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Women in History: Lady Godiva

Women in History – Lady Godiva

Painting by John Collier

On every box of Godiva chocolates, the image of a woman on horseback covered only by her luxurious locks of hair claims the object as one of Godiva’s finest creations. It can be said that the logo was chosen to attract male attention due to its bare-backed feminine figure, but the woman known as Lady Godiva has become a figure of pride among women; a figure of modesty with a sense of morality that forces her hand or, rather, her ride.

The most well-known legend of Lady Godiva is that of her ride through Coventry, England. She was an eleventh century noblewoman with a gentle heart. When her husband, Lord Leofric, imposed a high tax upon his people, Lady Godiva opposed. Refusing to heed her objections, Leofric came up with a new solution: if she should ride through the town unclothed, he would remove his high taxation from the people. Head held high, Lady Godiva did just that–she rode through the streets in the nude. The people of the town closed their shudders and doors to preserve her modesty, either from her warnings of the ride or of their own accord.

Later versions of the legend suggest that one townsperson bore a hole through one of his shudders to watch Lady Godiva’s ride through town, and by doing so he was struck blind or dead (it varies depending upon the lore). This is where the term “peeping Tom” originates.

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