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Godiva ( , "god gift"), often referred to as Lady Godiva (fl. 1040-1080), was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventrymarker, in Englandmarker, in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants. The name "Peeping Tom" for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Tom had watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.

The historical figure

Lady Godiva was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Merciamarker. Her name occurs in charters and the Domesday survey, though the spelling varies. The Old English name Godgifu or Godgyfu meant "gift of God"; Godiva was the Latinised version. Since the name was a popular one, there are contemporaries of the same name.

If she was the same Godgifu who appears in the chronicles of Ely, Liber Eliensis (end of 12th century), then she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry. Writing in the 12th century, Roger of Wendover credits Godiva as the persuasive force behind this act. In the 1050s, her name is coupled with that of her husband on a grant of land to the monastery of St Mary, Worcestermarker and the endowment of the minster at Stow St Mary, Lincolnshiremarker. She and her husband are commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries at Leominstermarker, Chestermarker, Much Wenlockmarker and Eveshammarker. She gave Coventry a number of works in precious metal made for the purpose by the famous goldsmith Mannig, and bequeathed a necklace valued at 100 marks of silver. Another necklace went to Evesham, to be hung around the figure of the Virgin accompanying the life-size gold and silver rood she and her husband gave, and St Paul's Cathedral, Londonmarker received a gold-fringed chasuble. She and her husband were among the most munificent of the several large Anglo-Saxon donors of the last decades before the Conquest; the early Norman bishops made short work of their gifts, carrying them off to Normandy or melting them down for bullion.

The manor of Woolhopemarker in Herefordshiremarker, along with three others, was given to the cathedral at Herefordmarker before the Norman Conquest by the benefactresses Wulviva and Godiva - usually held to be this Godiva and her sister. The church there has a 20th century stained glass window representing them.

Her mark, "di Ego Godiva Comitissa diu istud desideravi," appears on a charter purportedly given by Thorold of Bucknall to the Benedictine monastery of Spalding. However, this charter is considered spurious by many historians. Even so it is possible that Thorold, who appears in the Domesday Book as sheriff of Lincolnshire, was her brother.

After Leofric's death in 1057, his widow lived on until sometime between the Norman Conquest of 1066 and 1086. She is mentioned in the Domesday survey as one of the few Anglo-Saxons and the only woman to remain a major landholder shortly after the conquest. By the time of this great survey in 1086, Godiva had died, but her former lands are listed, although now held by others. Thus, Godiva apparently died between 1066 and 1086.

The place where Godiva was buried has been a matter of debate. According to the Chronicon Abbatiae de Evesham, or Evesham Chronicle, she was buried at the Church of the Blessed Trinity at Evesham, which is no longer standing. But, according to the authoritative account in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "There is no reason to doubt that she was buried with her husband at Coventry, despite the assertion of the Evesham chronicle that she lay in Holy Trinity, Evesham."

Dugdale (1656) says that a window with representations of Leofric and Godiva was placed in Trinity Church, Coventry, about the time of Richard II.

The legend

According to the popular story, Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband's oppressive taxation. Lady Godiva appealed again and again to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Only one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as Peeping Tom, disobeyed her proclamation in one of the most famous instances of voyeurism. In the story, Tom bores a hole in his shutters so that he might see Godiva pass, and is struck blind. In the end, Godiva's husband keeps his word and abolishes the onerous taxes.

The oldest form of the legend has Godiva passing through Coventry market from one end to the other while the people were assembled, attended only by two knights. This version is given in Flores Historiarum by Roger of Wendover (died 1236), a somewhat gullible collector of anecdotes, who quoted from an earlier writer. The later story, with its episode of "Peeping Tom," appeared first among 17th century chroniclers.
At the time, it was customary for penitents to make a public procession in only their shift, a sleeveless white garment similar to a slip today and one which was certainly considered "underwear." Thus, some scholars speculate, Godiva may have actually travelled through town as a penitent, in her shift. Godiva's story may have passed into folk history to be recorded in a romanticised version. Another theory has it that Lady Godiva's "nakedness" may refer to her riding through the streets stripped of her jewellery, the trademark of her upper class rank. However, both these attempts to reconcile known facts with legend are weak; there is no known use of the word "naked" in the era of the earliest accounts to mean anything other than "without any clothing whatsoever."

Moreover, there is no trace of any version of the story in sources contemporary with Godiva, a story that would certainly have been recorded even in its most tame interpretations. Additionally, with the founding of Coventry circa 1043, there was little opportunity for the city to have developed to an extent that would have supported such a noble gesture. Lastly, the only recorded tolls were on horses. Thus, it remains doubtful whether there is any historical basis for the famous ride.

