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Lady Godiva: Famous horse rider and political activist

Updated on February 20, 2012

Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva is an historical figure who has become well known for riding naked through a town to help poor people.

The noblewoman was annoyed at the treatment and taxation of the poverty-stricken residents of Coventry, England, by her husband the Earl of Mercia in the 11th century.

Legend has it that Lady Godiva stripped naked and rode her horse naked through the town in protest at her husband's taxes - and forced him to change his treatment of the poor.

There are many different accounts of Lady Godiva's naked ride through the city. It is believed that the attractive woman was born in 1040 and married the wealthy Earl of Mercia then later died in 1080.

No actual records exist of Lady Godiva's legendary protest ride through the city. It was only in subsequent years through folklore and a poem by Alfred, Lord Tnenyson in the 19th century that the tale became widely known.

This has led some historians to suggest that although Lady Godiva was indeed an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, she never stripped off to ride through the streets.

Naked: Lady Godiva rode through Coventry without her clothes to protest at her husband's harsh taxes
Naked: Lady Godiva rode through Coventry without her clothes to protest at her husband's harsh taxes

Her world-famous protest ride through the city is said to have been sparked by her husband's strict treatment of women and his high taxes on the poor. Lady Godiva knew that it would annoy him if she was seen naked in public so she at the very least threatened to ride naked through the town.

Some historians say that she rode from one end of the market to the other and that she was accompanied by two knights

Other historians suggest it was across the whole town and other researchers specualte that she may have actually worn underwear. While some writers even claim that there was no ride at all (see the hub Lady Godiva: Is the story of the naked-horseriding noblewoman real?)

Premier: Libby Jewson riding a horse at the premier for the Lady Godiva film in Oxford, England
Premier: Libby Jewson riding a horse at the premier for the Lady Godiva film in Oxford, England

Whatever account is to be belived it is undisputable that that story has lived on through the centuries.

Lady Godiva to this day is revered in Coventry. There is a large statue of her in the town centre and the local council uses an image of her as their logo. Locals in the town know of the famous story.

Lady Godiva's ride also started the well-known phrase 'peeping Tom'. Tom was suggested to have been a men made holes in his shutters to look at the naked Lady Godiva as she passed his house on her horse.

One version of the tale is that he was found out and shamed by the rest of the town's people. He was forever known as peeping Tom. Another version of the story is that he went blind. A 'peeping Tom' has now become the slang term given to somebody who commits a criminal act of voyeurism.

A film has also been made that is based on the tale of Lady Godiva and the folk legend was also recreated in an episode of charmed (see video below)

The modern film adaptation of Lady Godiva was directed by Vicky Jewson. In this film a school teacher called Penny discovers that somebody has made a £10,000 bet that she will not ride naked through the city of Oxford - just like Lady Godiva did through Coventry. The film is a romantic comedy and Penny eventually plucks up the courage to ride naked through the city and she then wins the bet and the man of her dreams.

A group of women emulated Lady Godiva's famous protest when who rode naked through Hyde Park in London, England, to promote a film about Lady Godiva and to raise money for breast cancer.

Celebrity horse rider and socialite Tara Palmer Tompkinson joked that although she once dreamed of riding in the Grand National, she was now more likely to ride naked through Trafalgar Square like Lady Godiva.

Video: Lady Godiva scene from Charmed

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    • jblais1122@aol profile image

      jblais1122@aol 

      6 years ago from Kansas City, Missouri, USA

      I was surprised. I am also a little careful of connections and dates of people I find in Ancestry.com any earlier than about 1400. Records are a little sketchy when you go back too far. Still fun though.

    • Rickrideshorses profile imageAUTHOR

      Rickrideshorses 

      6 years ago from England

      In your wife's family tree!? Wow, that's impressive!

    • jblais1122@aol profile image

      jblais1122@aol 

      6 years ago from Kansas City, Missouri, USA

      Well put together, thanks. Lady Godiva and her husband The Earl of Mercia show up in my wife's family tree.

    • profile image

      Sammy 

      7 years ago

      Well, she looks rather tasty!

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