Lady Godiva

John Florens | Sep 10, 2022

Table of Content


Godiva (Old English: Godgifu, "God's gift"), often referred to as Lady Godiva, was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman living in the 11th century who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to obtain a reduction in the burdensome taxes imposed by her husband on his tenants. The name Peeping Tom for a Peeping Tom comes from later versions of this legend, in which a man named Tom allegedly stalked her and then blinded or died.

Lady Godiva was the wife of Leofric, Count of Mercia.

The name Lady Godiva appears in documents and in the Domesday Book, but the spelling of the name varies. In Old English the name Godgifu or Godgyfu meant 'God's gift', Godiva being the Latinised version. Since the name was a popular one, the name is still present today. If she was the same Godiva who appears in Ely Abbey's history, Liber Eliensis, written in the late 12th century, then she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were benefactors of religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded the Benedictine monastery in Coventry on the site of a nunnery destroyed by the Danes in 1016. Writing in the 12th century, Roger of Wendover credits Godiva as the persuasive force behind this act. In the 1050s, her name is linked with her husband's donation of land to St Mary's Monastery in Worcester and the endowment of Stow St Mary's Church in Lincolnshire. She and her husband are commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries such as Leominster, Chester, Much Wenlock and Evesham. She gave the city of Coventry a number of precious metal works made for the purpose by the famous goldsmith Manning and bequeathed a necklace worth 100 marks of silver. Another necklace was sent to Evesham to be placed around the silhouette of the Virgin Mary accompanying a life-size gold and silver crucifix which she and her husband gave them, and St Paul's Cathedral received gold-rimmed church vestments. She and her husband were the most generous of the Anglo-Saxon donors in the decades preceding the Norman Conquest . The early Norman bishops quickly dispatched their gifts, taking them by force to Normandy or melting them down and turning them into bullion. The Woolhope estate in Herefordshire, along with four others, were given to Hereford Cathedral before the Norman conquest by the benefactors Wulviva and Godiva - usually identified with this Godiva and her sister. Her mark, di Ego Godiva Comitissa diu istud desideravi, appears in a document purported to belong to Thorold Bucknall of the Benedictine monastery at Spalding, but this document is considered a forgery by many historians. Even so it is possible that Thorold, who also appears in the Book of Judgement as the Sheriff of Lincolnshire, is Godiva's brother. After Leofric's death in 1057, his widow lived until the Norman Conquest between 1066 and 1086. She is mentioned in the Domesday study as one of the few Anglo-Saxons and the only woman to remain a landowner shortly after the conquest of England. During this survey, completed in 1086, Godiva died, but her former lands are listed, even though they are now owned by someone else. Thus, it appears that Godiva died between 1066 and 1086. Godiva's burial place has been the subject of some debate. According to the Chronicon Abbatiae de Evesham or Chronicle of Evesham, she was buried at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Evesham, which no longer exists. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography account; "There is no reason to doubt that she was buried with her husband at Coventry, despite the statement in the Evesham Chronicle that she is buried at Holy Trinity, Evesham." Dugdale (1656) says that a window with a representation of Leofric and Godiva was placed in Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, in the time of Richard II.

According to legend, Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry who were suffering severely because of the heavy taxes imposed by her husband. Lady Godiva appealed again and again to her husband who stubbornly refused to remit the taxes. Finally, tired of pleading, Leofric said he would grant her this favour if she would strip naked and ride out into the city streets like this. Lady Godiva took his words to heart and, after issuing a proclamation that everyone should stay indoors with their windows closed and shutters drawn, she walked through the city dressed only in her long hair. Only one person in the entire town, a tailor later known as Peeping Tom, disobeyed her proclamation, and it became one of her most famous acts of voyeurism. Legend has it that he punched a hole in his porthole so he could see Godiva pass by, and as a result he went blind. In the end, Godiva's husband kept his word and abolished the onerous tax. Some historians have traced the legend of Lady Godiva to pagan fertility rites in which a young 'May Queen' was led to the sacred tree of Cofa to celebrate the renewal that spring brings. The earliest form of the legend says that Godiva passed through Coventry's market place from one end to the other as people were gathered, followed by two knights. This version is given by Roger of Wendover (d. 1236) in Flores Historiarum a collector of anecdotes of note who quotes from earlier anonymous writings. At that time, it was customary for penitents to make a public procession wearing a white garment similar to a slip today and which was certainly considered underwear. Some scholars have speculated that Godiva traveled through the city as a penitent. However, Godiva's story may have gone down in popular history in a fictionalized version. Another theory says that Godiva's nakedness may refer to walking the streets "stripped" of jewelry, the jewelry that marked the upper class to which she belonged. However, both attempts to reconcile the known facts in the legend are weak; in that era the word "naked" gets the explanation "without any clothing". The later story, with the "Peeping Tom" episode, first appeared in 17th-century chroniclers. Of course, the story is not found in contemporary Godiva documents. Coventry was a small settlement with only 69 families (and the manor) recorded in the Domesday Book a few decades later. The only taxes recorded are for horses and so the story remains dubious as long as there is no historical basis for the famous ride. The story is doubtful because there are variants that Countess Godiva herself was responsible for setting taxes in Coventry, the Salic Law not applying in Saxon society. Because of the nudity in the story, its popularity has been maintained and spread internationally, with many references in modern popular culture.

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry maintains a permanent exhibition on the subject. The earliest painting, it was commissioned by Coventry County Council in 1586 and painted by Adam van Noort, a Flemish refugee artist. In addition, the Gallery has collected many Victorian interpretations of the subject described by Marina Warner as "a quaint Landseer composite, an enthusiastic Watts and a sumptuous Woolmer Alfred". "Collier's Lady Godiva (above) was bequeathed by the social reformer, Thomas Hancock Nunn. When he died in 1937, the painting was given to the Hampstead Corporation. It was declined, presumably on grounds of decency, and so was offered to the City of Coventry, and now hangs in the Herbert.


  1. Lady Godiva
  2. Lady Godiva
  3. ^ In the Stow charter, Godiva is called "Godgife".[7]
  4. ^ See Lucy of Bolingbroke.
  5. ^ a b Patrick W. Montague-Smith Letters: Godiva's family tree The Times, 25 January 1983
  6. ^ a b Ann Williams, ‘Godgifu (d. 1067?)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 18 April 2008
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b
  10. Én, Godiva grófnő, régóta vágytam erre.
  11. Donoghue D. Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend. — New York, 2008. — P. 8.
  12. Alexander Gordon. Godiva Архивная копия от 4 сентября 2019 на Wayback Machine // Dictionary of National Biography. — Vol. 22. — London, 1890. — p. 36.

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