The Legend Of Lady Godiva
A painting of Lady Godiva riding through town nude while a peeping Tom watches. Source: (Photo by Mark Kauffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
The legend of Lady Godiva is that she rode naked through town, but why? The legend goes like this: Lady Godiva pleaded with her husband to lower the taxes for the citizens. He said he would if she rode through town naked. Quite the challenge!
Who was Lady Godiva?
Lady Godiva was married to Leofric, the Earl of Mercer and Lord of Coventry. He had great power and influence as he was close to King Harold I. He and his wife, Lady Godiva, were very religious and gave a lot of money to churches and monasteries. Lady Godiva was especially benevolent. She was admired and revered by the citizens she and her husband lorded over.
What Actually Happened?
The earliest recounting of the story is from Roger of Wendover in 1057. He said that Lady Godiva had begged her husband to lighten the heavy tax burden that had been placed on the citizens of Coventry. Tired of her pleading, he said he would do it if she rode naked through the town. Because of her great compassion, she overcame her fear and went for it. She ordered the people of the town to cover their doors and windows so they would not see her. She undid her long hair which she used to cover her breasts. She rode through town unseen. No one is sure that this actually happened or if it was an exaggeration by Roger of Wendover.
The Peeping Tom
A twist to the legend was added in the seventeenth century, the peeping tom. It is said that he was unable to resist the temptation of looking at the beautiful Lady Godiva, so he ‘peeped’ out his window as she rode by. The legend says that he was struck blind after he saw her. This part of the story is shaky at best, but it is where we got the term ‘peeping tom’ to describe a voyeur.
Lady Godiva and Art
Many artists have been inspired by Lady Godiva. Painters and sculptors have imagined what Lady Godiva may have looked like and created their interpretations. The oldest painting the world still has today is by Adam van Noort. His painting is just one of many located at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, England.
Lady Godiva Procession and Pageant
A pageant and re-creation of Lady Godiva’s ride is held every few years in Coventry, England. It focuses on the history of Coventry with a lot of fun. The spectators dress up as the ‘peeping toms’ and get ready for the final event of Lady Godiva. A different woman plays the part in every pageant. She is not naked though. She wears a flesh-colored bodysuit and a long wig. The crowd of up to 30,000 people cheer her on. Lady Godiva has certainly put Coventry on the map!