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Origins: Who is Matty Groves?


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Joe Offer 21 Feb 15 - 05:57 PM
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Subject: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Feb 15 - 05:57 PM

Another cached thread. The big ones are too cumbersome to transfer by way of individual messages.

Subject: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Richie
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 12:21 AM


I've begun looking at Child 81 in some detail and find that's I'm not understanding a few things.

1) Who is Matty Groves? He is named Little Musgrave by Child A but also litil musgray, Little Matha Grove, Little Mossy Groves, Little Mathew Grew, young Magrove, little MacGroves, Little Ned Groves, Little Maddy Gross, Little Mushiegrove, Young Marshal Grones, Young McGrover, Young LaGrove, or one of the many other related names.

Barry reports in BBM, 1929: There is not space for the proof here, but the editors feel that in their detailed study of "Musgrave" they have proved that all Child's English texts, A, B, C, are mere personal lampoons, of the reign of James I, directed against a prominent personage.

Who is this prominent personage?

2) One of the main openings found in Child D, E, H, K, L, and O begins with the ballad commonplace: There were four and twenty ladies/gentlemen; A- playin' at the ba'.

The "playing at the ball" has morphed into (version O) : Assembled at a ball. It also is similarly implied in North American versions that "ball" is a dance or gala. I thought this was a term used circa 1800-- so what is this (A- playin' at the ba') referring to?

3) Are there two basic North American types and how are they defined?

These are a couple questions I have. Any help is appreciated,


Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Richie
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 09:32 AM


Question 1 may be extended to Lord Barnard and his wife. Lord Barnard is also Lord Daniel, Lord Arnold, Lord Orland, Lord Aulan, Lord Vanner, Lord Banner, Lord Thomas, Lord Donald, Lord Valley, Lord Bander, LordB arnett, Lord Barnaby, lord birnibie, Lord Vanover, Lord Diner, Lord Allen, Lord Barnswell, Lord Barlibas, Lord Bengwill, or "Lord Someone."

Who is the Lord Barry refers to in my last post.

About Child C we have this: The British broadside ballad, The Lamentable Ditty Of The Little Mousgrove And The Lady Barnet, published by F. Coles (London); T. Vere (London); and W. Gilbertson (London) sometime between 1658 and 1664, and archived at the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, shelfmark: Wood 401(91) with a note on the reverse by Wood stating that the protagonists were alive in 1543 [ref. Peacock, NL].

So Wood (or someone) writes that "the protagonists were alive in 1543." Who were the protagonists?


Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: GUEST,Allan Conn
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 11:13 AM

Playing at the ba' will refer to playing ball. The precursor to modern football and rugby. Ball games were played throughout Britain and some of the older games still exist from Orkney down to Derbyshire. There a several games still in existence here in the Scottish Borders and here is a wee clip from the Jedburgh game called Jethart Hand Ba'. Basically played through the town with two side called The Uppies and The Dounies. Generally a play starts off as a big scrum until someone breaks free with the ball as they do about a minute into this clip

Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Richie
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 04:47 PM

Thanks Allan,

I think the earliest use of "ball" as a dance would be circa 1791. Anyone has info on that?

This is one of the main openings. It's found in Child D, E, H, K, L, and O begins with the ballad commonplace: There were four and twenty ladies/gentlemen; A- playin' at the ba'. Here are some of the examples:

Child D (Kinloch):

1 There were four and twenty gentlemen
A playing at the ba,

Child K (Robertson):
1    It's four and twenty bonny boys
Were playin at the ba,

Child L (Buchan):

1    Four and twenty handsome youths
Were a' playing at the ba,

Child E (Campbell) and Child H (Motherwell):

1    Four and twenty gay ladies
Were playing at the ba,

Child O (Sampson- from gypsy) dating to the early 1800s;

1    There was four-and-twenty ladies
Assembled at a ball,

Notice that in Child O "playing at the ball" has changed to "assembled at a ball." This change is found frequently in versions from North America that use this opening. It certainly makes more sense. Since the stanza following it is about who comes in (usually to church) "arrayed in white" etc.


Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 05:01 PM

The bit about the football is interesting. Concentrate on Musgrove, which seems to be the root of all the other textual deviations. Musgrove is one of the English border Names from the east of Cumberland, often captains of Bewcastle. Similarly Barnard would be a root from which the others would deviate, but less likely any other way. The only locaql connection that I know is Barnard Castle in Durham, but that is rather a long way off. Bringing the yearlings home, from the American texts seems an odd pasttime, unless it is an allusion to reiving. And the first holiday of the year would before 1750 in England be March 25th, Lady Day, which was old new year's day (hence in a roundabout way the beginning of our tax year!) On the other hand, a pure flight of fancy, one of the variants not cited above is Lord Darnel ~ could that be Darnley? I doubt it, though his wife had a reputation, and Bothwell was known to like border football. I'm letting my imagination run riot here! Everything after the tax year bit is pure moonshine. It's just a rattling good yarn, whoever the protagonists are.

Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 05:11 PM

Given Richie's dates, surely another candidate must be James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, regent for Mary Queen of Scots following the death of James V in 1542, and his wife Lady Margaret.

Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 05:39 PM

Barnard/Barnet and Musgrove were names very common all over the north of England and Scotland in Medieval times. Wood may well have been right but with such common names we are clutching at straws. People far better placed to make this a real event than anyone living today have tried and failed to give a definite identification to these characters. Speculation is fun but without strong evidence you're pissing in the wind.

