Friday, 19 March 2010

Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva by John Collier (1898)

I've featured paintings by John Collier - notable Victorian atheist - before, for example in the Lilith post, but this is probably his most famous work.

Lady Godiva (Godgifu in her own time) was a real person - wife of Leofric the Saxon Earl of Mercia - and her story is worth knowing because it's one about sex and female courage. Leofric had imposed crushing taxes on the people of Coventry, who took their plight to his wife. She repeatedly asked her husband to be more merciful but he refused, until eventually he got so annoyed by her importuning that he said "Look, if you take off all your clothes and ride naked through the city then I'll do what you ask." So she did. The current version of the story is that everyone stayed respectfully indoors and didn't look except for Peeping Tom, who was struck blind by God for watching (the first case of masturbation sending you blind, perhaps? lol). The oldest version of the legend has it that the populace was assembled by Leofric to watch.

So it's a great story about selflessness and exhibitionism, and I'd like to write a version one day. The feel of the saddle between her naked thighs, the gasp of the crowd, her shame and determination and secret excitement...

Godiva outlived Leofric and was one of the few major Saxon landowners (and the only female) in England to retain her title and holdings after the Norman Conquest. She is still counted a heroine by the people of Coventry and an annual procession and festival is held in her name to this day (although as far as I can see from their publicity they seem to have given up the actual naked re-enactment ... shame). She was a popular subject for Victorian painters and sculptors, who just fell over themselves to depict her naked body and beautiful hair and - this was their usual emphasis - her crippling shame at having to apear in public this way. 

But when the city of Coventry decided to install a statue of her after the end of WW2, she acquired an altogether more serene expression - as befits the patron of a city which has been through trials and emerged victorious.


Craig Sorensen said...

Amazing lady, Godgifu. I like the statue.

I would certainly tend to believe the earlier accounts that the populace was assembled to attempt to "shame" her from seeing it through. It's a grand thing that she went through with it.

I'd love to read your take on it.

Janine Ashbless said...

It's on the back-burner, Craig.

I've just sent off the bondage story I was working on. Now I need a cuppa!

Emerald said...

Thanks for sharing this! I never knew the story of Lady Godiva...I began to patronize (and become a regular customer of) Godiva chocolate stores several years ago. My mom once ordered me a mug from them with a painting of a naked Lady Godiva on a horse on it. I seem to recall she said it seemed perfect for me since it was from the chocolate company and included nudity. ;)

I also would feel eager to read your version of the story. (And I'm currently working on a bondage story too!)

Janine Ashbless said...

Yay for nudity and chocolates! What a cool mom, Emerald!