Lady Godiva was a Saxon noblewoman, born in the early 11th century. She lived during a time of rigid social hierarchy known as the feudal system. As a noblewoman her level in the hierarchy was near the top, just beneath the king.
She was married to a very powerful man, the Danish Lord Leofric, also known as the “grim” Earl of Mercer and Lord of Coventry. He was considered one of the three great earls of 11th century England.
Her name as we know it, Godiva, is a Latinized version of her actual old English name Godgiva, which means Gift of God.
We know that Lady Godiva was a very religious woman, and was very devoted to the Virgin Mary. She and her husband were generous benefactors of the church, and founded a Benedictine monastery in Coventry and endowed it with many gifts. She’s even said to have melted down all her gold and silver and had it made into crosses, images of saints and other decorations to adorn the monastery.
She died in 1066, having outlived her husband by about 10 years.
LADY GODIVA - Woman of Legend
It seems Lady Godiva’s husband, Leofric, was known for spending great amounts of money on public works. Primarily they were things that edified himself, at the expense of the population. The taxes he imposed on the people were crushing.
Being a woman of great compassion, Godiva pleaded with her husband to relieve the residents of the heavy tax burden he was imposing. He refused. She persisted. Finally, in exasperation, he agreed to do it, but…she would have to ride naked through town, at mid-day.
Obviously, he never imagined she would. In fact, there’s a story of him laughing so hard at the very thought of it that he fell off his chair and injured his wrist as he told the story of this challenge to his friends as they gathered in the great hall of his estate.
However, Lady Godiva was a woman of incredible devotion and courage and, so the story goes, she did exactly as he challenged and took that naked ride.
Upon hearing what she had done, Leofric was as good as his word, and he lifted the taxes on the townspeople. But not quite ALL the taxes. He let the taxes on horses remain!