Lady Godiva


by John Schuerman


Lady Godiva was an ancestor of Peter Worden I.  She was a real person, although whether or not her famous ride actually occurred is uncertain.  Godiva (her real name was Godgifu, a quite common name in those days) lived in the 11th Century and died probably around the time of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.  She was the wife of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia.  Mercia had been an independent kingdom earlier, but by this time had become more or less integrated into the English kingdom.  Nothing is known about Godiva's ancestry, although we do know Leofric's for several generations earlier.  Godiva, however, did have wealth independent of her husband, holding several estates. 


Godiva and Leofric resided in Coventry, in central England.  Together they were benefactors of a number of religious establishments.  They founded Coventry Abbey and endowed a number of other monasteries and churches.  She is said to have given her "whole store of gold and silver" to Coventry Abbey so that it could be properly ornamented.  Godiva is reported to have been very pious, having a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary.  She was also very beautiful. 


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does not seem to raise question about the truth of the story of Godiva's unclothed ride through town, but it is probably apocryphal.  One reason to doubt its veracity is that the first accounts of the ride did not appear until over a hundred years after it supposedly occurred.  There were lots of people writing about what was happening in England at the time and it is hard to believe that somebody wouldn't have written about it earlier.  But it is a charming story, nonetheless.


There are a number of versions of the tale, embellished as time went on.  The story is that the townspeople of Coventry were upset at the cruel sales taxes Godiva's husband, Leofric, was imposing in the market of the town.  Godiva took up their complaint with him and he told her that she should not bother her pretty little head with matters like this.  She persisted and he became exasperated and told her that if she would ride through town naked he would reduce the taxes.  She did, and he lowered the taxes (another reason to doubt the story is that there are no records of reduction of taxes and things like that were almost always written down). 


All versions of the story have her covered during her ride with her long blond hair.  Some have her riding with two knight protectors.  She is said to have ordered everyone to stay inside with their shutters closed and that no one was to look.  Other versions said that because of her pious purity she was invisible.  Much later a new twist was added to the story.  It is said that the town tailor, Thomas, looked, and as a result was struck blind.  And so we have "Peeping Tom."


For hundreds of years the people of Coventry have celebrated Godiva's efforts to free them from oppressive taxation.  For a while, there were reenactments of the ride, but I do not know whether they continue to this day.  I haven't seen any.

Actually, Peter Worden I is likely descended from Godiva in two ways.  They are:


Godiva d. abt. 1067 = Earl Leofric d. 1057

Aelfgar d. aft. 1062 = Aelgifu

Edith = Gruffydd ap Llywelyn d. 1063 (a Welsh prince)

Nest b. abt. 1055 = Osborn fitz Richard d. aft. 1100

Nest = Bernard de Neufmarche d. 1083

Sibyl de Neufmarche = Earl Miles of Hereford d. 1143

Bertha of Hereford = William de Braose d. 1192/93

William de Braose d. 1211 = Maud de St. Valery d. 1210

William de Braose d. 1210 = Maud de Clare d. 1220

John de Braose d. 1232 = Margaret of Wales (a Welsh princess)

Sir William de Braose d. 1290/91 = Alice de Multon

Lord William de Braose d. 1326 =

Aline de Braose d. 1331 = Lord John de Mowbray d. 1322/23

Christiana de Mowbray d. 1363 = Sir William Plumpton d. 1362

Alice Plumpton = Sir Richard Sherburne d. 1369/70

Margaret Sherburne = Richard Bayley d. bef. 1387

Richard Sherburne d. 1441 = Agnes Harrington d. 1444

Richard Sherburne d. 1441 = Alice Hamerton

Agnes Sherburne = Henry Rushton d. bef. 1490

Nicholas Rushton d. 1508 = Margaret Radcliffe d. 1528

Agnes Rushton = Richard Worthington d. 1526

Peter Worthington d. 1577 = Isobel de Anderton d. 1573

Isobel Worthington d. 1580 = Robert Worden d. 1580

Peter Worden I d. 1638/39


(sister of Bertha of Hereford, above) Lucia de Gloucester = Herbert fitz Herbert d. 1204

Peter fitz Herbert d. 1235 = Alice fitz Robert

Lucy fitz Peter d. aft.1266 = Sir William de Ros d. prob. 1264

Sir William de Ros d. 1310 = Eustache fitz Ralph

Lucy de Ros = Sir Robert Plumpton d. 1325

Sir William Plumpton d. 1362 = Christiana de Mowbray d. 1363

Alice Plumpton = Sir Richard Sherburne d. 1369/70

After this, the descent is the same as above.


Sources:  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [British], v. 22, 2004 (online through libraries subscribing), pp. 574-76.

Katherine L. French, "The Legend of Lady Godiva and the Image of the Female Body," Journal of Medieval History, v. 18, no. 1, pp. 3-19 (this is an interesting article, written from something of a feminist point of view, about how the Godiva legend helped medieval people work out their views on sexuality, nakedness, long hair, relationships between the sexes, and power).