Like the story of Peeping Tom, the claim that Godiva's long hair effectively hid her nakedness from sight is generally believed to have been a later addition (cf. Rapunzel). Certain other thematic elements are familiar in myth and fable: the resistant Lord (cf. Esther and Ahasuerus), the exacted promise, the stringent condition and the test of chastity. Even if Peeping Tom is a late addition, his being struck blind demonstrates the closely knit themes of the violated mystery and the punished intruder (cf. Diana and Actaeon).

Popular culture


The Godiva Procession, a commemoration of the legendary ride, was instituted on 31 May 1678, as part of Coventry fair, and was celebrated up to the 1960s. The part of Lady Godiva was usually played by a scantily clad actress or dancer and the occasion often attracted controversy. For instance, in 1854 the Bishop of Worcester protested against "a Birmingham whore being paraded through the streets as Lady Godiva." These annual processions were enlivened by constant rumours, beforehand, that the girl playing the part of Lady Godiva would actually appear nude, like the original. These hopes were eventually realised in a play staged in 1974, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, entitled The only true story of Lady Godiva, in which Lady Godiva appeared naked, riding a motor bike. The celebration has been revived as part of the Godiva Festival.

The wooden effigy of Peeping Tom which, from 1812 until World War II, looked out on the world from a hotel at the northwest corner of Hertford Street, Coventry, can now be found in Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre. It represents a man in armour and was probably an image of Saint George. Nearby, in the 1950s rebuilt Broadgate, an animated Peeping Tom watches over Lady Godiva as she makes her hourly ride around the Godiva Clock.

From the mid 1980s a Coventry resident, Pru Porretta, has adopted a Lady Godiva role to promote community events and good works in the city. In 1999 Coventry councillors considered eliminating Godiva from the city's public identity. As of 2005, Porretta retains the status of Coventry's unofficial ambassador. Each September Poretta marks the occasion of Lady Godiva's birthday by leading a local pageant focusing on world peace and unity known as The Godiva Sisters. In August 2007, the Godiva Sisters was performed in front of 900 delegates from 69 countries attending the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children Biennial Conference held at the University of Warwick.

Engineering mascot

In some university engineering faculties, military engineering corps and other engineering organisations, Lady Godiva is regarded as a mascot and called the "Patron Saint of Engineers" or "Goddess of Engineering." The origin is unclear, although it probably developed in Britainmarker, where several early engineering schools were founded during the industrial revolution. The practice migrated to North America through Canadian schools, such as the University of Torontomarker and McMaster Universitymarker, which today hold an annual "Godiva Week" in January consisting of events intended to engender school spirit. By the mid-20th century, the practice of engineering organizations associating themselves with Lady Godiva was well established in the United States.

A particular tradition associated with this is that of drinking songs, which make reference to Lady Godiva, particularly Godiva's Hymn.

Historically, certain college organisations staged an annual "Godiva Ride" in which a naked female (or a costumed male) rode a horse across campus. This practice may have declined with the advent of modern feminist attitudes.


Several popular songs make contemporary usage of the Lady Godiva image. These include:
  • Eartha Kitt's "Champagne Taste" from her 1961 live album, In Person At The Plaza, includes the lyrics "And it wouldn't surprise me if a lady like Godiva had someone like you to give her the stole/For with her champagne taste and your beer bottle pocket/when she couldn't get those dresses she just let down all her tresses and forgot she was a lady after all."
  • The Velvet Underground's "Lady Godiva's Operation" on their 1968 LP, White Light/White Heat, referring to a transwoman who dies at the hands of her surgeons during a sexual reassignment-turned-lobotomy.
  • Peter and Gordon's "Lady Godiva" (UK: single Columbia DB 8003 P.1966, best place in British Charts: # 16, 22.09.1966 ;US: LP "Lady Godiva" (S) T 2664 Capitol Records-EMI P. 1967; FRANCE: EP "Lady Godiva" Columbia ESRF 1824 P. 1967) sing this about a woman who becomes involved in a burlesque show. Like Coventry's Lady Godiva, the Lady Godiva of the song has long flowing hair that covers her body. However, the song has her hair cut, as she "doesn't need it long any more."
  • Grant Lee Buffalo's song "Lady Godiva and Me" from their 1994 album, Mighty Joe Moon, includes references to Peeping Tom.
  • Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show recorded the song "Hey, Lady Godiva."
  • Mother Love Bone recorded a song, "Lady Godiva Blues," on their 1992 self-titled album and on the reissue of Apple.
  • Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" sees Freddie Mercury "passing by like Lady Godiva."
  • Simply Red recorded "Lady Godiva’s Room" on their 1992 EP Montreuxmarker
  • Aerosmith's song "My Girl" from their album, Pump, contains the line, "My girl's a Lady Godiva."
  • In Peter Gabriel's song "Modern Love" from his self-titled 1977 album, he states "For Lady Godiva I came incognito."
  • Boney M's song "Lady Godiva" was released in 1993 on the album Boney M. More Gold.
  • Groucho Marx's song "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" mentions one of the tattoos being "there's Godiva but with her pyjamas on"
  • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass had a 1967 hit, "Lady Godiva."
  • Toots & the Maytals recorded the song "Peeping Tom" in 1970 on the album Monkey Man

