Did you ever hear the one about the woman who rode naked on horseback to force her husband to lower taxes? My earliest exposure to this story (no pun intended), came through the Three Stooges on after school TV of all places. I’m not quite sure of the exact episode, as the Stooges often played the same gag several different ways, but I do recall a knight in full armor riding away with a naked woman on a white horse. Her hair was long and covered her like a cape. The woman, as you may have guessed, was Lady Godiva.
This story is one of those blended fact and fancy tales that comes off as true because the person involved actually lived. Sort of like George Washington trying out his new hatchet on his father’s favorite cherry tree.
The Fact: Lady Godiva was a real historical figure. Married to Leofric, the Anglo-Saxon earl of Mercia (the whole center of England). Her name appears with her husband’s on documents of that time and her signature appears often on grants so she was considered by many to be an extremely generous woman. Lady G is also mentioned in an 11th c. book as the only major female landowner after the Norman conquest. She was a founder of a Benedictine monastery in Coventry as well. It looks as though she kept her powerful wherewithal after being widowed. A rare thing for the time.
The Fancy: As the story goes, Leofric had levied crippling taxes on the citizens of Coventry. Thinking it terribly unfair, his wife repeatedly asked him to lighten the tax load. Having had enough of her badgering, Leofric told her he would lower his taxes only if she rode her horse through the center of town completely naked. Of course he never thought she would. So…Lady G stripped off her clothes, let down her hair, and galloped through the market square. Afterward she demanded her husband hold up his end of the bargain, and he did.
My guess here is the telling of Lady Godiva’s buck-naked ride is a fanciful hat tip to her generosity.
How’s that exactly?
At the first telling of this tale, more than 1000 years of Christianity had used a woman’s lack of modesty as occasion of sin. So for Lady G to sacrifice her ever-important modesty on behalf of fair taxes for the common folk was generous indeed. It put her in high regard, sinner or no. As if her good woman status needed more proof, she told the townspeople to shutter their doors and windows, and by complying they’d allow her to keep her modesty. A quid pro quo, as it were. I should note that this is where the legend of Peeping Tom comes from. Tom was the guy who peeped and was struck blind for it. His part of the story didn’t come about until the 16th century. A clue: Tom isn’t an Anglo-Saxon name.
In the several hundred years that followed, scholars found nothing tangible to say this famous ride actually occurred. Wanting to hold on to the romance of her bold conviction, some went so far as to suggest she did ride but did so in her undergarments or just draped in her jewelry. Other suggest the ride took place with her dressed in low station clothing as a peasant woman might have dressed. Of the latter, humiliating penance of this sort was a common occurrence. My background says three disparate original sources do a fact make. None exist for this tale. But you know what? As a symbolical narrative of conviction being greater than the self, the story is just terrific.
Listening to this and feeling my age. lol
My 100 things will focus on malapropisms and I’ll stick with it until I can’t find any more. From the French mal a propos (meaning inappropriate). Dictionary.com defines malapropisms as an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.
Here’s one for today:
He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.
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