On this day in history : 10th July 1040 – To help the people of the town Lady Godiva rides naked through the streets of Coventry to force her husband, the Earl of Mercia, to lower taxes….

Lady Godiva by John Collier c.1897 – Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry – Public domain

Whilst the story is most certainly a myth, Lady Godiva was a real person during the 11th Century…. The name ‘Godiva’ is a Latinised form of the Old English ‘Godgifu’ or ‘Godgyfu’ – meaning ‘gift of God’…. She was known for her kindness and her generosity to the Church – but then, so was her husband…. Together they helped found a Benedictine monastery in Coventry….

In the legend Lady Godiva’s husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia is portrayed as greedy and money grabbing – which seems rather unjust – as he was part of a husband and wife benefactor team….such slander would not be acceptable today…. The story of her naked horseback ride only appeared a hundred years or so after her death – when it was recorded by English monk Roger of Wendover, who was often known to ‘spin a good yarn’…. But anyhow, somehow it found its way into our history books – and makes a good tale….

The story goes that Lady Godiva was dismayed at the extortionate taxes that the Earl was levying on the good citizens of Coventry…. Time and time again she pleaded with her husband to be reasonable and to lessen the burden…. Eventually he jested that only if she were to ride naked through the town would he lower the taxes….

Lady Godiva by Edward Blair Leighton, 1892 ‘depicts the moment of decision’ – Public domain

Taking him at his word she ordered the people of Coventry to remain indoors and not to look out of their windows…. She then disrobed, mounted her horse and with only her long flowing hair to afford her some modesty she rode through the town…. Only the temptation to peek was too much for one man – a tailor by the name of Tom…. But the second he clapped eyes on Lady Godiva he was instantly struck blind…. He was the original ‘Peeping Tom’….

True to his word Leofric, Earl of Mercia, held up his end of the bargain and reduced the taxes for the people of Coventry….

Lady Godiva – a statue by Sir William Reid Dick – Broadgate, Coventry – Image credit Cmglee – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

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