Lady Godiva on a white horse, by English with Stephen

Word Stories: Lady Godiva

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode telling the story about Lady Godiva.

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Hello and welcome to English with Stephen, the podcast that gives you everything you need to learn English in under 10 minutes. My name’s Stephen Greene and today I am going to tell you a story that every British kid has heard for over a thousand years. It is a story that breaks taboos but in a kind and caring kind of way. It’s a story that has given us some interesting language that we still use today. It is a story that most people believe is true, but is probably a complete fake.

It is the story of Lady Godiva.

After the break.

If you like today’s episode, then you are going to love Stories with Jether. Stories with Jether is another podcast that tells different stories from around the world. The stories can be folklore, myths, or inspirational, but they are always good fun. I recommend this podcast because you get to hear fantastic stories from around the world and learn a little bit about the different cultures, often realising that there are similarities to our own cultures. Trust me, you are going to love Stories with Jether. You can find this podcast by looking for Stories with Jether, that’s J E T H E R on your podcast app, or going to storieswithjether.buzzsprout.com. I’ll post a link to the site and contact information on my site, EnglishwithStephen.com

And now back to Lady Godiva.

It is the 11th century. England is ruled by King Edward the Confessor and the Anglo-Saxons are in charge everywhere. In the midlands, in an ancient kingdom called Mercia, the man in charge is called Earl Leofric. He is a rich and powerful man. His wife is Lady Godifu, which meant God’s Gift. But today we know her by the name Lady Godiva.

These two people were very popular with the church. They were famous for giving lots of money, land, and riches to the local churches. They set up a Benedictine Monastery in Coventry that soon became the cathedral for the city. Unfortunately, this money, land, and riches has to come from somewhere, and in the 11th century, much like the present day, all this money, land and riches, came from taxes on all the working people.

Lady Godifu was a kind woman who wanted to help the church and the people she helped rule over. She was concerned that the taxes were too high and that the local people did not have enough to eat, clothe themselves or put a roof over their heads. She pleaded with her husband to reduce the taxes, but he refused.

She then begged her husband to do something, but again he said no.

She continued to beg and plead for a long time. Eventually, her husband Leofric relented, but on one condition. He agreed he would reduce the taxes on the local population but only if his wife, the good and holy Godiva, would ride through the city of Coventry stark naked. She would have to ride a horse around the city with no clothes on for everyone to see her body.

Earl Leofric was convinced that he had won the argument. He was sure that his wife would refuse to ride around the city with no clothes on. But he was wrong. She decided that it was worth the embarrassment if it resulted in lower taxes for the people she loved.

Earl Leofric, on the other hand, was deeply embarrassed. He didn’t want everyone staring at his naked wife, so he sent out an order to the people of Coventry. On the day that his wife was to ride through the city naked, everyone should stay indoors and not look at her. If anybody did look, they would be punished.

And so, the day came and Lady Godiva paraded through the streets of Coventry completely naked and everybody else stayed indoors and refused to watch her, either out of concern for her or because they were afraid of being punished.

There was one man, however, who was not afraid. He was a local tailor called Tom. He decided he wanted to look at Lady Godiva and found a small hole in his door so he could look at her as she rode past. When somebody tries to look at something without anybody else knowing, this is called peeping.

Unfortunately for Tom, he wasn’t very well hidden and Lady Godiva saw him peeping at her. She told her husband and he kept his word. Tom was blinded for the offence of peeping at Lady Godiva. To this day, we use the phrase ‘peeping Tom’ to describe a man who tries to secretly watch women while they have no clothes on.

As well as punishing peeping Tom, Earl Leofric also kept his word to his wife and reduced the amount of taxes on the local people.

There are some elements of truth in this story. There was an Earl Leofric and a Lady Godiva. However, there is no mention of a peeping Tom for hundreds of years, which might be because there is no evidence that the naked trip through Coventry actually happened.

And, of course, Coventry does exist. It is a city in the Midlands of England, not far from my home city of Birmingham. During world war two, the city was almost completely destroyed by bombing from planes because it was an industrial centre. The cathedral that Lady Godiva and her husband had created in Coventry had been knocked down many years before by Henry VIII, but its replacement was, once again, destroyed.

Coventry is also part of an expression in English. If you are ‘sent to Coventry’ then nobody will speak to you or include you in their social circle as a form of punishment. Basically, if you are ‘sent to Coventry’ you are totally ignored.

The origin of the phrase ‘sent to Coventry’ is not known. However, the most likely explanation comes from the English civil war in the 1600s. If the king’s soldiers were captured by the parliamentary soldiers, they would often be literally sent to the city of Coventry to be kept in prison. Coventry was a stronghold of the parliamentary army and so the local people did not welcome the king’s soldiers. Instead, they refused to interact with them and never gave them food, water, or any other type of help.

I suppose the term ‘sent to Coventry’ is similar to the original idea of ‘boycott’. If you would like to know the fascinating origins of the word ‘boycott’ then you can find it in episode 9 of this podcast. You can find it on your podcast app, or you can go to my site EnglishwithStephen.com

So that is all from me for today. I hope you have enjoyed listening to a popular folk story from the UK and learning a couple of idiomatic phrases in ‘peeping Tom’ and ‘sent to Coventry’. If you have enjoyed this episode, please remember, go and have a look at Stories with Jether where you’ll find lots more stories from all around the world.

Thanks for listening and I hope to speak to you again next week.

So long!

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