Lady Godiva’s naked horse ride stopped her husband Leofric collecting the Heregeld tax for King Canute, according to Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon (1257) and an inquiry by Edward I.
Both investigations found that all tax collection in Coventry stopped, except for taxes on horses.
The first telling of the Godiva story, by Hertfordshire monk Roger of Wendover in 1235, did not mention tax, but focused the general relief of the poor. The story was popularised by Matthew Paris, in his Chronica Majora of 1250. He had a personal hatred of taxation so changed the story to mention a toll.
The Heregeld was a specific type of Danegeld tax to fund the king’s bodyguard. It was a tax on landowners and was based on a hide of land – a hide was enough to feed a family (the abbey of Coventry subsequently held three hides to feed 24 monks).
In 1016 Sweyn Forkbeard’s son, Canute, became King of England. After two years he felt sufficiently in control of his new kingdom to be able to pay off all but 40 ships of his invasion fleet, which were retained as a personal bodyguard, with a huge Danegeld of 72,000 troy pounds (26,900 kg) of silver collected nationally, plus a further 10,500 pounds (3,900 kg) of silver collected from London.
The largest single collection of the Heregeld tax came in 1018 and totalled £82,500, of which £10,500 came from London).
Godiva felt Leofric’s tax collection as Lord of Coventry and Earl of Mercia hurt the people of Coventry and she asked him to stop. As a dare, Leofric promised to stop if Godiva rode naked on her horse through Coventry at midday on market day.
That dare was because the Greek and Roman paintings Godiva loved featured nudes. Godiva surprised him when she did.
Despite her long hair covering much of her body, Godiva asked the people of Coventry to stay indoors and not look. But one man, later called Peeping Toom, did look. He was blinded by God.
Other tax rebellions