Criminal defense in Austin Texas.

Lady Godiva

Posted By on May 6, 2009

I was doing some research for a writ, when I came across a painting of the Lady Godiva, whose story, I realized, I didn’t know.  The Lady Godiva, it turns out, was the young wife of the 11th century Earl of Mercia, who had imposed a cruel tax on his people.

When the townsfolk brought their children to Godiva (originally “Godgifu,” or “God’s Gift”), and told her, “If we pay, we starve,” Godiva took pity on them, and promised to do everything she could to help them.

She sought out the Earl, and found him,

where he strode
About the hall, among his dogs, alone,
His beard a foot before him and his hair
A yard behind.

The Earl, however, distrusted her sincerity. “You would not let your little finger ache,” he said, “for such as these,” meaning the common people.

Lady Godiva, insulted, demanded to know what one thing she would not do.

“Ride you naked thro’ the town,” he replied, “and I repeal it.”  Then he parted, “with great strides among his dogs.”

After struggling with her passions, Godiva resolved to keep her promise.

But first she sent out heralds, who bade the people to stay inside, “No eye look down, she passing; but that all should keep within , door shut, and window barr’d.”

Then, “from her inmost bower,” having “unclasp’d the wedded eagles of her belt”, she made her way to the front door, slipping from pillar to pillar “like a creeping sunbeam,”  and found a horse waiting there, “trapt in purple blazon’d with armorial gold.”

Her heart racing, her cheeks aflame, Lady Godiva made her famous ride, thus fulfilling the Earl’s condition.

It is said, as a kind of postscript, that out of all the people who lived in that town, only one looked out.  (There’s always one, isn’t there?)

His name, of course, was “Tom,” and it is from his story that “Peeping Toms” get their name.

I’d never known there was this relationship between the two – the Lady Godiva, and Peeping Tom – but the story is strangely relevant.  Legend has it Tom was later punished.

The issue is, was Tom’s punishment fair?

Lady Godiva. It is said, if you look closely, you can see Tom's figure, top right, looking out.


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