A noblewoman, equestrian, art patron, tax protester, and the wife of Leofric III, Earl of Mercia. They lived in Coventry in the 11th century. They were both Christian, and after moving there they founded an abbey in about 1043.

Leofric became involved in local public affairs, and became responsible for some of the finances of the area. As the region grew more populous, more public works were needed, or at least envisioned by Leofric, and for that, he needed cash. Before long he was taxing everything, including manure.

His Lady worked on, and excelled in, her horsemanship, and enjoyed involvement in the arts. She earnestly wished to interest the masses in the arts, and so commissioned a portrait of herself. This alone wasn't working, and she eventually realized that the masses simply didn't have TIME to be interested in the arts since they spent all their time feeding themselves and paying taxes.

So, she went to speak with her husband about reducing the taxes, which started a long argument. In order to get her off his case, he offered to lessen the taxes if she would ride her horse through the market at midday, without a stitch of clothing on. After all, wasn't the nude human body the highest expression of beauty and an example of the perfection of God's work?

She stunned him by agreeing to do this, and so on a summer day in about 1057, rode through the crowded market of Coventry, sitting tall and composed yet stark naked on her saddle, and accompanied by two aides. The earliest account by Roger of Wendover states that her nudity was mostly concealed by her hair. Amazed by her courage and puposefulness, Leofric removed ALL the taxes, except for those that were in place before he took over.

Roger of Wendover's account was probably written around 1175; later accounts by historians Ranulf Higden and Henry Knighton included more details about reasons for the ride. Later certain embellishments were added to the story, probably by the church: that she had asked the townspeople to remain indoors with their windows closed, and that one fellow named Tom chose to look and was struck blind (hence, "peeping Tom").


I have always had a fascination with Lady Godiva and decided to research the story of this legendary woman. Everyone knows she rode naked on a horse but not many people know why. Nudity was considered shameful during that time, especially female nudity, and the taboo hung in the air like a black rain cloud. It was mostly because of the effects of the church's views on humans in general, as being flawed and only beautiful when united with God. To paint human beings or even nature was greatly frowned upon and considered sinful simply because the senses could not be trusted. It was considered sinful to attempt to recreate any of God's majesties, for humans' talents were nothing compared to His. This all changed of course after the Renaissance, but taking into consideration that did not happen until at least 1400 and what the story of Lady Godiva tells she was hundreds of years before her time. May it by myth or legend just for the story to exist I believe gives a wonderful example of the monumental growth of human thinking during that time.

Lady Godgifu better known as Lady Godiva lived in Coventry, Warwickshire between 1040-1080. She was the beautiful wife of Leofric III, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry. According to legend she rode through the town naked in order to get her husband to repeal oppressive taxes imposed on the people of Coventry.

The story says that upon hearing the burden of heavy taxes she continuously pleaded the case to her husband, "If they pay, they starve." He obstinately refused her pleas and ordered her to not bring the subject up to him again. But she still tirelessly begged for him to release the people from the toll. Exasperated by her constant pleas he finally replied that he would grant her request under the condition that she ride naked through Coventry market from one end to the other. On which she replied, "But will you give me permission if I am willing to do it?" and he said, "I will."

Lady Godiva took him at his word and sent out a proclamation that all persons within the town should keep within doors and to close their shutters. Out of respect and adoration for her the townspeople obeyed. Legend says that after undressing she unpinned her hair, which fell just below her knees. As she rode her horse it hung around her body like a veil, "covering everything except her fair legs." She was known to be extremely beautiful and a tailor by the name of Tom could not resist temptation, he was the only person known to disobey her proclamation. He drove a hole in his shutters so he might see her pass. It is said that immediately after seeing her pass he was struck blind. (Peeping Tom)

"Boring a little auger-hole in fear, peep'd -- but his eyes, before they had their will, were shriveled into darkness in his head, and dropt before him."

Upon returning from her ride her astonished husband kept his word and relieved the townspeople from the burdensome tax and she became a Medieval legend.



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