Classical music and opera

The plot of Mascagni's opera Isabeau is based on the story of Lady Godiva.

Vitezslav Novak composed an overture for a play based on the story of Lady Godiva in Prague in 1907.


  • "Godiva" (1842), a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
  • Hereward the Wake (1866), a novel by Charles Kingsley, features Lady Godiva as a character.
  • "Women in Love" (1916), a novel by [DH Lawrence] features a sculpture entitled Lady Godiva; a character refers the name to "the middle-aged wife of some Earl or other, who covered herself with her long hair," and is mocked.
  • Guli ("The Heart"), a poem by Galaktion Tabidze, includes a mention of Lady Godiva.
  • "Boston" (1928) a novel by Upton Sinclair, references Lady Godiva on page 652.
  • The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family (1939), a short illustrated novel by Dr. Seuss.
  • Kaputt (1944), a novel by Curzio Malaparte, includes a mention of Lady Godiva.
  • "Ariel" (1965), a poem by Sylvia Plath includes a mention of Lady Godiva.
  • "Nicotine," a poem by Ezra Pound mentions Lady Godiva.
  • King Hereafter (1982), a novel by Dorothy Dunnett features Lady Godiva as a character.
  • Inshalla (1992), a novel by Oriana Fallaci has a small subplot centered on the purchase of a sex doll called Lady Godiva.
  • "Godiva: The Viking Sagas" (2004), a novel by David Rose.
  • "Godiva" (2008), a historical novel by Nerys Jones, who died while the book was in press, relates the tumultuous events of 1042 culminating in the events of the legend and features Lady Godiva as the heroine.
  • "Naked" (2008), a short story by Louise Hawes, part of her book of retold fairytales; "Black Pearls, A Faerie Strand."


  • Dorothy Reynolds portrayed Lady Godiva in the BBC TV series Hereward the Wake (1965).
  • In the Charmed episode "The Bare Witch Project," a student in Magic School accidentally conjures Lady Godiva and Lord Dyson out of a history book. Later, Phoebe, inspired by Lady Godiva, decides to ride naked through a crowded street in support of women's liberation.
  • In an episode "The Godiva Affair" of the British sitcom Dad's Army, women in the town of Walmington-on-Sea compete for the part of Lady Godiva to head a carnival procession in the town, ultimately performed by Elizabeth, the wife of Captain Mainwaring, causing him to collapse in astonishment and shame.
  • The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling featured a character named Godiva who rode to the ring on a horse and wore a sheer bodysuit.
  • The Histeria! episode "Tribute to Tyrants" featured a sketch about the legend of Lady Godiva, portrayed by the World's Oldest Woman.
  • In one Frasier episode, a costume party is held with the theme of characters from literature. Frasier (played by Kelsey Grammer), dressed as the Bishop of Bath from The Canterbury Tales, sees a woman in a flesh-colored bodystocking (played by Grammer's real-life wife, Camille Donatacci), and guesses that she's Lady Godiva. She says she's Eve from the Bible, leading Fraiser to say, "Now I know why it's called the Good Book!"
  • In another Frasier episode, the character of Maris was involved in an unfortunate chemical bonding incident while performing a Lady Godiva impression on a horse saddle her husband Niles Crane had bought her.
  • In the 'Twelve Hungry Men' episode of Hancock's Half Hour, a spoof of Twelve Angry Men, Hancock demonstrates his mangled view of the Godiva legend by comparing it to the case in hand: "Take the case of Doubting Thomas who was sent to Coventry for staring through a keyhole at Lady Godiva. Can anybody prove he was looking at her? Can anybody prove it was he who shouted 'Get your hair cut!'?"
  • In the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "Private Plane," Captain Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) describes the Royal Flying Corps as "the biggest show-offs since Lady Godiva entered the royal enclosure at Ascot claiming she had literally nothing to wear."
  • In the Round the Twist episode "Linda Godiva," Linda helps Pete win a cross-country horse race by being invisible, she is later turned visible and is seen riding the horse naked.
  • In the first episode of The Vicar of Dibley, several characters reminisce about when Letitia Cropley rode through Dibley stark naked in a Lady Godiva reenactment.
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Apology," Jerry's girlfriend regularly walks around in his apartment naked, and at one point he refers to her as "Lady Godiva."
  • The title of Canadian comedy-drama series Godiva's is an allusion to Lady Godiva.
  • In an episode of Time Squad Larry showed Otto videos of previous missions and in one of these missions Lady Godiva was riding her horse naked while Tuddrussel ran after her, trying to persuade her to wear some clothes.
  • In an episode of Spin City, the mayor's rebellious daughter rides naked though Central Park,New York City in protest.
  • In the 1970s TV series Maude, the opening song, sung by Donny Hathaway, includes the lyrics, "...Lady Godiva was a freedom rider, she didn't care if the whole world looked."
  • In the episode "Dead Uncles and Vegetables" from the second season of Gilmore Girls, the grocer Taylor Doose refers to the rejected troubador running the farmer's market as Lady Godiva because of his long hair.
  • In the 3-hour pilot episode "Oil" from the first season of Dynasty, Blake Carrington complains that his headstrong and flirtatious daughter Fallon "thinks she's some kind of Lady Godiva."
  • In the Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman episode "The Race" Hank, the saloon keeper, suggests that if Dr. Quinn rides like Lady Godiva in the race "folks might go for it". In other words, she would be allowed to compete in the males only horse race.


