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Lady Godiva’s naked horse riding tax protest

Lady Godiva rode naked on her horse through Coventry at midday on market day, 1035AD, to stop her husband Leofric collecting the heregeld tax that funded King Canute’s bodyguard.

Leofric dared Godiva to ride naked because she sponsored local arts, and Greek and Roman paintings included nudes. He promised to stop collecting the taxes if she did. Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon of 1257 found that Leofric stopped collecting all taxes except for those on horses. This was confirmed by an inquiry ordered by Edward I, who reigned from 1272 to 1307.

Godiva asked the people of Coventry not to look. One man, a tailor now called Peeping Tom, did look and was blinded by the wrath of God, leading Leofric to convert to Christianity.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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The players
Lady Godiva
Lady Godiva was the first woman in the Doomsday book. She was described as holding estates in Warwickshire, including Coventry, inherited from her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, who 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 the 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.
Each year Coventry celebrates its most famous streaker with a festival. Information on this year’s festival is at www.godivafestival.co.uk.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Leofric

Leofric, Lady Godiva’s husband, was Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry and was one of the most powerful men in the country at the time.

He was ruthless at collecting taxes, funding major civic building works as well as raising funds for King Canute. Prior to his conversion to Christianity he often attacked the Church.

His first known religious act came in 1043 when he 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.

Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon – circa 1257 – backed up by an inquiry made in the reign of Edward I – 1272-1307 – confirmed that Leofric stopped collecting all taxes except for those on horses.

Leofric’s power was part of the reason why Canute’s son and heirs failed to keep their father’s grip on northern Europe after Canute’s death.

Leofric died in 1057 and was buried in one of the porches of the abbey church. The remains of this site, Coventry’s first cathedral, can now be seen in Priory Row.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom was a tailor who was the only person to look at Lady Godiva as she rode naked through the streets of Coventry on market day. He was “blinded by the wrath of heaven”.
The story of Peeping Tom was not added to the Lady Godiva legend until the 17th century. It is thought to be propaganda by Puritans wishing to show a lack of morals to damage the reputation of the church prior to the Reformation.
A wooden effigy of Peeping Tom can be seen in Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre. The eyes appear blank, but that may be because the paint has worn off over the years.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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King Canute

Reign 1016-1035 King Canute (Cnut) became King of England in 1016. He later became King of Denmark and Norway, giving him control of a huge northern empire.

Canute used strong English and Danish earls, such as Leofric in Mercia, to help run the country while he was abroad.

He ran a mercenary army, paid for through the Heregeld tax collected from landowners per hide of land (there were five hides in Coventry). The largest single collection of the Heregeld tax came in 1018 and totalled £82,500 of which £10,500 came from  London.

A Christian, for reasons of politics as well as faith, Canute went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1027. His Christianity made him reject his courtiers’ flattery by showing that he could not stop the waves. Later hostile writers said it showed madness.

Canute was buried at Winchester. His empire failed to survive due to fights between his sons and the factions led by the strong earls of Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Other horses in history and legend
Caligula’s Horse
Reign 12-41AD Caligula’s most famous action was to make his favourite horse, Incitatus, a senator – like a member of Parliament in the UK.
He silenced objections with threats of death and forced suicide. He had the horse sworn in and gave it a wife – a mare called Penelope.
It is unclear whether Caligula was mentally ill, was testing the extent of his power by making silly demands, or had a grudge against the Senate.
Caligula – real name Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus – got his nickname – little boot – as a boy going to battles with his army father, dressed in a tiny soldier’s outfit.
Caligula killed his cousin, who was joint emperor, and enjoyed having people’s heads chopped off. He is said to be one of the worst Roman rulers ever, but much is based on rumour rather than proof.
Caligula was killed by members of his own guard, fed up with his rule.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Catherine the Great
Reign 1762-96 Catherine the Great – Catherine II of Russia – is said to have died when trying to have sex with a horse and the rope being used to lower the horse onto her slipped. This is not true. It is a myth put round by her enemies to dirty her name.
The second myth is that she died while on the toilet – and was so fat she cracked the toilet.
In those days, strong women were often put down using lies about sex. The horse rumour is thought to have started in France, where sex lies had been started about unpopular queen Marie Antionette.
Catherine II of Russia began her life as a minor German princess. She was married to the Grand Duke Peter of Russia at age 16. By 33, she had overthrown her husband in a bloodless coup and established herself as empress of the largest state in history, the Russian Empire.
She died in bed, of natural causes, surrounded by her friends and carers.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse appear in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible, Revelation. When Jesus breaks seven seals on a scroll given to him by God, the first four seals release four horseman, which the Bible predicts will lead to apocalypse.
They are traditionally called War, Famine, Pestilence and Death but only Death is named in the Bible. The other names have come from their description and colours:

