Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon lady, who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in England, in order to gain from her husband a remission of the oppressive toll imposed on his tenants.
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Lady Godiva or Godifu which means God’s gift is a mysterous legend. Most of us know Godiva to be a chocolate manufacturer and they do use her name for their product. The first recorded document about Lady Godiva is in Flores Historium by Roger of Wendover around the year of 1220. The account is written about 200 years after the actual events are said to occur. Robert Lacey quotes Flores Historium in his book Great Tales from English History,
Longing to free the town of Coventry from the oppression of a heavy tax, Lady Godiva begged her husband with urgent prayers, for the sake of Jesus and his mother Mary, that he would free the town from the toll, and from all other heavy burdens. The earl rebuked her sharply. She was asking for something that would cost him much money, and he forbade her to raise the subject to him again. But, with a woman’s persistence, she would not stop pestering her husband, until he finally gave her this reply. ‘Mount your horse, and ride naked before all the people, through the market of the town, from one end to the toher, and on your return you shall have your request.’ To which Godiva replied, ‘But will you give me permission if I am ready to do it?’ ‘I will,’ her husband replied. Whereupon the countess, beloved of God, loosed her hair and let down 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, excpet for her fair legs. And having completed the journey, she returned with gladness to her astonished hhusband, and obtained of him what she had asked. Earl Leofric freed the town of Conventry and its inhabitants from the taxes.
That is the readers digest version of the Lady Godiva tale. But there are a lot of questions to be answered. Was Lady Godiva a real person? Were is the proof of this?
Well, there is the Doomsday book, which is a subject that could really be its own podcast subject. The Doomsday book was a medevil equivzlant of our census. Basically, in around 1085 William the Conquer wanted to know what everyone had. When he did then he would be able to tax everyone accordingley. The two books, liitle doomsday and Great doomsday. Little doomsday covered Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. Great doomsday covered the rest of England, except for those areas not yet conqured by William. Also left out were London and Winchester as well as some other smaller towns. There is no reason for these places being left out. London and Winchester would have been very difficult to catalog, that is one conculsion, but this does not account for the other smaller towns being left out. There is no definitive answer.
The books were not originally called the doomsday books, but rather, ‘The Kings Roll’ or ‘The Winchester Book’, because of when it was made. The affectionate term of Doomsday was given to the books from the villagers who were included in the book. And everyone was included in the book. The book contained 900 pages of hand-written Latin, over two million words. When a question of ownership came up the book was the final say. Whatever was written in it was the law, there was no questioning it. The first known dispute was in the 1090′s. It is now stored in the National Archives building in Kew in southwest London.
Back to Lady Godiva. She is listed in the book. She owned at least one estate in Worcestershire at the beginning of 1066. She inhertited these estates after her husband died in 1057. Her husband was the Earl Leofric.
There are various versions of the story. Some say the famous ride took place in the evening, morning or afternoon. Sometimes she is accompanied by other riders. The riders are sometimes male knights and other times clothed women riders. The good news is she does do the ride in every version and gets the taxes lowered. As late as the 18th Century the town of Conventry was still boasting about its tax exempt status. However, they were few of them, according to the doomsday book only 69 families lived in Conventry around the time of Lady Godiva.
Aside from her famous ride Lady Godiva is also known as a very religious individual who gave ample financial support to monestaries (churches) in and around her places of residence.
Lady Godiva died in 1070. In August of 2001 Archoligist discovered a portion of stain glass in the ruins of a church near Lady Godiva’s home. They believe the image on the glass is on of Lady Godiva herself. Check out the link to the BBC news article on the website.