Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva

Godiva (or Godgifu) (c. 980-1067) [Roy Palmer (1976) "The Folklore of Warwickshire": 134] [ [ "The Historical Godiva"] , Octavia Randolph] was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in England in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants. The name "Peeping Tom" for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Tom had watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.

The historical figure

Lady Godiva was the wife of Leofric (968–1057), Earl of Mercia. Her name occurs in charters and the Domesday survey, though the spelling varies. The Old English name Godgifu or Godgyfu meant "gift of God"; Godiva was the Latinised version. Since the name was a popular one, there are contemporaries of the same name.Ann Williams, ‘Godgifu (d. 1067?)’, "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [, accessed 18 April 2008] ] [ [ "Lady Godiva, the book, and Washingborough"] , "Lincolnshire Past and Present", 12 (1993), pp.9–10.]

If she is the same Godgifu who appears in the chronicles of Ely, "Liber Eliensis" (end of 12th century), then she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry. [ [, S 1226] ] Writing in the 12th century, Roger of Wendover credits Godiva as the persuasive force behind this act. In the 1050s, her name is coupled with that of her husband on a grant of land to the monastery of St Mary, Worcester and the endowment of the minster at Stow St Mary, Lincolnshire. [ [, S 1232] ] [ [, S 1478] ] She and her husband are commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries at Leominster, Chester, Much Wenlock and Evesham. ["The Chronicle of John of Worcester" ed. and trans. R.R. Darlington, P. McGurk and J. Bray (Clarendon Press: Oxford 1995), pp.582–583]

The manor of Woolhope in Herefordshire, along with three others, was given to the cathedral at Hereford before the Norman Conquest by the benefactresses Wulviva and Godiva - usually held to be this Godiva and her sister. The church there has a 20th century stained glass window representing them. [ [] ]

Her mark, "di Ego Godiva Comitissa diu istud desideravi", appears on a charter purportedly given by Thorold of Bucknall to the Benedictine monastery of Spalding. However, this charter is considered spurious by many historians. [ [, S 1230] ] Even so it is possible that Thorold, who appears in the Domesday Book as sheriff of Lincolnshire, was her brother.

After Leofric's death in 1057, his widow lived on until sometime between the Norman Conquest of 1066 and 1086. She is mentioned in the Domesday survey as one of the few Anglo-Saxons and the only woman to remain a major landholder shortly after the conquest. By the time of this great survey in 1086, Godiva had died, but her former lands are listed, although now held by others. [K.S.B.Keats-Rohan, "Domesday People: A prosopography of persons occurring in English documents 1066–1166", vol.1: Domesday (Boydell Press: Woodbridge, Suffolk 1999), p.218] Thus, Godiva apparently died between 1066 and 1086.

The place where Godiva was buried has been a matter of debate. According to the "Evesham Chronicle", she was buried at the Church of the Blessed Trinity at Evesham, [ [ "Countess Godiva"] , Cecilia Parsons, 1999, 2000, revised by John Collier, 2004] which is no longer standing. But, according to the authoritative account in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "There is no reason to doubt that she was buried with her husband at Coventry, despite the assertion of the Evesham chronicle that she lay in Holy Trinity, Evesham."

Dugdale (1656) says that a window with representations of Leofric and Godiva was placed in [ Trinity Church, Coventry] , about the time of Richard II.

The legend

According to the popular story, [Joan Cadogan Lancaster. "Godiva of Coventry. With a chapter on the folk tradition of the story" by H.R. Ellis Davidson. Coventry [Eng.] Coventry Corp., 1967. OCLC 1664951] [K. L. French, ‘The legend of Lady Godiva’," Journal of Medieval History", 18 (1992), 3–19] Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband's oppressive taxation. Lady Godiva appealed again and again to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that all persons should keep within doors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Only one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as "Peeping Tom", disobeyed her proclamation in one of the most famous instances of voyeurism. [ [ Lady Godiva] ,] In the story, Tom bores a hole in his shutters so that he might see Godiva pass, and is struck blind. [ [ "The Historical Godiva"] , Octavia Randolph] In the end, Godiva's husband keeps his word and abolishes the onerous taxes.

