The song dates from at least the 17th Century ,and is included in the ballads collected by 19th Century American scholar Francis James Child. It fits the story well, not just because the words of the song tell of an English “nobleman” who sees it as his right to dispense his own version of justice, and “ask for no man’s leave”, but also because the song was a staple part of the repertoire of Fairport Convention, at the height of their success in the era of the Gently story:
Matty Groves lyrics:
A holiday, a holiday, the first one of the year Lord Arlen’s wife came into church the gospel for to hear.
And when the meeting it was done she cast her eyes about And there she saw little Mattie Groves, walking in the park.
Come home with me little Mattie Groves, come home with me tonight Come home with me little Mattie Groves and sleep with me tonight.
Oh I can’t come home, I won’t come home and sleep with you tonight By the rings on your fingers I can tell you are Lord Arlen’s wife.
‘Tis true I am Lord Arlen’s wife, Lord Arlen’s not at home He is out to the far corn fields, bringing the yearlings home.
And the servant who was standing by and hearing what was said, He saw Lord Arlen, he would know, before the sun would set.
And in his hurry to carry the news, he filled his breast and ran And when he came to the broad mill stream he took off his shoes and swam
Little Mattie Groves, he lay down and took a little sleep When he awoke Lord Arlen, was standing at his feet
Saying how do you like my feather bed and how do you like my sheets And how do you like my lady, who lies in your arms asleep.
Oh well I like your feather bed and well I like your sheets But better I like your lady maid who lies in my arms asleep.
Well Get Up! Get Up! Lord Arlen cried, Get Up as quick as you can It’ll never be said in fair England I slew a naked man!
Oh I won’t get up, I won’t get up, I can’t get up for my life For you have two long beaten swords and I have but a pocket knife.
Well it’s true I have two beaten swords, they cost me deep in the purse But you will have the better of them and I will have the worst.
And you will strike the very first blow and strike it like a man I will strike the very next blow and I’ll kill you if I can.
So Mattie struck the very first blow and he hurt Lord Arlen sore Lord Arlen struck the very next blow and Mattie struck no more.
And then Lord Arlen he took his wife, he sat her on his knee Saying who do you like the best of us, Mattie Groves or me.
And then spoke up his own dear wife never heard to speak so free I’d rather kiss one dead Mattie’s lips than you and your finery.
Lord Arlen he jumped up and loudly he did bawl He stuck his wife right through the heart and pinned her against the wall.
A grave, a grave, Lord Arlen cried, to put these lovers in But bury my lady at the top for she was of noble kin.