The chronicler Florence of Worcester mentions Leofric and Godiva, (The Old English name Godgifu or Godgyfu meant “gift of God”; Godiva was the Latinised version) she was an Anglo Saxon Noblewoman, Florence of Worcester does not mention her famous ride, and there is no firm evidence connecting the rider with the historical Godiva. If she is the same Godiva who appears in the history of Ely Abbey, the Liber Eliensis, written at the end of the 12th century, then she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses
The legend of the infamous nude ride is first recorded in the 13th century, in the Flores Historiarumand the adaptation of it by Roger of Wendover; for the year 1057. , despite its considerable age, it is not regarded as plausible by modern historians
Wendover wrote that Godiva pleaded with her husband Leofric the ‘grim’ Earl of Mercer and Lord of Coventry, a man of great power and importance to relieve the heavy burden of taxes he had imposed on the citizens of Coventry, England. Weary of her persistence, Leofric said he would grant her request if she would ride naked through the town.
The rest of the story is not documented at all, but it is said that so great was her compassion for the people of Coventry that Godiva overcame her horror of doing this. She ordered the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred. Loosening her long hair to cover her as a cloak, she mounted her waiting horse.
Then she rode through the silent streets unseen by the people, who had obeyed her command because of their respect for her.
Only one man, called Tom, was unable to resist the temptation to peep at the Countess (hence the term ‘Peeping Tom’). He unbarred his window, but before he could satisfy his gaze he was struck blind.
A statue supposedly of Peeping Tom, a strange wooden effigy, can be seen in Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre. The eyes in this effigy appear blank, but that may be because the paint has worn off over the years.
Her ordeal completed, Godiva returned to her husband, who fulfilled his promise to abolish the heavy taxes. According to Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, Leofric freed the town from all tolls save those on horses. An inquiry made in the reign of Edward I shows that indeed, at that time, no tolls were paid in Coventry except on horses.
The oldest form of the legend has Godiva passing through Coventry market from one end to the other while the people were assembled, attended only by two knights. This version is given in Flores Historiarum by Roger of Wendover (died 1236), a somewhat gullible collector of anecdotes, who quoted from unnamed earlier writers.
The annual Coventry Fair has kept alive the Godiva story until the Reformation when the festival was banned and it was not revived until 1678.
From this time on Godiva rode through the streets on a snow-white horse, accompanied by a man whose chief skill lay in his ability to make rude, suggestive gestures. Peeping Tom again!! The Godiva Procession has been revived in recent years and takes place annually in June
Historical Map of England in 1065
This map illustrates
– Earldoms of the house of Godwine
– Earldoms of the house of Leofric
– Other families
University of Texas at Austin. From The Public Schools Historical Atlas edited by C. Colbeck, 1905.
Godiva portrayed through the arts.
Adam Von Noort, Goodiva ( working between 1562-1641)
In Lady Godina’s Rout (1796), James Gillray appealed to the Godiva legend in caricaturingA fashionable crowd playing cards at two tables. In the foreground, four people playing the game Pope-Joan. One of the women is wearing a loose fitting semi-transparent dress with her breasts exposed. Behind her, peering down her dress, is a man who is about to cut off a candle due to his distracted state. Rear view of a fat woman dominates the left side of the picture.
According to the National Portrait Gallery of the UK, the caricature refers to Lady Georgiana Gordon (1781–1853), Duchess of Bedford from 1803 until her death; the title and the lecherous servant refer to Lady Godiva. Pope-Joan is a card game; Lady “Godina” is holding the diamond nine, which is called the “Pope” in that game. The man sitting on Lady “Godina”‘s right is John Sneyd (1763–1835); the fat woman sitting on her left is Albinia, Countess of Buckinghamshire (died 1816).
David Gee, Lady Godiva Procession. 1829
John Clifton Lady Godiva and Lord Leofric. 1848
Marshall Claxton, Lady Godiva. 1850
Alfred Woolmer, Lady Godiva. 1865
Edward Henry Landseer Lady Godiva’s Prayer. 1865
W H Sullivan Lady Godiva. 1877
Edith Arkwright. Lady Godiva. 1862
Jules Joseph Lefervre, Lady Godiva. 1891
Edmund Blair Leighton depicts the moment of decision (1892)
John Collier, Lady Godiva. 1898
Edward Henry Corbould Godiva
John Thomas, Lady Godiva
Video – Lady Godiva 1911