  • War is red, from the bloodshed, and because the horseman carries a sword.
  • Famine is black, representing barren land, and because the rider carries scales for unfairly trading food.
  • Pestilence is white, representing false peace. The rider wearing a crown represents false religion Carrying a bow but no arrows implies he will conquer without violence. Some have claimed this horseman is Christ himself, others say he is the Antichrist.
  • Death is the pale horse – or green, as the Greek word used in the Bible means green – from illness. The rider carries a scythe and spreads disease.

For more information try the BBC website

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Pegasus
Pagasus was a winged horse of Greek mythology, the son of Medusa – the Gorgon, and Poseidon – the god of the sea and of horses. His name comes from the Greek pagai, meaning springs or waters.
When Perseus cut the head off the pregnant Medusa, Pegasus sprang from her body – as did the warrior Chrysaor.
Pegasus flew to Mount Helicon in Boeotia, home of the Muses. He struck the ground with his hoof, starting a spring in the rocks, named Hippocrene – horse fountain.
The Greek hero Bellerophon later found Pegasus and tamed him with a golden bridle given to him by the goddess Athene – who had turned Pegasus’s mother from a pretty lady into a snake-haired monster.
After some adventures, Bellerophon tried to fly Pegasus to join the gods on Olympus. He fell back to Earth but Pegasus made it to Olympus and then carried thunder and lightning for Zeus.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Trojan Horse
Circa 1250BC The Trojan horse was really a Greek horse used to fool the Trojans. Ulysses freed Queen Helen of Sparta from Prince Paris of Troy by building a hollow wooden horse and hiding in it.
The goddess Athene gave Ulysses the plan to help end the ten-year war between Greece and Troy.
Ulysses tricked the Trojans to take the wooden horse inside the city thinking the Greeks had abandoned the war. Ulysses and his men crept out of a secret door in the belly of the horse when the Trojan soldiers were asleep. They killed the sleeping Trojans and rescued Queen Helen.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Other tax rebellions
Community charge
31 March 1990 A riot in Trafalgar Square, when more than 200,000 protesters against the Community Charge – known as the poll tax – gathered in London, brought an end to this disliked tax. The riot also prompted the downfall of prime minister Margaret Thatcher in November that year.

  • Millions of people across the UK had refused to pay the tax causing the local councils that collected it cash flow problems.
  • More than one million people went missing from the electoral roll to avoid paying and by June 1990 one in five of the UK population had paid no Community Charge.
  • The tax was replaced in 1993, by which time 88% of people were refusing or delaying payment.

The system was brought in to replace household rates, based on the house’s size. Instead, each person in a home had to pay a charge. It meant a lord in a manor house paid the same as a school-leaver sharing a home with parents and siblings.
The Community Charge was first launched in Scotland, where the protest started. Tommy Sheriden, then part of the Militant socialist group and now a Scottish MSP, was the leading figure. Anti-poll tax groups sprang up around the country to defend non-payers threatened with bailiffs.
Although councils that took action against people to recover unpaid tax can continue to do so, there was six-year limit on starting legal cases. By 1 April 1999, six years after the final year of the Community Charge, more than 400,000 people had refused to pay more than £5m in tax that would never be paid.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Cornish Rebellion
June 1497 Thomas Flamank from Bodmin, the son of Royal tax collector Sir Richard Flamank, was among the leaders of the Cornish rebellion against Henry VII’s taxes to fund his war against the Scots. Michael Joseph An Gof, a blacksmith from St Keverne was another.
Both men spoke against the taxes, claiming a war with Scotland was nothing to do with Cornwall. An Gof marched a crowd to Bodmin, where they joined Flamank’s men to march on London to ask the king not to levy the tax.
They picked up more followers on the way and fought a small battle in Guildford before arriving at Blackheath, south-east London on Friday 16 June 1497. At first 15,000 camped there but many sneaked away during the night.
In the morning, the King – who thought Saturdays his lucky day – sent about 10,000 troops, led by Lord Daubeney, to attack the ill-armed rebels. At the Battle of Deptford Bridge, the king’s army easily beat the rebels, capturing Flamank and another key rebel, Lord Audley. An Gof fled and hid in a church but was soon caught. The two leaders were hanged, drawn and quartered and their heads stuck on posts on London Bridge. Lord Audley, as a peer, was only beheaded.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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The Peasants Revolt – Poll Tax and Wat Tyler
June1381 Peasants from across the south-east, led by Wat Tyler from Kent, stormed London in protest at the 15-year-old King Richard II’s shilling-per-head Poll Tax, raised to fund the war against France.
On 2 June, two mass marches set off:

  • From Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, and
  • From Kent and other areas south of the Thames.

