Lessons learned from Lady Godiva

The townsfolk of Coventry stayed indoors out of respect for Lady Godiva. (Facebook pic)

If you ever find yourself strolling through the old cobblestoned streets of Coventry, it will surely be a very memorable experience of your trip to England.

Old buildings immersed in history have a natural air of mystery about them, for they have stood the test of time and outlived humans to tell the tale of how life really was in centuries past.

Of course, you can also rely on whatever evidence is left behind, from ancient carvings, paintings and fascinating stories that have been passed down over the generations.

Coventry has an incredible tale of its own, which will really intrigue you. Some stories get buried through the ages but the ones that live on become the stuff of legend and folklore.

It is hard to pinpoint what is real and what is not because so much has been written about this particular story dating back so many centuries ago.

You will be fascinated by the legend of Lady Godiva, a tale which lives on till today.

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon gentlewoman and the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia. He was one of the most powerful noblemen in 11th century England.

Leofric was believed to be a tyrant who mercilessly imposed oppressive taxes called the Heregeld, on the people of Coventry.

Lady Godiva pleaded with her husband to reduce these heavy taxes as the people could barely afford them.

Apparently, he was exasperated by her persistent pleading and was reputed to have said, “You will have to ride naked through Coventry before I will change my ways,” never expecting his wife to take up his challenge.

On Market Day, Lady Godiva, covered only by her long golden hair, did ride naked across the town. A 17th century version of the story claims that she sent messengers ahead of her to request that the townspeople remain indoors.

So Lady Godiva rode through the silent streets, unseen by the people, who remained indoors out of great respect for her.

However, there was a man who did not adhere to her request. A tailor called Tom was said to have bored a hole in his shutters so that he could see Lady Godiva pass.

This is how the old English saying “peeping Tom” was born, so many centuries ago.

After his wife’s incredible act, Lady Godiva’s husband kept his word and abolished the heavy taxes on the people.

You will surely be filled with that nostalgic feeling as you make your way past the statue of Lady Godiva in the middle of the square.

Lady Godiva is immortalised by this inscription. (shutterstock.com pic)

Do read the inscription in stone by one of Britain’s most famous poets, Tennyson “Then she rode back clothed on with chastity. She took the taxes away and built herself an everlasting name.”

There are some sources that refute that this could have ever happened in that time period but almost all legends are doubted the same way, aren’t they?

Any person who becomes too famous will always invite conspiracy theories on what is fact, and what is fiction.

Nevertheless, even hardened cynics would at least agree that this was a woman who lived with great compassion for her people as her many charity works are well documented.

This is why almost a thousand years later, people are still touched by the selflessness of Lady Godiva.

There’s a gorgeous portrait of Lady Godiva in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry.

While admiring it, do ponder on why so many people complain about their condition in life, which is actually within their reach to change but they just sit on the fence or take no action.

Of course, you should not start riding around Kuala Lumpur without clothing to make a point, but you should try to stand up for what you believe in, especially if it’s for the good of others around you.

Taking a stance on something means you are not passive. You have an opinion as an individual and you are willing to exercise it.

Just gazing at the portrait of Lady Godiva is a reminder of her unselfish motives and how that has impacted generations long after her death.

Now, you don’t need to be a national hero but you should be thinking of issues that affect your every day lives, from the education system, to human rights to the next election.

What changes can you make for the greater good of the people around you, whether it’s in your home, your work or the community at large?

And remember, the greatest change usually occurs from the smallest decisions and simplest of actions.

Jojo Struys is a regional TV host, speaker and wellness personality. She is also the founder of OhanaJo Studio, Malaysia’s largest yoga and sound healing space (www.ohanajo.com)