  • Lady Godiva (1911) the first film telling of the story starring Julia Swayne Gordon and produced by the Vitagraph company.
  • Lady Godiva (1928), a British silent short with Gladys Jennings in the title role.
  • The Ghost Talks (1949), a short film featuring the Three Stooges in a slapstick send-up of the Lady Godiva legend. The film changes key elements of the legend, eliminating Tom's blindness as his penalty and inventing a relationship between the tailor and the Lady. After an encounter between the Stooges and a haunted, empty suit of armour occupied by the spirit of Peeping Tom, the Stooges act out the ghost's narrative of the events of the famous day in costumes based on the clothing of a period many years later than the life of the historic Godiva.
  • Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955) starring Irish actress Maureen O'Hara in the title role.


Video games

  • The title "Lady Godiva" can be obtained in the game Warhammer Online when a player summons their mount in a capital city while not wearing any armor.

See also


  1. Ann Williams, ‘Godgifu (d. 1067?)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 18 April 2008
  2. "Lady Godiva, the book, and Washingborough", Lincolnshire Past and Present, 12 (1993), pp. 9–10.
  3., S 1226
  4., S 1232
  5., S 1478
  6. The Chronicle of John of Worcester ed. and trans. R.R. Darlington, P. McGurk and J. Bray (Clarendon Press: Oxford 1995), pp.582–583
  7. Dodwell, C. R.; Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective, 1982, Manchester UP, ISBN 071900926X (US edn. Cornell, 1985), p. 25 & 66
  8. Dodwell, 180 & 212
  9. Dodwell, 220, 230 & passim
  11., S 1230
  12. K.S.B.Keats-Rohan, Domesday People: A prosopography of persons occurring in English documents 1066–1166, vol. 1: Domesday (Boydell Press: Woodbridge, Suffolk 1999), p. 218
  13. Joan Cadogan Lancaster. Godiva of Coventry. With a chapter on the folk tradition of the story by H.R. Ellis Davidson. Coventry [Eng.] Coventry Corp., 1967. OCLC 1664951
  14. K. L. French, ‘The legend of Lady Godiva’, Journal of Medieval History, 18 (1992), 3–19
  15. Lady Godiva,
  16. "The Historical Godiva", Octavia Randolph
  17. "Lady Godiva (Godgifu)", Flowers of History, University of California San Francisco
  18. The Naked Truth, BBC News 2001
  19. Roy Palmer (1976) The Folklore of Warwickshire: 138-9
  20. Coventry Now & Then: Hertford Street from Broadgate
  21. "Don't Drop Lady Godiva", Coventry & Warwickshire News, 15 November 1999
  22. Facts, figures, myths, oddities, people, places and traditions that help define the University of Alberta, Charlene Rooke and Rick Pilger, University of Alberta New Trail Magazine, November 1998
  23. "Students scrutinize Lady Godiva ride", CBC Archives, February 4, 1990
  24. Guli ("The Heart") by Galaktion Tabidze (in Georgian) on the official website of the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia
  25. Lady Godiva - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes - New York Times

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