Who Do You Like the Best of Us?

by Mary Jackson (December 2011)

A holiday, a holiday
And the first one of the year
Lord Darnell's wife came into the church
The Gospel for to hear

And when the meeting it was done
She cast her eyes about
And there she saw little Matty Groves
Walking in the crowd

The soon-to-be-cuckolded husband is behaving most un-Islamically. Despite his title, status and presumed wealth, he is engaging in agricultural labour. Mohammed and his companions would never have stooped so low. Their wealth came from looting the fruits of infidel labour. The adulterous pair are betrayed by a servant, and Lord Darnell comes home to catch them in the act:

Little Matty Groves, he lay down
And took a little sleep
When he awoke, Lord Darnell
Was standing at his feet

Saying, “How do you like my feather bed
And how do you like my sheets
How do you like my lady
Who lies in your arms asleep?”

In fair England, this would be dishonourable. But in unfair Arabia it would not be. Islam intrudes into this point in the story with a story of its own:

In contrast, Lord Darnell recognises Matty Groves as the weaker party, and insists on a fair fight. Matty protests:

He should have thought of that before. But Lord Darnell, to his credit, concedes the point, the better to impress his lady:

The Honor Code and Moral Revolutions addresses three such reversals in which what had previously been considered honourable came to be seen as shameful – slavery in the USA, duelling in England, foot-binding in China – and one so-far failed revolution, honour killings in Pakistan.

Kray twins, the vicious East End gangsters of the Sixties, did not fight women.

Back to our fight: young Matty is a lover not a fighter, and this time cannot rise to the occasion:

So Matty struck the very first blow
And he hurt Lord Darnell sore
Lord Darnell struck the very next blow
And Matty struck no more

And then Lord Darnell he took his wife
And he sat her on his knee
Saying, “Who do you like the best of us
Matty Groves or me?”

And then up spoke his own dear wife
Never heard to speak so free
“I'd rather a kiss from dead Matty's lips
Than you or your finery”

Lord Darnell, he jumped up
And loudly he did bawl
He struck his wife right through the heart
And pinned her against the wall

So, like Asma bint Marwen, she gets stabbed in the chest. Dead is dead, and doubtless Islamic apologists would not see any difference. But to me there is a world of difference between a crime of passion, of injured feelings and unrequited love, and the cold-blooded killing of an unconnected person. Perhaps the husband already regrets his actions in the last verse of the song:

have another listen. Now try setting the killing of Asma bint Marwan to music. Something might be done with the butting goats, but apart from that, not a lot of scope.

. Fact, nothing to laugh at at all. So it is “in fair England”, at least for now.

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