On this day in 1040, legend dictates that Lady Godiva rode naked through Coventry on market day in order to force her husband, the Earl of Mercia, to lower taxes.
Earl Leofric, one of the Lords ruling England under Canute, was known as a tyrannical member of the aristocracy, showing little sympathy or fondness towards the midlands populace over which he oversaw. In order to fulfil the financial requirements of Canute’s bodyguard, Leofric imposed the Heregald tax, an act which inspired considerable opposition from Godiva, witnessing the impact of such oppressive taxation. Despite a sustained campaign of appeals from his wife, Leofric upheld the tax, continuing to demand excessive sums from the people of Coventry. The Earl of Mercia was reputed to have challenged Godiva in exasperation, conceding to alleviate the tax when the Lady rode a horse naked through the city.
Godiva is said to have accepted such an ultimatum, issuing a proclamation that all the inhabitants stayed indoors as she rode through the town, clothed merely with her long, golden hair, eventually prompting Leofric to repeal the taxation.
Many modern historians have dismissed the plausibility of such a legend realistically occurring, with apparently conflicting accounts existing, with some detailing a procession through which Godiva rode and others describing her clothed in underwear as opposed to the standard tale of complete nudity. The lack of mention of the story in the two centuries intervening between Godiva’s death and its first appearance would further point to whether such an event occurred. However undoubtedly, Lady Godiva took a keen interest in her husband’s affairs, providing advice and opinions on a number of political and religious concerns.