Guest poem sent in by Lamba Aaman Here's a nice ballad I came across - one with a Holmesian touch! The version I include here is from Percy's Reliques (1658):
(Poem #303) The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
As it fell out on a highe holye daye, As many bee in the yeare, When yong men and maides together do goe Their masses and mattins to heare, Little Musgràve came to the church door, The priest was at the mass ; But he had more mind of the fine women, Then he had of our Ladyes grace. And some of them were clad in greene, And others were clad in pall ; And then came in my lord Barnardes wife, The fairest among them all. Shee cast an eye on little Musgràve As bright as the summer sunne : O then bethought him little Musgràve, This ladyes heart I have wonne. Quoth she, I have loved thee, little Musgràve, Full long and manye a daye. So have I loved you, ladye faire, Yet word I never durst saye. I have a bower at Bucklesford-Bury, Full daintilye bedight, If thoult wend thither, my little Musgràve, Thoust lig in mine armes all night. Quoth hee, I thank yee, ladye faire, This kindness yee shew to me ; And whether it be to my weale or woe, This night will I lig with thee. All this beheard a litle foot-page, By his ladyes coach as he ranne : Quoth he, thoughe I am my ladyes page, Yet Ime my lord Barnardes manne. My lord Barnàrd shall knowe of this, Although I lose a limbe. And ever whereas the bridges were broke, He layd him downe to swimme. Asleep or awake, thou lord Barnàrd, As thou art a man of life, Lo! this same night at Bucklesford-Bury Litle Musgrave's in bed with thy wife. If it be trew, thou litle foote-page, This tale thou hast told to mee, Then all my lands in Bucklesford-Bury I freelye will give to thee. But an it be a lye, thou litle foot-page, This tale thou hast told to mee, On the highest tree in Bucklesford-Bury All hanged shalt thou bee. Rise up, rise up, my merry men all, And saddle me my good steede ; This night must I to Bucklesford-Bury ; God wott, I had never more neede. Then some they whistled, and some they sang, And some did loudlye saye, Whenever lord Barnardes horne it blewe, Awaye, Musgràve, away. Methinkes I heare the throstle cocke, Methinkes I heare the jay, Methinkes I heare lord Barnards horne ; I would I were awaye. Lye still, lye still, thou little Musgràve, And huggle me from the cold ; For it is but some shephardes boye A whistling his sheepe to the fold. Is not thy hawke upon the pearche, Thy horse eating corne and haye ? And thou a gay lady within thine armes : And wouldst thou be awaye ? By this lord Barnard was come to the dore, And lighted upon a stone : And he pulled out three silver keyes, And opened the dores eche one. He lifted up the coverlett, He lifted up the sheete ; How now, how now, thou little Musgràve, Dost find my gaye ladye sweete ? I find her sweete, quoth little Musgràve, The more is my griefe and paine ; Ide gladlye give three hundred poundes That I were on yonder plaine. Arise, arise, thou little Musgràve, And put thy cloathes nowe on, It shall never be said in my countree, That I killed a naked man. I have two swordes in one scabbàrde, Full deare they cost my purse ; And thou shalt have the best of them, And I will have the worse. The first stroke that little Musgrave strucke, He hurt lord Barnard sore, The next stroke that lord Barnard strucke, Little Musgrave never strucke more. With that bespake the ladye faire, In bed whereas she laye, Althoughe thou art dead, my little Musgràve, Yet for thee I will praye : And wishe well to thy soule will I, So long as I have life ; So will I not do for thee, Barnàrd, Thoughe I am thy wedded wife. He cut her pappes from off her brest ; Great pitye it was to see The drops of this fair ladyes bloode Run trickling downe her knee. Wo worth, wo worth ye, my merrye men all, You never were borne for my goode : Why did you not offer to stay my hande, When you sawe me wax so woode ? For I have slaine the fairest sir knighte, That ever rode on a steede ; So have I done the fairest lady, That ever ware womans weede. A grave, a grave, Lord Barnard cryde, To putt these lovers in ; But lay my ladye o' the upper hande, For she comes o' the better kin.
Notes: Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Scottish border country was ravaged by lawless Reiver families in a vicious cycle of raid, reprisal and blood feud. Their allegiance was first to the family, the surname, not the crown, whether English or Scottish. Many of these reiver families were married into both sides of the border. Divided up into three Marches on each side of the border, each with its own warden, the crown made some attempt to control the volatile region. Strongpoints were castles and Pele towers, hundreds are still to be found, some even in use today. Many of the alarums and excursions found their way into the "Border Ballads" like those collected by Sir Walter Scott (Scott even used a quote from "Little Musgrave" as a chapter quote in Chapter Sixteenth of The Heart of Midlothian: "And some they whistled - and some they sang, And some did loudly say, Whenever Lord Barnard's horn it blew, 'Away, Musgrave, away!'"). I make no specific claim for this, except that Dr. Watson and his literary agent, the inveterate Walter Scott readers, might have come across the name in Scott and used it to mask that of another of the families of the March. One of these families was that of the Musgraves, which gave its name to the villages of Great Musgrave and Little Musgrave north of Kirkby Stephen in Westmorland. "Little Musgrave" may simply have been the knightly branch based in that location. The ballad often rendered as "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard", "Little Musgrave" and "Matthy Groves" (among others) has been found in texts as early as 1611, and may originate at least a century before. It is known as Child Ballad 81, from the grand five volume compendium of folk song collected by 19th century folklorist Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads. It's fascinating to see how it's been collected throughout the British Isles, and in Canada and the United States (here in the anglophonic diaspora, it has persisted long after it had in England); its text mutating through that charming strangeness know as "the folk process". Child lists 15 variant texts, and other song collectors even more. Numerous folksingers have recorded one version or another in more recent years. Here are some of the permutations of our principal players found in various versions of the ballad (and there are many more than I list here): The Husband The Young Man Lord Barnard Little Musgrave Lord Barnet Little Masgrove Lord Barnabas Mossgrey Lord Arnold Little Matthy Groves Lord Allen Matthy Groves Lord Daniel Little Matthew Groves Lord Dannel Marshall Groves Lord Donald Matty Groves Lord Bengwill Little Sir Grove Lord Orland Little Matthew Groves Some versions even include ritual questions from the Lord to the young man. I particularly like the lines that go: Saying, "How do you like my feather bed, Musgrave? And how do you like my sheets? How do you like my lady, Who lies in your arms asleep?" "Oh, well do I like your feather bed, And well do I like your sheets, But better I like your lady gay, Who lies in my arms asleep." 1 The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Reivers, by George Macdonald Fraser (author of the Flashman Papers). This is a splendid study of the region and period, full of excitement. 2 A fragment is also quoted in John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont's (as in the well-worn theatrical phrase: "That went out with Beaumont & Fletcher!") 1611 play. "The Knight of the Burning Pestle," Act V, scene ii: And some they whistled, and some they sung, "Hey, down, down!" And some did loudly say, Ever as the Lord Barnet's horn blew, "Away, Musgrave, away!" 3 English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Francis James Child (1825-1896). Five volumes published 1882 through 1898. I have referred to the 1965 reprint by Dover Publications from the Houghton, Mifflin & Company edition. 4 Just from my collection: Fairport Convention, as "Matty Groves" on "Liege & Lief" (Island, 1969) and more recently on "In Real Time: Live '87" (Island, 1987); and as "Little Musgrave" by Frankie Armstrong, "Songs & Ballads" (Antilles, 1975); Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, "Prince Heathen"; Planxty, "The Woman I Loved So Well" (Tara, 1980); and Eileen McGann, "Heritage" (Dragonwing Music, 1997).