Friday, 1 July 2005

Lady Godiva, the Peeping Tom and Taxes in Coventry

Everyone has probably heard of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry 900 years ago. Godiva was married to Leofric, Earl of Mercer and Lord of Coventry. The notorious ride has been lost between myth and reality and we do not have any concrete evidence that it really too place at all.

Roger of Wendover in 1057 writes of Godiva begging her husband to lessen the tax burden he had imposed on the people of Coventry. After having been nagged for some time about this, Leofric told her he would do as she wanted but under one condition: She would have to ride through town completely naked. The story goes that she accepted this and after ordering the people to stay indoors and shut their windows and doors (windows in Anglo-Saxon England were not made of glass and were more similar to shutters), she loowened her extremely long hair, had it cover her as a cloak and mounted her horse. The people apparently obeyed her orders and did not peep as she rode through the streets, except for one man, who could not resist the temptation. From this man we get the characterization ‘Peeping Tom’.
After having completed her side of the deal, Godiva returned home and Leofric proceded to withdraw all taxes, except for those imposed on horses.

Each year a pageant is held in Coventry to reconstruct Lady Godiva’s famous ride…

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