Saturday June 10, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Lady Godiva

On this Day:

In 1040, according to legend, Lady Godiva rode naked on horseback through Coventry  to force her husband, the Earl of Mercia, to lower taxes.  The true facts are, however, rather revealing…so let’s take a peek…

Lady Godiva (died between 1066 and 1086), in Old English Godgifu, was a late Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who is relatively well documented as the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and a patron of various churches and monasteries. Today, she is mainly remembered for a legend dating back to at least the 13th century, in which she rode naked – covered only in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband, Leofric, imposed on his tenants. The name “Peeping Tom” for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend, in which a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.

The legend of the nude ride is first recorded in the 13th century, in the Flores Historiarum and the adaptation of it by Roger of Wendover. Despite its considerable age, it is not regarded as plausible by modern historians, nor is it mentioned in the two centuries intervening between Godiva’s death and its first appearance, while her generous donations to the church receive various mentions.

19th century equestrian statue of the legendary ride, by John Thomas, Maidstone Museum, Kent
According to the typical version of the story, Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband’s oppressive taxation. Lady Godiva appealed again and again to her husband, who obstinately refused to lower the taxes. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride on a horse through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word, and after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Just one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as ‘Peeping Tom’, disobeyed her proclamation in what is the most famous instance of voyeurism.

Some historians have discerned elements of pagan fertility rituals in the Godiva story, whereby a young “May Queen” was led to the sacred Cofa’s tree, perhaps to celebrate the renewal of spring. The oldest form of the legend has Godiva passing through Coventry market from one end to the other while the people were assembled, attended only by two knights. This version is given in Flores Historiarum by Roger of Wendover (died 1236), a somewhat gullible collector of anecdotes. In a chronicle written in the 1560s, Richard Grafton claimed the version given in Flores Historiarum originated from a “lost chronicle” written between 1216 and 1235 by the Prior of the monastery of Coventry.

A modified version of the story was given by printer Richard Grafton, later elected MP for Coventry. According to his Chronicle of England (1569), “Leofricus” had already exempted the people of Coventry from “any maner of Tolle, Except onely of Horses”, so that Godiva (“Godina” in text) had agreed to the naked ride just to win relief for this horse tax. And as a condition, she required the officials of Coventry to forbid the populace “upon a great pain” from watching her, and to shut themselves in and shutter all windows on the day of her ride. Grafton was an ardent Protestant and sanitized the earlier story.

The ballad “Leoffricus” in the Percy Folio (c. 1650) conforms to Grafton’s version, saying that Lady Godiva performed her ride to remove the customs paid on horses, and that the town’s officers ordered the townsfolk to “shutt their dore, & clap their windowes downe,” and remain indoors on the day of her ride.

The story of Peeping Tom, who alone among the townsfolk spied on the Lady Godiva’s naked ride, probably did not originate in literature, but came about through popular lore in the locality of Coventry. Reference by 17th century chroniclers has been claimed, but all the published accounts are 18th century or later.

According to an 1826 article submitted by someone well versed in local history identifying himself as ‘W. Reader’, there was already a well-established tradition that there was a certain tailor who had spied on Lady Godiva, and that at the annual Trinity Great Fair (now called the Godiva Festival) featuring the Godiva processions “a grotesque figure called Peeping Tom” would be set on display, and it was a wooden statue carved from oak. The author has dated this effigy, based on the style of armour he is shown wearing, from the reign of Charles II (d. 1685). The same writer felt the legend had to be subsequent to William Dugdale (d. 1686) since he made no mention of it in his works that discussed Coventry at full length. (The story of the tailor and the use of a wooden effigy may be as old as the 17th century, but the effigy may not have always been called “Tom”.)

W. Reader dates the first Godiva procession to 1677, but other sources date the first parade to 1678, and in that year a lad from the household of James Swinnerton enacted the role of Lady Godiva.The English Dictionary of National Biography (D.N.B.) gives a meticulous account of the literary sources. The historian Paul de Rapin (1732) reported the Coventry lore that Lady Godiva performed her ride while “commanding all Persons to keep within Doors and from their Windows, on pain of Death”, but that one man could not refrain from looking and it “cost him his life”; Rapin further reported that the town commemorates this with a “Statue of a Man looking out of a Window.”

