Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


***All photos accompanying posts are either owned by the author of said post or are in the public domain -- NOT the property of History Undressed. If you'd like to obtain permission to use a picture from a post, please contact the author of the post.***

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Legend of Lady Godiva

Does the name Godiva ring any bells with you? If you’re thinking of chocolates…well I’m right there with ya, except I am talking about the woman who inspired Joseph Draps to name his chocolatier Godiva.

Lady Godiva, or by her given Saxon name, Godgifu, Countess of Mercia was married to Earl Leofric of Mercia.

The couple came to Coventry, then a teeny weeny town of Coventry, and in 1043 founded a Benedictine priory. Lady Godiva is said to have given many gifts in honor of the Virgin Mary, by melting down her own gold and silver that were then made into crosses and other spiritual pieces.

The legend says Leofric taxed the people of Coventry harshly, and that many people would plead with Godiva to ask him to lower the taxes. Leofric repeatedly denied her requests. Then one day, fed up with her nagging him about it, he turns to her exasperated and says, “I’ll lower the taxes when you ride through the town naked on your horse!”

With a serious face Godiva says, “Do I have your permission to do so, husband?” Leofric already annoyed beyond belief says yes. Little did he realize that his headstrong wife would actually strip down, climb onto her horse and ride through the village. Now here is where stories differ.
One version says that all the people of the town were ordered inside and were not to look at her as she went by, and another version says all the towns’ people in the marketplace averted their eyes. In both of these versions there is a man named Tom. Tom decides he wants a peek, that naughty boy. He peeps at the beautiful Godiva riding in her birth-day gown (suit didn’t sound right…) down the street, hence the term “peeping Tom.” However the first story of the peeping perv didn’t come out until the 1700’s…

Needless to say, a stunned Leofric lowered the taxes. Edward I, was fascinated with this story and actually had an investigation done to see if it really happened. According to ancient documents, the taxes were lowered at that time.
Coincidence or did someone get naked?
In 1057, Leofric died and was buried in one of the porches of the Abbey. His title went to their only son Aelfgar who died in 1062 leaving the title to his son, Eadwine who was only fourteen at the time. His younger brother Morkere gained the earldom of Northumbria in 1065.

Godiva kept her lands, and continued to possibly rule them until her death. However both of her grandsons would have their lands taken from them by William the Conqueror.

Lady Godiva’s death is not exactly known. It is most definite that she died before the Domesday Book was commissioned in 1085, however we know she died after William conquered England in 1066.

It is noted from the Domesday book, completed in 1086, that Godiva, had holdings in Leicester, Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire that had not yet been re-granted to anyone else, since at the time of the book she had already passed.

She must have been a very popular woman, and held a lot of clout for William the Conqueror to allow her to keep all of her lands. Most lands were stripped from the noblemen, as was evidenced by her two grandsons. Most women were tossed aside or abused.

We know for certain that Lady Godiva existed, as for the legend, there have been many conflicting arguments. For one thing, it was not recorded until nearly two hundred years after it happened. Also, when this event was supposed to have occurred, Coventry was still a small town with only about 50 working people living there.

Whether or not it’s true it is a fabulous tale, and one the people of Coventry love! Each year a pageant is held that follows the route of the legendary lady. The picture on the left is a statue of Godiva riding on her horse in Coventry.

So is the Legend of Lady Godiva myth or reality? What do you think?

Happy Monday!


Nicole North said...

It's a fantastic story and legend, Eliza. Thanks for telling us more about it. She was a brave woman!

Pat McDermott said...

Great recounting of origin of the tale we all know. Was it true that her long hair covered her during her famous ride? Interesting read, Eliza.

Delilah Marvelle said...

Awesome post, as always! I love how mysterious history can be...Did it? Did she? Did he? That's what makes for great writing. We fill in the blanks!

Gerri said...

That was the best version of the story I've read. Great blog, Eliza!

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks for the comments guys!

Nicole, she was a brave woman wasn't she? I don't know if I could do it...

Pat, I've heard it both ways, one says her hair covered her, the other says her hair was braided down her back as was the fashion back then.

Delilah, I love the mystery about it too! And there are always such good arguments for both sides which makes is pretty impossible to say for sure what really happened. And yes you're right it does make our writing much more fun!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Gerri!!

Chicks of Characterization said...

Great post! Was it true, well aye, she did ask permissionn now didn't she? :O)

Jean Drew said...

Great blog,

Since I originate from England, she has always been one of my heroines.


Julia Templeton said...

I'll side with those who believe the tale of Lady Godiva was based in reality. Can you imagine how scandalous it would have been (especially back in medieval times) to ride naked through town. What a lady!
Excellent post, Eliza!

Eliza Knight said...

She did ask permission, very true, and very smart of her too since her hubby would have most likely been angry at her for doing it!

She's always been one of my heros too! She is what fantastic heroines are based on.

I believe she did this too, and I WISH I could have been there to see what happened!

Thanks everyone!

Shannon Robinson said...

Well, that just goes to show you that we were brave even in medieval times - no meek woman there! That was a great post Eliza - thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Interesting take Eliza. I wrote a post about Lady Godiva a few weeks ago. I think its a canny mixture of fact and reality. But the reality is there was no ride into Coventry and I explain why in my post.

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Shannon!

Elizabeth, I just read your post, I did not realize she had a daughter! How terrible is it that no one knows her name?

I think part of the reason that the legend has persisted is that we want to believe it happened. We romanticize so much of history, and this only adds to it.