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The Legend of Lady Godiva

August 23, 20222 min read

Here’s what we heard…

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman. Her husband, Leofric, was the Earl of Mercia. They lived in a place called Coventry.

Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva were rich. That’s because the Earl made the people who lived on his land pay him a lot of money, called taxes. The taxes were so high, the people could not buy food.

Lady Godiva felt sorry for the people of Coventry. She begged her husband to lower the taxes. But he would not.

One day he said he would lower the taxes if she would ride naked on a horse through the city. So she did.

The legend of Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom inage

The story of Peeping Tom is related to the story of Lady Godiva. The lady was ready for her naked ride through the streets of Coventry. But she didn’t want the people to see her. So, she told everyone in town to go home and close their shutters. Then she could win her husband’s bet without being embarrassed.

A tailor named Tom didn’t listen. He peeped when Lady Godiva passed his shop. Some stories say he went blind on the spot for peeping. Others say he had his eyes cut out as a punishment. (Yikes!)

Here’s what we know…

Lady Godiva is the Latin version of her name. She was a real person who died sometime between 1066 and 1086. In her time, they called her Godgifu. She really was married to Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. Godgifu and Leofric gave a lot of money and land to the church. All this is in recorded in books from the time.

The legend of Lady Godiva’s ride through town was not recorded in any books. The first time it appeared was 200 years later. The person telling the story wasn’t even there. In fact, the person who told the story was Roger of Wendover. (He was known for getting his stories wrong.)

The story of Peeping Tom was added to Lady Godiva’s legend in the 1670’s. If 200 years was a long time to embellish Lady Godiva’s story, then 600 years was more than enough time to create a whole new character.

In the 1600s, the people of Coventry celebrated Lady Godiva with an annual festival. Every year, someone pretended to be Peeping Tom during the parade.

Art by James Wright at

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J.J. Caroll

Bookstore Curator

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