Saxon Lady of Coventry
Died 1067 A.D.
Godiva, according to legend, a Saxon lady of Coventry, in Warwickshire. She was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1050).
The inhabitants of Coventry were so heavily oppressed by taxes, that they appealed to Lady Godiva to intercede for them, saying that if they paid they must starve.
Godiva, sympathizing with the people, went to her lord to plead that, for her sake, the tax might be remitted. Leofric, when she persisted in her entreaties, at last said half jocularly and half contemptuously, that he would grant her request if she would ride naked though the town.
Godiva caused it to be made known on what terms the earl had agreed to relieve the people from the tax, and then proclaimed that on a certain day no one should leave his house before noon, that all windows and other apertures in the houses should be closed, and that no one should look out until noon was passed.
She then, on the day appointed, mounted naked on her palfrey, rode through the town, and returned, upon which Leofric, in fulfilment [sic] of his promise, and in admiration of his wife’s heroism, freed the inhabitants from the burdens he had imposed on them. Only one “peeping Tom,” the story says, attempted to look out, and he was immediately struck blind.
A medieval pageant celebrating Godiva’s ride was a feature of the Coventry fair for several centuries.
One of Tennyson’s graceful short poems, entitled Godiva, deals with this subject.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.