Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

MAY 31st

On this day in history in 1678, the Lady Godiva Procession began.

The 'Lady Godiva Procession' is a re-enactment of Lady Godiva's ride through the streets of Coventry, and has taken place at intervals since 1678. It commemorates the occasion in 1057, when Lady Godiva rode naked through the city in protest at her husband's taxes on the poor.

Lady Godiva was a real person, the wife of Leofric, earl of Mercia. We know that she existed because she was mentioned by the chronicler Florence of Worcester, who noted that Leofric and Godiva founded a monastery, but does not refer to the ride through Coventry.

The legend of Lady Godiva states that she pleaded with her husband to reduce Coventry's heavy taxes, but her husband refused to discuss the matter. Lady Godiva declared that if he did not, she would ride naked through the crowded streets of Coventry, but again Leofric refused to speak on the subject. Either through pride and the fear of backing down, or out of true compassion for the townsfolk, she carried out her threat, riding her horse naked through Coventry from one side of the town to the other. The townspeople, out of respect for their benefactor, closed their doors and window shutters, and refused to look on the spectacle, except for one person, Tom the tailor.

Tom could not resist his desire to gaze on her Ladyship’s nakedness, and opened his window to see the sight, whereupon he was instantly struck blind, as retribution from God for his lewd behaviour. The legend of Tom the tailor lives on with the story of Lady Godiva, and anyone who looks lustfully where he should not, is called a ‘Peeping Tom’. There is another idiom given to someone who is not to be spoken to, like Lady Godiva who was met with silence from her recalcitrant husband. That person is said to be ‘sent to Coventry’.

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