The oldest form of the legend has Godiva passing through Coventry market from one end to the other while the people were assembled, attended only by two knights. [ [ "Lady Godiva (Godgifu)"] , "Flowers of History", University of California San Francisco] This version is given in "Flores Historiarum" by Roger of Wendover (died 1236), a somewhat gullible collector of anecdotes, who quoted from an earlier writer. The later story, with its episode of "Peeping Tom", appeared first among 17th century chroniclers.At the time, it was customary for penitents to make a public procession in only their shift, a sleeveless white garment similar to a slip today and one which was certainly considered "underwear." Thus, some scholars speculate, Godiva may have actually travelled through town as a penitent, in her shift. Godiva's story may have passed into folk history to be recorded in a romanticised version. Another theory has it that Lady Godiva's "nakedness" may refer to her riding through the streets stripped of her jewellery, the trademark of her upper class rank. However, both these attempts to reconcile known facts with legend are weak; there is no known use of the word "naked" in the era of the earliest accounts to mean anything other than "without any clothing whatsoever". [ [ The Naked Truth] , BBC News 2001]

Moreover, there is no trace of any version of the story in sources contemporary with Godiva, a story that would certainly have been recorded even in its most tame interpretations. Additionally, with the founding of Coventry circa 1043, there was little opportunity for the city to have developed to an extent that would have supported such a noble gesture. Lastly, the only recorded tolls were on horses. Thus, it remains doubtful whether there is any historical basis for the famous ride.

Like the story of Peeping Tom, the claim that Godiva's long hair effectively hid her nakedness from sight is generally believed to have been a later addition (cf. Rapunzel). Certain other thematic elements are familiar in myth and fable: the resistant Lord (cf. Esther and Ahasuerus), the exacted promise, the stringent condition and the test of chastity. Even if Peeping Tom is a late addition, his being struck blind demonstrates the closely knit themes of the violated mystery and the punished intruder (cf. Diana and Actaeon).

Popular culture

James Gillray appealed to the Godiva legend in caricaturing the fashions of the time.]
* The Godiva Procession, a commemoration of the legendary ride was instituted on May 31, 1678, as part of Coventry fair, and was celebrated up to the 1960's. The part of Lady Godiva was usually played by a scantily clad actress or dancer and the occasion often attracted controversy. For instance in 1854 the Bishop of Worcester protested against "a Birmingham whore being paraded through the streets as Lady Godiva". The event was enlivened by constant rumours, beforehand, that the girl playing the part of Lady Godiva would actually appear nude, like the original. These hopes were eventually realised in a play staged in 1974, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, entitled "The only true story of Lady Godiva", in which Lady Godiva appeared naked, riding a motor bike. [Roy Palmer (1976) The Folklore of Warwickshire: 138-9] The celebration has been revived as part of the Godiva Festival.
* The wooden effigy of "Peeping Tom" which, from 1812 until World War II, looked out on the world from a hotel at the northwest corner of Hertford Street, Coventry, can now be found in Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre. It represents a man in armour and was probably an image of Saint George. Nearby, in the 1950s rebuilt Broadgate, an animated "Peeping Tom" watches over Lady Godiva as she makes her hourly ride around the "Godiva Clock". [ [ Coventry Now & Then: Hertford Street from Broadgate ] ]
* From the mid 1980s a Coventry resident, Pru Porretta, has adopted a Lady Godiva role to promote community events and good works in the city. In 1999 Coventry councillors considered eliminating Godiva from the city's public identity. [ [ "Don't Drop Lady Godiva"] , Coventry & Warwickshire News, 15 November 1999] As of 2005, Porretta retains the status of Coventry's unofficial ambassador. Each September Poretta marks the occasion of Lady Godiva's birthday by leading a local pageant focusing on world peace and unity known as The Godiva Sisters. In August 2007, the Godiva Sisters was performed in front of 900 delegates from 69 countries attending the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children Biennial Conference held at the University of Warwick.
* Godiva was immortalized anew in the poem "Godiva" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
* In Cockney rhyming slang a £5 note (or fiver) is referred to as a Lady Godiva.

Engineering mascot

In manyWho|date=July 2007 university engineering faculties, military engineering corps and other engineering organisations, Lady Godiva is regarded as a mascot and called the "Patron Saint of Engineers" or "Goddess of Engineering". The origin is unclear, although it probably developed in Britain, where several early engineering schools were founded during the industrial revolution. The practice migrated to North America through Canadian schools, such as the University of Toronto and McMaster University which today holds an annual "Godiva Week" in January consisting of events intended to engender school spirit. By the mid-20th century, the practice of engineering organisations associating themselves with Lady Godiva was well established in the United States.

A particular tradition associated with this is that of drinking songs, which make reference to Lady Godiva, particularly Godiva's Hymn.