Richie, I'm sorry but I find some of your lines of questioning intriguing. Why are you so preoccupied with more recent corruptions when the earliest versions state clearly what is going on? Playing at the ball very likely simply means they were tossing a ball around, not necessarily playing some specific game. In this case numbers seem to be very specific and a search of ball games played in the early modern period shouldn't be too difficult to find.

Having said that I also find Barry's claim interesting, but my natural scepticism is also suspicious. Why mention this earth-shattering snippet and then leave no evidence of where to find the details?

Just about every printer in the 17thc printed the ballad. The earliest ref I have is 1630. It's just possible if it were a real event that took place in 1543 there were still people around who could remember it.

Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: breezy
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 06:00 PM

who WAS , not who IS, cos by my reckoning thems all dead long ago.

so, who was Matty Groves ?

Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Richie
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 12:00 AM


TY for your replies. Barry devoted 44 pages to Little Musgrave in BBM, and if Musgrave lived and was in fact a real person, he is dead now- TY. The Reign of James I, first Stuart King, was from 1603 to 1625, he ruled as King of Scotland (as James VI) from 1567 to 1625.

Barry published two additional versions in BFSSNEin he early 1930s. He had no additional comment of his earlier assertion.

In BBM, 1929 Barry says, "Nothing is clearer than that there were two very early forms of this ballad, one containing King Henry, the other "Away Musgrave." The former appears in America where it has been purely traditional until within a very few years; the latter was the original of the English and Scottish copies."

Three years later in BFSSNE after printing Wells' version from Kentucky, Barry again assert the two types of ballad theory but explains it differently: There are two forms of "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" in American tradition, distinguished as the Banner type and the Arnold type (Barry, Eckstorm and Smyth, British Ballads from Maine, pp. 181, ff.) Miss Wells's version is of the Arnold type and clearly very old; its nearest textual relatives are Maine E, F, and Belden A (ibid., pp. 169-70, 172-80), particularly the last, with which it agrees in the interpretation of the alarm-call on the bugle. The melody is an excellent set of what was certainly the original air to the ballad. In stanza 8, formed of the second couplets of two stanzas, with the refrain of each, only the second part of the melody is used, repeated to fit each half-stanza. A version of the Banner type is in Bulletin, FSSNE., 8, pp. 6-8.

Flanders headnotes (written by Coffin) in her books Ancient Ballads (1961) explain it this way: Barry feels there-was a pre-American split in the tradition of the ballad, one form featuring the "away, Musgrave, away" lines and the "bugle-blowing" scene, the other retaining mention of King Henry. The Henry type he believes to date back to the time of Henry VIII and to be the progenitor of almost all the American texts. The "away, Musgrave" type, he feels, gave birth to the Anglo-Scottish texts and a few late American arrivals.

Barry printed the "Lord Banner type" which was taken from Orlon Merrill in New Hampshire in BFSSNE 1931.

These are the two types I was talking about in my first post.


Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 03:49 AM

I used to love The Groves Family. Lenny was my favourite.

Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 07:56 AM

I haven't time to look into this at the moment, but to be honest you are probably the best placed person yourself to look at all of the American versions and come to some sort of conclusion. If you subscribed to the Ballad-list you would get very knowledgeable help from the likes of Bob Waltz who revels in this sort of analysis.

I'm just about to start some dating for Steve R and then I'll have a look at it. I have the Flanders set but don't have many copies of Bulletin or Barry's BBM.

Whilst there are excellent examples of ballads being preserved in an older form in the States (Bramble Briar) I'm rather sceptical of anything earlier than 1700.

Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Richie
Date: 18 Feb 15 - 12:01 PM


My computer went out. I've compiled the versions from the West Indies.

Little Musgrove- Forbes (JM) pre1924 Beckwith A, B
Little Musgrove- Maroons (JM) pre1924 Beckwith C
Lord Barnet- female singer (JM) 1957 Leach
Miss Notty- Jobe (St. Vincent) 1966 Abrahams A
Matty Glow- Antoine (St Vincent) 1966 Abrahams B
Garoleen- Joseph (St Vincent) 1966 Abrahams C
Matty Gru- McIntosh (St. Croix) 1989 REC

Any other versions? Anyone have the text to Matty Gru or known when it was first recorded?

All the versions are somewhat corrupt- the names are all different "Matty Glow" is Lady Barnard in one.

This is a complicated ballad as far as categorizing it. There are different openings and different types based in part on Barry's conclusions.

However there doesn't seem to be any definitive "real people" that the ballad is based on - and no one has answered the comments by Barry or Wood (broadside) - even Barry did not comment further which means to me that he could not come up with verifiable names.


Subject: RE: Origins: Who is Matty Groves?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Feb 15 - 05:34 PM

Henry VIII? Pooh! Why not Henry I?

You are probably better placed to make your own judgments on these versions as you probably have access to more variants than Barry had.

Even where we have a pretty good idea who the original characters were in a ballad, many of the ballads were based on hearsay, legends and local folklore, and though they tell a sort of truth that people wanted to believe in they seldom contain many of the real facts. Many of the Scottish ballads were for instance based on one side of the story, mostly well distorted in that side's favour. Others were written to please the rich patrons whose forebears featured in them. This was going on even as late as Scott's time.

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