The Kent rebels ransacked Rochester Castle and Canterbury before heading for Blackheath, south-east London.
Entering London, the rebels destroyed tax records and beheaded tax officials before meeting the king on 14 June. The king gave in to all the peasants’ demands. But Tyler lost control of some of the rebels, who looted and killed lawyers and priests, including Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Robert Hales, the king’s treasurer, forcing the king into hiding.
At a second meeting with the King the next morning, held at Smithfields, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth, slashed Tyler with his dagger. Tyler was taken to St Bartholomew’s hospital, but was later beheaded.
The King talked to the crowd and dispersed them, but then reneged on his promises.
Background:

  • The Black Death had wiped out so many peasants 35 years earlier that the smaller pool of workers had been able to demand higher wages.
  • The bishops and lords in government passed laws to limit wage rises.
  • This was the third Poll Tax in four years and was set at a shilling for every person over the age of 15.
  • Non-payment started in Essex. In May 1381, a tax collector arrived at the village of Fobbing to find out why no tax had been collected but was thrown out, as were soldiers sent soon afterwards.

Wat Tyler has a narrow, uninhabited lane named after him on Blackheath, while Walworth has a district of London named after him.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Jack Cade
1450 Jack Cade’s rebels disliked many of King Henry VI’s policies, including a tax to fund the 100 Year War with France and the corrupt collection of it.
A mix of clergymen and landowners, plus by some peasants, marched on London from Kent. They fought and won a battle with the king’s troops at Sevenoaks and went on to storm the Tower of London, but were just held back. They killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and the king’s treasurer, Sir James Fiennes, and stuck their heads on poles so they kissed each other. They also killed the Sheriff of Kent.
Cade handed over demands to royal troops and was assured they would be met. He then handed over a list of his men so they could receive royal pardons. But neither the king nor parliament accepted the demands and Henry VI ordered Cade’s arrest.
The new Sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, hunted Cade, catching and wounding him at Heathfield, Sussex, (now called Cade Street). Cade died on the way to London. His corpse was hung, drawn and quartered and his head placed on a pole on London Bridge.
Many of the ringleaders were captured and killed but many rebels received pardons. None of the rebels’ demands were met.
In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II, Act 4, Scene 2, Jack Cade’s famous quote is: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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Boston Tea Party
1773 A rebellion in America over a tax on tea imported from Britain sparked the American War of Independence that led to the United States of America becoming an independent country.
The East India Tea Company had struggled in Britain due to cheaper smuggled imports. As it owed the government £1m, it was given the right to sell tea to America, but with a levy of 3d per lb. Americans objected to the principle of being taxed by Britain, leading to the phrase “No taxation without representation”. Many Americans were already boycotting taxed goods.
In 1770 the government repealed all taxes except on tea. It also gave the East India Company sole rights to sell tea to America, using its own agents rather than American firms. When four ships, the Dartmouth, Eleanor, Beaver and William set sail for Boston harbour, the locals decreed none would be landed and no tax paid. They said anyone who helped unload the tea would be an “enemy of America”.
Customs officials had finished the paperwork so the three ships that made it, could not turn round still loaded. But locals refused to allow them to unload. They stayed locked in the harbour from 28 November 1773 until 16 December when compromises were refused and tempers blew.
That evening the rebels, led by Samuel Adams and Tom Quincy, many dressed as native Mowhawk Indians, raided the boats, broke open all 342 crates of tea and emptied them into the harbour.
Similar protests followed at other American Ports and the British replied with what became known as the five Intolerable Acts meant to punish the Bostonians.
In September 1774, the First Continental Congress met, including Boston leader Samuel Adams, to draw up resistance to the British. That led to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, which was signed on 4 July 1776.

The players in this story: Godiva | Leofric | Peeping Tom | King Canute
Horse stories : Caligula’s horse | Catherine the Great | Four horsemen | Pegasus | Trojan horse
Tax : Community Charge | Cornish rebellion | Peasants’ revolt |Jack Cade | Boston tea party
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