Historically, certain college organisations staged an annual "Godiva Ride" in which a naked female (or a costumed male) rode a horse across campus. [ [ "Facts, figures, myths, oddities, people, places and traditions that help define the University of Alberta"] , Charlene Rooke and Rick Pilger, University of Alberta New Trail Magazine, November 1998] This practice may have declined with the advent of modern feminist attitudes. [ [ "Students scrutinize Lady Godiva ride"] , CBC Archives, February 4, 1990]


Several popular songs make contemporary usage of the Lady Godiva image. These include:
* The Velvet Underground's "Lady Godiva's Operation" on their 1968 LP, "White Light/White Heat", referring to a transwoman who dies at the hands of her surgeons during a sexual reassignment-turned-lobotomy.
* Peter and Gordon's "Lady Godiva" (1966 in the UK, 1967 in the US) is about a woman who becomes involved in a burlesque show. Like Coventry's Lady Godiva, the Lady Godiva of the song has long flowing hair that covers her body. However, the song has her hair cut as a condition to her performing in the burlesque show.
* Grant Lee Buffalo's song "Lady Godiva and Me" from their 1994 album, "Mighty Joe Moon", includes references to Peeping Tom.
* Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show recorded the song "Hey, Lady Godiva".
* Mother Love Bone recorded a song, "Lady Godiva Blues", on their 1992 self-titled album.
* Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" sees Freddie Mercury "passing by like Lady Godiva".
* Simply Red recorded "Lady Godiva’s Room" on their 1992 EP "Montreux"
* Aerosmith's song "My Girl" from their album, "Pump", contains the line, "My girl's a Lady Godiva."
* In Peter Gabriel's song "Modern Love" off his self-titled 1977 album, he states "For Lady Godiva I came incognito".
* Boney M's song "Lady Godiva" was released in 1993 on the album "Boney M. More Gold".

Classical Music and Opera

The plot of Mascagni's opera Isabeau is based on the story of Lady Godiva.

Vitezslav Novak composed an overture for a play based on the story of Lady Godiva in Prague in 1907.


*Lady Godiva is a character in the Chales Kingsley novel Hereward the Wake, published in 1866.
*In 1939, Dr. Seuss wrote a short illustrated novel entitled "The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family", based on the character.
*Lady Godiva is mentioned in Sylvia Plath's poem "Ariel".
*Lady Godiva also appears in Ezra Pound's poem "Nicotine".
*Lady Godiva also appears in "Godiva", a poem by Sir Alfred Tennyson.
*Lady Godiva is a character in the Dorothy Dunnett novel King Hereafter, published in 1982.
*A small subplot on the novel Inshallah_(novel) is centered on the purchase of a sex doll called Lady Godiva.


* Dorothy Reynolds portrayed Lady Godiva in the BBC TV series "Hereward the Wake" (1965).
* In the "Charmed" episode "The Bare Witch Project", a student in Magic School accidentally conjures Lady Godiva and Lord Dyson out of a history book. Later, Phoebe, inspired by Lady Godiva, decides to ride naked through a crowded street in support of women's liberation.
* In an episode "The Godiva Affair" of the British sitcom "Dad's Army", women in the town of Walmington-on-Sea compete for the part of Lady Godiva to head a carnival procession in the town, ultimately performed by Elizabeth, the wife of Captain Mainwaring, causing him to collapse in astonishment and shame.
* The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling featured a character named Godiva who rode to the ring on a horse and wore a sheer bodysuit.
* The "Histeria!" episode "Tribute to Tyrants" featured a sketch about the legend of Lady Godiva, portrayed by the World's Oldest Woman.
* In one "Frasier" episode, a girl is wearing a Lady Godiva costume.
* In another "Frasier" episode, the character of Maris was involved in an unfortunate chemical bonding incident while performing a Lady Godiva impression on a horse saddle her husband Niles Crane had bought her.
* The "Maude" theme song begins with the words, "Lady Godiva was a freedom rider; she didn't care if the whole world looked!".
* In the "Blackadder Goes Forth" episode "Private Plane", Captain Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) describes the Royal Flying Corps as "the biggest show-offs since Lady Godiva entered the royal enclosure at Ascot claiming she had literally nothing to wear".
* In the "Round the Twist" episode "Linda Godiva", Linda helps Pete win a cross-country horse race by being invisible, she is later turned visible and is seen riding the horse naked.
* In the first episode of "The Vicar of Dibley", several characters reminisce about when Letitia Cropley rode through Dibley stark naked in a Lady Godiva reenactment.
* In the "Seinfeld" episode "The Apology", Jerry's girlfriend regularly walks around in his apartment naked, and at one point he refers to her as "Lady Godiva".
* The title of Canadian comedy-drama series Godiva's is an allusion to Lady Godiva.
* In an episode of "Time Squad" Larry showed Otto videos of previous missions and in one of these missions Lady Godiva was riding her horse naked while Tuddrussel ran after her, trying to persuade her to wear some clothes.
* In an episode of Spin City, the mayor's rebellious daughter rides naked though central park in protest.
* In an episode of The West Wing, Josh Lyman refers to Amy as Lady Godiva after she asks him to make changes to an international treaty that would criminalize all prostitution rather than just forced prostitution.


