Lady Godiva statue

Statue of Lady Godiva in Coventry

Circa 1035AD Lady Godiva was the first woman in the Domesday book. She was described as holding estates in Warwickshire, including Coventry, inherited from her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry. He died in 1057.

Documents show she funded churches and abbeys in places such as Evesham, Worcester and Chester.

In 1043 lady Godiva and her husband founded a Benedictine house for an Abbott and 24 monks on the site of St Osburg’s Nunnery in Coventry, which had been destroyed by Danes in 1016. This later became the Cathedral of St Mary. Lady Godiva is said to have had her jewellery melted down to make crosses for the Abbey.

The remains of this monastery, Coventry’s first Cathedral, can now be seen in Priory Row.

No official sources refer to Godiva as anything other than an upright and devout woman. The first account of Lady Godiva’s naked horse ride appeared in Hertfordshire monk Roger of Wendover’s ‘Flores Historiarum’ – Flowers of History – in 1235. He is now thought of as a collector of stories and legends, known for his exaggeration and spin, rather than a historian. He may have picked up the legend from those going from the Midlands to London.

The added detail that Godiva was a pious lady, asking her subjects not to watch before she rode, appeared in the 14th Century. It may have been designed to attract religious pilgrims and their “tourist money” to the city or to cover up the city’s pagan past.

Peeping Tom was added in the 17th century, possibly by Puritans wishing to sully the image of the church prior to the Reformation.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute

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