Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva as painted in c. 1897 by John Collier
Lady Godiva as painted in c. 1897 by John Collier

Historical Context

The legend of Lady Godiva is one of the most famous tales to have come down to us from medieval England, yet how much is fact and how much fiction remains unclear.

The story tells how Lady Godiva, married to the local ruling Leofric, Earl of Merica, pleaded with her husband to reduce the crippling taxes on the city of Coventry. Finally the Earl, sick of her pleas, says he will, but only if she rides though the town naked. The lady then covers her body with her long hair and asks the population to stay inside and bar doors and windows. The people comply out of respect, all except one man named Tom, the origin of our term peeping Tom.

Lady Godiva certainly existed, the chronicler Florence of Worcester (d. 1118) mentions Leofric and Godiva but not her infamous ride. The earliest surviving source is the Chronica by Roger of Wendover (d. 1236). A later source, Ranulf Higden, adds that Leofric did take away all taxes except for those on horses. During the reign pf Edward I (1272-1307) Coventry did indeed have no taxes imposed on it except for horses. Peeping Tom however appears to be a later 17th century addition to the story.

In 1997 Coventry, after a many decades, brought back the city's tradition of a parade to commemorate their famous noblewoman.

Painting Info

Artist: John Collier

Source: Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry

Related Events

  • 1040-07-10 Lady Godiva rides naked on horseback through Coventry, according to legend, to force her husband, the Earl of Mercia, to lower taxes
  • 1996-06-08 Revival of the legendary procession of Lady Godiva (Godgifu) naked through Coventry, England

Historical Paintings