Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Golden Girl Project - Lady Godiva

The famous English legend of Lady Godiva can be examined thus. I will describe the story, dates and historical details.

The legend comes from medieval England, about a beautiful lady called Godiva who rode through the streets of Coventry, wearing nothing but her long golden hair. This was done to show her husband how seriously she cared about the poor people living there. When her husband previously failed to listen to Godiva who pleaded with him to lower taxation on the citizens, she was given a choice: Undress in the streets to lower the taxes or don't and the taxes stay unfair.

When she'd ridden naked through the streets of Coventry, her husband did as he promised he would. He lowered the taxes.

While Lady Godiva was preparing to do this unusual dare, she didn't want anyone seeing her. The people of Coventry were ordered to stay indoors and shut doors and windows. However, as she rode naked on horseback through the derelict streets, someone disobeyed. A tailor by the name of "Thomas" looked out of the window to witness this naked lady on her horse. He was struck blind. The common phrase "Peeping Tom" originates from this particular character.

In some versions of that legend, the Peeping Tom was struck dead.  

How true is that story?

Lady Godiva's actual name was Godgifu. She was an Anglo Saxon noblewoman who owned land and property, which was rare in the times of the Norman conquest. She was a Countess Godgifu of Mercia, married to Earl Leofric. Godgifu was a Catholic and she honoured the Virgin Mary, and founded the Benedictine priory in St Osburg's Nunnery. She had her jewels, gold and silver made into crucifixes. 

She's mentioned in the Domesday Book as the owner of lands in different counties. Her husband Leofric died in 1057. It isn't known when Godgifu died but it's assumed a decade or so after the death of her husband. It isn't known where she was buried.     

It's not certain if she really rode naked but taxes had been lowered according to documents. The event itself corresponds with the May Queen riding through the streets. It goes back to early history and in pagan lore. As for Peeping Tom, it's not known if he was a real person or not. If so then possibly someone executed for breaking the rules of looking upon a lady. Blinded after seeing a naked woman also comes from mythology. Mortal men were blinded or killed after looking upon a naked goddess (for example, the man Tiresius was struck blind after looking at goddess Athena who was having a bath).  

In Coventry, there is a pageant dedicated to Lady Godiva.


An Anglo Saxon Tale: Lady Godiva
Lady Godiva in Popular Culture
The image is "Lady Godiva" by Josephine Wall

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