Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Did Lady Godiva ride naked in Coventry?

Lady Godiva sculpture by J Thomas, 1861. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

History Extra

In legend, Lady Godiva was willing to ride naked through the streets of Coventry to persuade her husband to lower taxes – but did it actually happen?
This article was first published in the May 2015 issue of History Revealed

The naked truth of the matter is that: no, she didn’t. Lady Godifu (or Godgyfu) was a real woman and she was married to one of the wealthiest men in Anglo-Saxon England, Earl Leofric of Mercia.
Less famously, the pair were generous patrons of monasteries, and Godifu (which should actually be pronounced Gud-geef-uh), in particular donated much gold and silver to make crucifixes.
Despite both dying roughly around the time of 1066, the story of her naked ride through Coventry was first recorded by the chronicler Roger of Wendover in the 1200s, so isn’t considered reliable by historians.
Indeed, Wendover only says Leofric offered to lower taxes on the poor if his wife mounted her horse in the nude, but he doesn’t make clear if she went through with it.
Nevertheless, the tale became well-known, and in the 1600s, the extra element of Peeping Tom – who leered at her body while the townspeople respectfully shut their eyes – was added for an extra bit of juicy drama.
Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner. For more fascinating questions by Greg, and the rest of our panel, pick up a copy of History Revealed! Available in print and for digital devices.

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