need.’
And some of them whistled, and some of them sung,
And some these words did say,
And ever when my lord Barnard’s horn blew,
‘Away, Musgrave, away!’
‘Methinks I hear the thresel-cock,
Methinks I hear the jay;
Methinks I hear my lord Barnard,
And I would I were away.’
‘Lie still, lie still, thou Little Musgrave,
And huggle me from the cold;
’Tis nothing but a shepherd’s boy,
A-driving his sheep to the fold.
‘Is not thy hawk upon a perch?
Thy steed eats oats and hay;
And thou a fair lady in thine arms,
And wouldst thou be away?’
With that my lord Barnard came to the door,
And lit a stone upon;
He plucked out three silver keys,
And he opened the doors each one.
He lifted up the coverlet,
He lifted up the sheet:
‘How now, how now, thou Little Musgrave,
Doest thou find my lady sweet?’
‘I find her sweet,’ quoth Little Musgrave,
‘The more ’tis to my paine;
I would gladly give three hundred pounds
That I were on yonder plain.’
‘Arise, arise, thou Little Musgrave,
And put thy clothes on;
It shall ne’er be said in my country
I have killed a naked man.
‘I have two swords in one scabbard,
Full dear they cost my purse;
And thou shalt have the best of them,
And I will have the worse.’
The first stroke that Little Musgrave struck,
He hurt Lord Barnard sore;
The next stroke that Lord Barnard struck,
Little Musgrave ne’er struck more.
With that bespake this faire lady,
In bed whereas she lay:
‘Although thou’rt dead, thou Little Musgrave,
Yet I for thee will pray.
‘And wish well to thy soul will I,
So long as I have life;
So will I not for thee, Barnard,
Although I am thy wedded wife.’
He cut her paps from off her breast;
Great pity it was to see
That some drops of this lady’s heart’s blood
Ran trickling down her knee.
‘Woe worth you, woe worth, my mery men all
You were ne’er born for my good;
Why did you not offer to stay my hand,
When you see me wax so wood?
‘For I have slain the bravest sir knight
That ever rode on steed;
So have I done the fairest lady
That ever did woman’s deed.
‘A grave, a grave,’ Lord Barnard cried,
‘To put these lovers in;
But lay my lady on the upper hand,
For she came of the better kin.’