She Took the Tax Away and Built Herself an Everlasting Name :
Our stop at Coventry Cathedral gave us the opportunity to pay a visit to Lady Godiva. Whilst the thought of a beautiful young woman riding naked on a horse, with only her with long tresses to cover her modesty, still fires the imagination of many people, do many remember why she did it?
Lady Godiva Legend
Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noble woman whose husband, Leofric, was the Earl of Coventry. According to popular legend, her husband was a nasty piece of work and taxed his people heavily. Lady Godiva felt sorry for the people of Coventry who were suffering under her husband’s oppressive taxes. She appealed to her husband again and again, but he steadfastly refused to reduce the taxes.
There are many versions to this legend, and in the one told to us today, Lady Godiva’s husband said he would reduce the punitive taxes if she would mount a white steed and ride naked through the city of Coventry. Lady Godiva made the self-sacrifice and agreed to ride naked through the city, but on condition that all the people would lock themselves indoors and not look. It’s at this point that the guys in the audience pipe up “so why bother”.
According to this version of the legend, all the citizens in town obeyed and stayed indoors, all except a curious tailor who has since become known as Peeping Tom. He could not resist seeing Lady Godiva riding naked on her horse and decided to peek through a keyhole. Just when he did, a flash of sunlight reflected off a glass into the keyhole and blinded Peeping Tom.
In the end, Lady Godiva’s husband agrees to abolish the onerous taxes and hence the words by Tennyson “Then she rode back clothed on with chastity…… She took the tax away and built herself an everlasting name.”
Everlasting fame she has certainly achieved as up till today, many songs and poems have been written about her and paintings as well. The Herbert Gallery and Museum has displays on this 11th century legend.
Although the story of her horse-ride may be a legend, Lady Godiva and her influence were definitely real. Lady Godiva lived in the 11th century and her charity and power are well documented in history.
The city of Coventry holds a Godiva Festival in July each year to celebrate its historic connection with Lady Godiva. This free weekend of music and entertainment includes a Godiva procession through the streets Coventry’s War Memorial Park.