Lady Godiva

The Anglo-Saxon gentlewoman (also known as Godgifu), is famous for her legendary naked ride on horseback through Coventry.

 

Godiva was the wife of Leofric, earl of Mercia, one of the most powerful noblemen in 11th-century England. The couple gave generously to religious establishments and in 1043 founded and endowed a monastery at Coventry. The chronicler Florence of Worcester mentions Leofric and Godiva, but does not describe her famous ride, and there is no firm evidence connecting the rider with the historical Godiva. Leofric died in 1057, and Godiva is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 (although she was almost certainly dead by then) as having held many estates in Warwickshire including Coventry, inherited from her husband.

 

The earliest surviving source for the legend is the Chronica of Roger of Wendover, written more than a century after Godiva's death. According to this account, Leofric became so exasperated by Godiva's endless appeals to reduce Coventry's heavy taxes that he declared he would do so if she rode naked through the crowded marketplace. She did so, with her hair covering all of her body except her legs. According to Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon, as a result Leofric freed the town from all tolls save those on horses. The story of the 'Peeping Tom' was added later; Godiva required the townsmen to remain indoors at the time of her ride but one man looked at her out of his window and was struck blind.

 

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