Lady Godiva: Figure of Legend or Pious Benefactor?

Just FYI, I’ve mostly been making shorter regular posts on Facebook because it just seems to get more traffic (one is measured in hundreds of readers, the other in thousands). This was today’s post.

The story of Lady Godiva’s nude ride through Coventry to spare the citizens the heavy taxes levied by her husband is probably legend, but the woman herself was real enough. Godgifu (Latinized as Godiva) was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and both were renowned for their piety and their generosity to religious institutions.

Godgifu’s name, along with that of her husband, appears on the charter for an endowment of Stow St Mary, Lincolnshire (see image). She is also thought to have sponsored the Benedictine monastery at Coventry, as well other convents and monasteries.

Called “Lady Good Eve” by later generations of Coventry townsfolk, the image of the nude ride with her modesty preserved by long hair is a curious blending of medieval images of Eve (the nudity), Mary Magdalen (the hair), and the Blessed Mother (interceding for the benefit of the people). This rare convergence of three typically distinct artistic/narrative motifs may account for her popularity in the middle ages. (Art: Edmund Leighton; Charter Image: Diplomatarium Anglicum Aevi Saxonici, Volume 1, p. 370)

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