Next, Thomas Pennant in Journey from Chester to London (1782) recounted: “[T]he curiosity of a certain taylor overcoming his fear, he took a single peep”. Pennant noted that the person enacting Godiva in the procession was not fully naked of course, but wore “silk, closely fitted to her limbs”, which had a colour resembling the skin’s complexion. (In Pennant’s time, around 1782, silk was worn, but the annotator of the 1811 edition noted that a cotton garment had since replaced the silk fabric.) According to the D.N.B., the oldest document that mentions “Peeping Tom” by name is a record in Coventry’s official annals, dating to 11 June 1773, documenting that the city issued a new wig and paint for the wooden effigy.

There is also said to be a letter from pre-1700, stating that the peeper was actually Action, Lady Godiva’s groom.Additional legend proclaims that Peeping Tom was later struck blind as heavenly punishment, or that the townspeople took the matter in their own hands and blinded him.

While most alterations of the legend describe Godiva riding completely nude, there is much dispute as to the historical authenticity of this notion. A more plausible rationale for the legend includes one based on the custom at the time for penitents to make a public procession in their shift, a sleeveless white garment similar to a slip today and one which was certainly considered “underwear” in Godiva’s time. If this were the case, Godiva might have actually traveled through town as a penitent in her shift, likely unshod and stripped of her jewellery which was the trademark of her upper class rank. It would have been highly unusual to see a noblewoman present herself publicly in such an unadorned state, possibly bringing about the legend which would later be romanticized in folk history.

Some suggest that the nudity myth originated in Puritan propaganda designed to blacken the reputation of the notably pious Lady Godiva. Chroniclers of the 11th and 12th Centuries mention Godiva as a respectable religious woman of some beauty and do not allude to nude excursions in public (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

A maid decided it was time to demand a raise, so she went directly to speak to Lady Godiva in her private study.

Maid: “I’d like a raise.”

Lady Godiva: “Why do you think you deserve a raise?

Maid: “Three reasons. First, I can cook better than you.”

Lady Godiva: “Who told you that?”

Maid: “Your husband. Second, I clean better than you.”

Lady Godiva: “Who told you that?”

Maid: “Your husband. Third, I’m better in bed than you are.”

Lady Godiva: “I suppose my husband said that too?”

Maid: “No, the gardener.”

Lady Godiva: “How much do you want?”

Second, a Song:

Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show (shortened to Dr. Hook in 1975) was an American rock band, formed in Union City, New Jersey. They enjoyed considerable commercial success in the 1970s with hit singles including “Sylvia’s Mother”, “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone'” (both 1972), “Only Sixteen” (1975), “A Little Bit More” (1976), “Sharing the Night Together” (1978), “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman” (1979), “Better Love Next Time” (1979), and “Sexy Eyes” (1980). In addition to their own material, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show performed songs written by the poet Shel Silverstein.

The band had eight years of regular chart hits in the United States, where their music was played on top-40, easy listening, and country music outlets, and throughout the English-speaking world including the UK, Canada and South Africa. Their music spanned several genres, mostly novelty songs and acoustic ballads in their early years, though their greatest success came with their later material, mostly consisting of disco-influenced soft rock, which the band recorded under the shortened name Dr. Hook.

The founding core of the band consisted of George Cummings, Ray Sawyer and Billy Francis (born William Allen Francis, Jr. in Sacramento, California; January 16, 1942 – May 23, 2010), who had worked together in a band called the Chocolate Papers. They played the southern, eastern, and mid-western United States before breaking up. Cummings, who moved to New Jersey with the plan of forming a new band, brought Sawyer to rejoin him. They then took on future primary vocalist, New Jersey native Dennis Locorriere, initially as a bass player. Francis returned to be the new band’s keyboardist.

Cummings named the new band “Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic for the Soul.” The “Hook” name was inspired by Sawyer’s eyepatch and a reference to Captain Hook of the Peter Pan fairy tale, although, humorously, Captain Hook was neither a doctor nor wore an eyepatch. Ray Sawyer had lost his right eye in a near-fatal car crash in Oregon in 1967, and thereafter always wore an eyepatch. The eyepatch led some to believe that Sawyer was ‘Dr. Hook’. When anyone asked the band which one of them was ‘Dr Hook’ they always directed everyone to the bus driver.