Gladys Jennings starred in the British silent short "Lady Godiva" (1928) and Irish actress Maureen O'Hara starred in "Lady Godiva of Coventry" (1955). [ [ Lady Godiva - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes - New York Times ] ]

A 1949 Three Stooges short film, "The Ghost Talks", featured one of the boys playing Peeping Tom in a slapstick send-up of the Lady Godiva legend. Inspired by an encounter between the stooges and a haunted, empty suit of armour occupied by Tom's spirit, the film changes key elements of the legend, eliminating Tom's blindness as his penalty and inventing a relationship between the tailor and the Lady. The Stooges act out the ghost's narrative of the events of the famous day in costumes based on the clothing of a period many years later than the life of the historic Godiva.

In the 1988 film "High Spirits" with Peter O'Toole, the character Eamon, when trying to get two of the castle's female employees to pose as ghosts, tells Patricia he can see her as a mermaid, or the 'Lady Godiva'.


* Lady Godiva is the name of a women's Ultimate team from Boston, Massachusetts.

Video Games

* The title "Lady Godiva" can be obtained in the game Warhammer Online when a player summons their mount in a capital city while not wearing any armor


See also

* Asteroid 3018 Godiva, named after Lady Godiva
* Godiva Chocolates, a chocolate company named after and featuring artwork of Godiva on their boxes
* Lady Godiva syndrome
* Public nudity
* "The Seven Lady Godivas", an early Dr. Seuss book
* Nudity and protest

External links

* [ Lady Godiva] , the website of the women's sports team
* [ Cecilia Parsons, "Countess Godiva"] , 1999, revised 2004: biography and developing legend
* [ BBC News] – the unearthing of a stained glass window identified with Lady Godiva
* [ James Grout: "Lady Godiva", part of the Encyclopædia Romana]
* [ How Lady Godiva Got a Tax Break]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lady Godiva — Godiva Lady Godiva, par John Collier, 1898 Godiva (Lady Godiva, aussi appelée Godgifu) était une dame saxonne qui, d après la légende, a traversé nue à cheval les rues de Coventry, en Angleterre, vers l an 1000, afin de convaincre son mari de… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lady Godiva — von John Collier, ca. 1898 G …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lady Godiva — Para otros usos de este término, véase Godiva. Lady Godiva, por John Collier, ca 1897. Lady Godiva (principios del siglo XI) fue una dama anglosajona, famosa por su belleza y su bondad casada con Leofric (968–1057), conde de Chester y de …   Wikipedia Español

  • Lady Godiva — noun according to legend she rode naked through Coventry in order to persuade her husband not to tax the townspeople so heavily; the only person to look at her as she rode by was a man named Tom and Peeping Tom has become a synonym for voyeur… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lady Godiva — ➡ Godiva * * * …   Universalium

  • Lady Godiva —    see Godiva …   A Dictionary of English folklore

  • Lady Godiva — Cockney Rhyming Slang Fiver (5 pound note) Ere, that bloke still owes me lady! …   English dialects glossary

  • Lady (Godiva) — n British a. a £5 note, a sum of £5. London rhyming slang for fiver. The phrase is still heard, although alternatives such as deep sea diver are now probably more popular. Compare commodore b. £5 million, in the slang of city traders since the… …   Contemporary slang

  • Lady Godiva — La|dy Go|di|va [ ,leıdi gə daıvə ] a woman who rode with no clothes on through an English town in the 11th century as a protest against high taxes …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Lady Godiva — n. (c. 1040 1080) English noblewoman who (according to legend) rode naked through the streets of Coventry (England) to spare its citizens from a tax to be imposed by her husband …   English contemporary dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.