Lady Godiva (Godgifu)
"Among his other good deeds in this life, he and his wife, the noble countess Godgiva, who was a devout worshipper of God, and one who loved the ever-virgin St. Mary, entirely constructed at their own cost the monastery there [Coventry], well endowed it with land, and enriched it with ornaments to such an extent, that no monastery could be then found in England possessing so much gold, silver, jewels, and precious stones."
In this annal for 1057, the death of Leofric, Earl of
Mercia, one of the three great earls of eleventh-century
The legendary story of Lady Godiva is found in the Flores
Historiarum by Roger of Wendover (died 1236). There he recounts that her
husband, in exasperation over being implored to reduce the onerous taxes on the
AD 1057...."Having founded this monastery by the advice of his wife the noble countess Godiva, he [Leofric], at the prayer of a religious woman, placed monks therein, and so enriched them with lands, woods, and ornaments, that there was not found in all England a monastery with such an abundance of gold and silver, gems and costly garments. The countess Godiva, who was a great lover of Gods's mother, longing to free the town of Coventry from the oppression of a heavy toll, often with urgent prayers besought her husband, that from regard to Jesus Christ and his mother, he would free the town from that service, and from all other heavy burdens; and when the earl sharply rebuked her for foolishly asking what was so much to his damage, and always forbade her ever more to speak to him on the subject; and while she on the other hand, with a woman's pertinacity, never ceased to exasperate her husband on that matter, he a last made her this answer, 'Mount your horse, and ride naked, before all the people, through the market of the town, from one end to the other, and on your return you shall have your request.' On which Godiva replied, 'But will you give me permission, if I am willing to do it?' 'I will,' said he. Whereupon the countess, beloved of God, loosed her hair and let down her tresses, which covered the whole of her body like a veil, and then mounting her horse and attended by two knights, she rode through the market-place, without being seen, except her fair legs; and having completed the journey, she returned with gladness to her astonished husband, and obtained of him what she had asked; for earl Leofric freed the town of Coventry and its inhabitants from the aforesaid service, and confirmed what he had done by a charter."
Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History
The Polychronicon, a fourteenth-century chronicle by Ranulf Higden, says that, as a result, Leofric did excuse the town of all taxes except those on horses. A later chronicle adds that Godiva requested the townspeople to remain indoors during her ride. In the seventeenth-century, Peeping Tom became part of the legend, being struck blind or dead when he looked out his window. By the eighteenth-century, the story had assumed its present form, by the nineteenth, its Victorian expression pictured below, and by the Twentieth, a decorative element woefully misplaced in front of a shopping center.
Then she rode forth, clothed on with chastity:
The deep air listen'd round her as she rode,
And all the low wind hardly breathed for fear.
Tennyson, Godiva (1842)
(c.1898) by the Hon. John Collier (1850-1934) is in the
Two bibliographic notes:
Sometime before his death in 1095, Wulfstan, bishop of
the cathedral at
Both Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris were monks of