Part V: The Naked True Story of Lady Godiva
Lady Godiva (also known as Countess Godiva) was wife to Leofric (Earl of Mercer and Lord of Coventry). Leofric was a man of great power and importance. They were parents to the famous English hero, Hereward the Wake.
There were various versions of the story of Lady Godiva’s ride, naked, through the streets of Coventry and the story has grown over the 900 years.
According to history, in 1043 Leofric and Lady Godiva founded a Benedictine house for an abbot and 24 monks on the site of St. Osburg’s Nunnery. It was previously by the Danes in 1016. The monastery was dedicated to God, the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Osburg and All Saints by Edsi, Archbishop of Canterbury. Leofric died in 1057 and was buried with great ceremony in one of the porches of the Abbey church. Lady Godiva survived another ten years and is also said to be buried in the church.
Lady Godiva donated the monastery with many gifts in honor of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that she melted down all her gold and silver to make them into crosses, images of saints and other decorations to grace her favored house of God.
So what is the naked truth behind the story of Lady Godiva’s ride naked through Coventry? Why would a lady of great standing do such a thing?
The legend has been handed down hundreds of years so the facts were smudged with fiction as people were romanticized by their love for Lady Godiva.
The earliest surviving source for the legend is the Chronica of Roger of Wendover for the year of 1057. Lady Godiva pleaded with her husband to relieve the heavy taxes he imposed on the people of Coventry. Tired of her persistence, Leofric said he would grant her request if she would ride naked through the town. Although the rest of the story was not documented, but it is said that so great was her compassion for the people of Coventry that Godiva overcame her fear of doing this. She ordered the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred. She loosened her long hair to cover her as a cloak, she mounted her waiting horse and she rode through the silent streets unseen by the people, who had obeyed her command because of their respect for her. Only one man, called Tom, was unable to resist the temptation to peep at beautiful Lady Godiva (hence the term ‘Peeping Tom’). He unbarred his window, but before he could gaze upon the lovely Lady Godiva, he was struck blind.
With completion of her ordeal, Godiva returned to her husband and the Earl fulfilled his promise to abolish the heavy taxes.