Lady Godiva

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Taxation itself is the evil, and there are many taxes which are inequitable, unfair, exorbitant.
~ Attributed to Lady Godiva
   by Robert LeFevre
If they pay this tax, they starve.
~ Attributed to Lady Godiva
   by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Herbert Backstage Pass cmglee 46.jpg

Godiva (Old English: Godgifu; fl. 1040–1067), known as Lady Godiva, was an eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to a legend dating back at least to the thirteenth century, rode naked—covered only in her long hair—through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, on his tenants.  They had one proved son, Aelfgar, Earl of Mercia.

Quotes about Godiva[edit]

  • The records indicate that Leofric was much older than his wife, but they made a handsome couple and were generally admired.  …  High taxes and widespread poverty go hand-in-hand.  …  Leofric's wife was a a very beautiful, kindly, and generous woman named Lady Godiva.  And when, through her maids and ladies in waiting, she learned of the condition of the taxpayers of Coventry, she was heartsick and indignant, and took the complaints before her husband.  …  [A]s Leofric leans back in his gilded chair, and raises the final goblet to his lips, his lady speaks, timourously, but sincerely.  Across a half a venison and a demolished goose, she tells the story of oppression that, unbeknownst to him, has come into her husband's realm.  "M'lord, the townpeople dine on bread and water while we have only the best to please our fancy.  I am ashamed to go out among the people.  They are in rags, whilst I am clad in costly raiment.  And the children, only of ricket, make my heart break to hear their piteous wails, to see their sad and hungry eyes following me wherever I go."  Her eyes flash as she relates instance after instance of poverty and oppression, her long, golden hair is caught up in coils framing a face beautiful in its earnestness, her aura of sincerity finally penetrates the wall of indifference surrounding Leofric.  Begrudgingly—for, after all, what can a woman know of worldly things?—Leofric listens to his wife's story.  As she feels his attention, she becomes more confident.  He is not the villain, she explains, but he has a lack of understanding of the problems of those from whom he collects taxes.  "Taxation itself is the evil, and there are many taxes which are inequitable, unfair, exorbitant.  Look," she cries in the climax of her appeal, "if it would do any good, I would take my jewels and pawn them, leaving my arms and throat bare of any adornment, so that the money raised thereby could be returned to those poor unfortunates who own thee, Lord, and who have been taxed beyond all bounds."  Leofric is grudgingly impressed.  He had not known of his wife's hitherto unrevealed gift of rhetoratory, her interest in politics, or her knowledge of taxation; they came as a complete surprise.  With a half-smile of admiration—and half-teasingly—Leofric nods in some portion of agreement.  "M'lady, thou hast a silver tongue, and thou hast argued thy case fairly and wisely, yet with temperance and judgement.  But, thinkest thou that these problems can be solved so readily?  Men must be taxed, else they grow unruly!  Tribute is always paid, for how else will the people in the distant realms, who never see their Earl, know that they are ruled, and have respect for law and order?  No, my love, tribute and taxation are good; but, perhaps I have been more careless about taxes in certain specific instances than is my want, but surely thou knowest this comfort we enjoy comes from this same tax money which thou go without this meal?  Thou sayest thou wouldst put aside thy jewels, come now, that is no sacrifice with thee!  Thou carest little for jewels.  Wouldst thou have us live in a common hovel?  Which put aside thy fine clothes.  Haha!  Thy eloquence is fine, but it should be matched by noble deeds; words alone prove nothing."  …  "Madam, if thou art sincere, and if thou dost really have the welfare of my subjects in thy heart, prove it thus.  Mount thy horse naked, and pass through the market of the village from one end to the other.  Do this, and upon thy return, I will repeal the onerous and unpleasant laws thou namest and grant thine every wish in alleviating the excessive burdens borne by my people."  It was said partially in jest, for the modesty and decorum of English ladies were a byword.  …  We may actually hear little of Leofric in modern time, but all the world remembers the beautiful Lady Godiva who took her husband at his word.  The following day, mounted on a milk-white steed, and, history tells us, clad only in her golden tresses, she rode the length and breadth of market street without a stitch on.  And Leofric, humbled and ashamed, kept his word to the letter: taxes were repealed, and immediately good fortune descended on Coventry.  A lowering of the tax burden inevitably provides incentives and a spurt in business activity.  Good times usually follow.  …  A mature civilisation does not require government.
  • A woman portraying the 11th Century Lady Godiva, but wearing a flesh-colored bathing suit, rode a horse to the Capitol on Friday and sang a tax protest to the governor's receptionist.  Liise Root, 22, a "singing telegram" woman hired by the Libertarian Party, dismounted and walked into the Capitol, where she handed a written protest to receptionist Mae Shaw and sang a Beatles song:  "I'm the tax man, yeah, the tax man.  And you're working for no one but me."

"Godiva" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1840, published 1842)[edit]

  • …not only we, that prate
    Of rights and wrongs, have loved the people well,
    And loathed to see them overtax'd; but she
    Did more, and underwent, and overcame,
    The woman of a thousand summers back,
    Godiva, wife to that grim Earl, who ruled
    In Coventry
  • …  She told him of their tears,
    And pray'd him, "If they pay this tax, they starve."
  • Then she rode forth, clothed on with chastity:
    The deep air listen'd round her as she rode,
    And all the low wind hardly breathed for fear.
  • …whence reissuing, robed and crown'd,
    To meet her lord, she took the tax away
    And built herself an everlasting name.

External links[edit]

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