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Subject: ARCHIVE: September 10, 1065 ~Lady Godiva, English noblewoman who, according to a legend dating at least to the 13th century, rode naked through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, imposed on his tenants, dies years later at 77. ...

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Date Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 04:40:15pm

Godiva, Countess of Mercia
(September 5, 990 - September 10, 1065)

ln Old English Godgifu, was an English noblewoman who, according to a legend dating at least to the 13th century,
rode naked covered only in her long hair through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive
taxation that her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, imposed on his tenants. The name "Peeping Tom" for a voyeur
originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.

The Legend
Though some facts remain shrouded in mystery, she has come down to us as an English noblewoman who allegedly rode naked thru the streets of Coventry to protest her husband's tax policies. Undisputedly, Lady Godiva was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, "Godiva" being a Latin version of the Old English name "Godgifu", meaning "gift of God". The couple appear in numerous records of the time and were quite wealthy, sponsoring multiple religious institutions including, in 1043, the Benedictine Monastery of Coventry. According to legend Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry because of Leofric's excessive taxation. Tired of her nagging, he vowed to remove the taxes if she would remove her clothing and ride thru the streets naked. She did and he kept his promise, cancelling all taxes save that on horses. (Modern scholarship has raised an interesting point; both Godiva and Leofric were independently rich and some sources indicate that it was she who actually owned Coventry and would thus have had the power to levy or remit taxes. If that story be true, the motivation for her exhibitionistic horse ride becomes a matter of speculation). Differing accounts have Leofric either clearing the streets or making the whole town watch; maybe she was a blonde or maybe not and perhaps her nudity was covered by her long hair and perhaps it wasn't. She and her sister Wulviva endowed the cathedral at Hereford and are honored there by a modern stained glass window, while a window depicting her and Leofrac was placed in Trinity Church of Coventry. Her signature, "di Ego Godiva Comtissa diu istud desideravi", is found on the charter of the Benedictine Monastery at Spalding. She remained in Coventry following Leofric's 1057 death with Domesday Books listing her as the only Anglo-Saxon woman still holding property after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The legend of her ride has grown over the years with one later addition being "Peeping Tom", a local tailor struck blind after boring a hole in his shutter to watch her ride by; a statue representing him occupies a Coventry shopping center and his name remains a synonym for "voyeur". From 1678 on an annual reenactment has been held in Coventry, usually with a prostitute hired for the purpose; in 1974 Coventry's Belgrade Theatre had a naked actress ride across the stage on a motorcycle. Despite protests, celebrations in Coventry continue with her birthday marked each September and a mechanical depiction of her riding nude around a large public clock every hour. Numerous performers including Steven Tyler of Aerosmith as well as the late Eartha Kitt and Groucho Marx have worked her name into song lyrics, multiple books, movies, and television episodes have brought her to life, and Pietro Mascagni composed the opera "Isobeau" about her with Maria Farneti singing the lead for the June 2, 1911 world premiere. Colleges such as the University of Toronto and McMaster University still hold "Godiva Week" complete with a "Godiva Ride" while "Godiva's Hymn" remains a popular drinking song. For some unknown reason, Lady Godiva has became sort of an unofficial "Patron Saint" of the engineering profession in colleges but more especially in the military. Countless artists have painted and sculpted her and today coffee, chocolate, and lingerie carry her name. At this distance in time it is probably impossible completely to separate fact from fiction in the legend of Lady Godiva. Scholarly sources state that she was buried with her husband in the Abbey they had co-founded though some have claimed she was laid to rest at the Church of the Blessed Trinity in Evesham. Both buildings have long since fallen into ruin.

Learn MORE on the English noblewoman

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Subject Author Date
"Lady Godiva "Peter & GordonTuesday, September 10, 04:58:36pm

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