Every girl needs a Hero, someone to look up to and admire, a role model, who can show her who she is and what she can do. My Heroine is Lady Godiva, because she was a REAL FEMALE HEROINE, and the ULTIMATE role model for women, all over the world… her legend lives on…. even after almost a century has passed.
She emulates compassion, humanity and LOVE… a love for the people, her love and compassion was so deep, that she sacrificed her dignity, so save the citizens of Coventry from excessive taxes…. she stood up to her husband when she believed he was wrong…. she IS the role model that is lacking in a cold narcissistic world…. She is the ultimate model and blueprint for WOMEN today…. And this is the true story, of Lady Godiva.
LADY GODIVA – 1000 years in history
The 900-year-old story of Lady Godiva was first recorded in Latin, by two monks at St Albans Abbey. It was assumed these monks had heard the story from travellers who were making their way to the capital, London. The story of Lady Godiva was told by monks in a procession through the streets. The first recorded Godiva Procession, originally named The Great Fair, was in 1678.
Earl of Mercia, one of the three great earls of eleventh-century England, is recorded. A powerful political figure, it was Leofric who supported Harold’s claim to the throne on the death of his father Cnut in 1035 and who averted civil war by mediating the quarrel between Edward the Confessor and Earl Godwin in 1051. Both Leofric and his young wife, Godgifu, whose name means “God’s Gift,” were benefactors of the church, most notably the monastery at Coventry.
Godiva was a real person, though her name was Godgifu, or Godifu, meaning God’s Gift. She was the wife of Earl Leofric and mother of Ãlfgar, Earl of East Anglia. Her granddaughter was Aldgyth, of Edith, wife of King Harold.
Lady Godiva, like Mona Lisa, has been the muse of many paintings. John Collier in 1897 painted her naked but covered by her long hair on a white horse covered in a red cloth. However, Edmund Blair Leighton’s depiction in his 1892 painting was very different, she is completely covered in a white dress, suggesting purity.
Lady Godiva (Godgifu) and Leofric.
The opulent couple were abundant with land, jewels and precious stones. 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, 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.
So what made the tale and Legend of Lady Godiva transcend not just space, from the Midlands to London, but time, being part of culture for 900 years? Let me share the truth behind the legend of Lady Godiva. Godiva was a wealthy landowner in her own right, with vast estates. She was a patron of several religious houses, including the Benedictine abbey of St Mary in Coventry (later to become St Mary’s Priory and Coventry Cathedral).
Lady Godiva is a legitimate historical figure, born in 990 A.D. It is unknown when she died, although it was assumed to be between 1066 and 1086. The real Godiva was known for being generous to the church. However, despite this historical legitimacy (i.e., the existence of the town and Godiva herself), there is doubt on her ride through Coventry due to a lack of records about it. The story only first appeared approximately one hundred years after her death.
According to legend, her husband, Leofric, demanded an oppressive tax from Coventry citizens. She seems to have been a pious woman, as evidenced by her gifts to monasteries. The wife of Earl Leofric, one of the most powerful men in England.
The Countess (she would not have been styled ‘Lady’ in the 11th century) took him at his word, and, freeing her long hair from its bindings so that it fell about her, and accompanied by two soldiers, she mounted her horse. Her hair was so long that it veiled her whole body, saving only her legs. She passed through the market place, and returned triumphant to her husband, demanding that he fulfil his vow.
Earl Leofric was true to his word, and freed the town of Coventry from its heavy burden of taxes, confirming the deed with an official charter. It seems that one tax alone was left in place; a toll of horses.
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.
Godiva, being a godly woman, implored him to ‘free the town from the said servitude’. The Earl refused her entreaties and forbade her to mention the subject again. Yet still she persisted, until the exasperated Earl said. He at 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 Leofric.
Before Godiva set out on her ride she summoned the civic authorities and explained her plan. Obviously they did all they could to help, for it was in their interests to do so. The officials ordered all citizens to stay indoors, shut their windows, and avert their eyes.
Then, accompanied by a serving woman, Godiva galloped through the streets.
Godiva, determined to save her community and help the people of Coventry, didn’t need convincing, she was prepared to risk her dignity, because she loved God, and the humanity of her community so much, she set about to complete her challenge.
Leofric didn’t believe his wife would dare to follow through with his insistent demands and continued to pursue to tax the citizens while his wife prepared for her journey through the streets of the City – NAKED
Then she rode forth, clothed on with chastity: God’s daughter carried out her husband’s request.
The streets were quiet, all the doors were closed and windows were covered, the citizens of Coventry honouring their Lady, Nobody dare open their doors or windows, until they heard the sound of the horses hooves passing by!
She then rode through the streets, her long blonde hair draped so that it covered almost her whole body, allowing only her legs and eyes to remain visible.
The deep air listened round her as she rode.
Silence permeated the streets of Coventry.
Shops all closed on the day Godiva came to rescue them from the clutches of oppression!
And all the low wind hardly breathed for fear.
However, one man, known as Peeping Tom, disobeyed her instructions and couldn’t help looking out at Godiva riding through Coventry on the horse. Upon doing so, he was immediately punished by God, and instantly blinded for his ignorance and selfish .
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 upon 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.
The Peeping Tom character was added to the story in the sixteenth century and later became a common term for a voyeur. A 17th century manuscript suggested that during the ride someone let down a window (i.e. let a shutter fall), causing Godiva’s horse to neigh, and it was for this reason that the tax on horses was not lifted by Leofric.
On the hour, the right door of the clock opens, and Lady Godiva rides naked on her horse across the front of the clock before exiting through the left door. Meanwhile, the window above opens and reveals the face of Peeping Tom. The clock has been sculpted with detail, including a black eagle on the doors from which Godiva. This image on a yellow background is the symbol of Leofric, Earl of Mercia.
The clock was unfortunately broken in 1987 in the celebrations that followed Coventry’s FA Cup win. In the excitement, people climbed atop the Clock Tower, damaging the clock.
Further marks of Lady Godiva’s legendary ride through the streets live on in a statue — built by Sir Williain Reid Dick in 1949 — in the city centre. It was built as a morale booster, symbolic of Coventry’s regeneration, after the wartime bombings.
The legend also lives on in the name of the local annual music festival, the Coventry Godiva Festival, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year
The Godiva legend has also spread far beyond Coventry in the name of the Godiva Chocolatier, a company founded in Brussels with now more than 450 stores worldwide. It also inspired a line in one of 1970/’80s band Queen’s most popular songs, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’: ‘I’m a racing car, passing by like Lady Godiva’. The song reached platinum status in both the U.S. and U.K. fffff