The band played for a few years in New Jersey, first with drummer Popeye Phillips (who had also been in the Chocolate Papers), later session drummer on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Citing musical differences, Phillips returned to his native Alabama, and was replaced by local drummer Joseph Olivier. When the band began recording their first album, Olivier left in order to spend more time with his family, and was replaced by session player, John “Jay” David, who was asked to join the band full-time in 1968.

In 1970, their demo tapes were heard by Ron Haffkine, musical director on the planned Herb Gardner movie, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?. The songs for the film were written by the cartoonist and poet/songwriter Shel Silverstein. Haffkine determined that Dr. Hook was the ideal group for the soundtrack. With his help, the group recorded two songs for the film: Locorriere sang the lead on both “The Last Morning”, the movie’s theme song, later re-recorded for their second album Sloppy Seconds, and “Bunky and Lucille”, which the band can be seen performing in the film. The film, released in 1971 by National General Pictures, received mixed critical reviews and did only modestly at the box office, but it helped Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show secure their first recording contract.

The group’s meeting with Clive Davis of CBS Records, facilitated by Haffkine, is described in Davis’s autobiography. Drummer David used a wastepaper basket to keep the beat, and while Sawyer, Locorriere, and Cummings played and sang a few songs, Francis hopped up and danced on the mogul’s desk. This meeting secured the band a record deal. Subsequently, the band went on to international success over the next twelve years, with Haffkine as the group’s manager, as well as producer of all the Dr. Hook recordings.

Silverstein and Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show became a great combination. Haffkine, having a knack for picking songs, quickly became Dr. Hook’s No. 1 A&R man, as well as their producer and manager. Silverstein wrote all the songs for their self-titled debut album, released in 1972. Doctor Hook featured lead vocals, guitar, bass and harmonica by Locorriere, guitarist Cummings, and singer Sawyer, plus drummer David and keyboard player Billy Francis. The album sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA on August 2, 1972. It has been released 20 times in the US, Canada and Europe.

The single “Sylvia’s Mother”, a subtle parody of teen-heartbreak weepers, flopped on first release, but with some more promotional muscle became the band’s first million-seller, and hit the top five in the summer of 1972. Other titles on the album included “Marie Lavaux”, “Sing Me A Rainbow”, “Hey Lady Godiva”, “Four Years Older Than Me”, “Kiss It Away”, “Makin’ It Natural”, “I Call That True Love”, “When She Cries”, “Judy”, and “Mama, I’ll Sing One Song For You”.

Silverstein continued to write songs for Dr. Hook, including their entire second album, Sloppy Seconds, released in the US, Australia, Europe and Canada. It featured some of their most popular songs, including “Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball” and “The Cover of Rolling Stone”. Other titles on the album were “If I’d Only Come And Gone”, “The Things I Didn’t Say”, “Carry Me Carrie”, “Get My Rocks Off”, “Last Mornin'”, “I Can’t Touch The Sun”, “Queen Of The Silver Dollar”, “Turn On The World”, and “Stayin’ Song”. The album was listed in the Billboard 200 in 1973. In 1972, the band added a full-time bassist, Jance Garfat, and another guitarist, Rik Elswit.

The band’s second single, “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone'” (1972) from Sloppy Seconds, was another million-selling disc, poking fun at the idea that a musician had “made it” if they had been pictured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Haffkine visited Jann Wenner, one of the founders of Rolling Stone, proclaiming “I’ve just given you guys the best commercial for this rag that you’ll ever get.” Wenner then sent Cameron Crowe (who later wrote and directed Almost Famous about his time as a music journalist), then 16 years old, to interview the band for issue 131 (March 1973). Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show appeared on the cover, albeit in caricature rather than in a photograph.

In the United Kingdom, the BBC Radio network refused to play “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone'”, because it considered doing so would be advertising a trademark name. CBS Records responded by setting up a phone line that would play the song to anyone willing to dial in, which helped build the buzz. The BBC found itself able to play the song only after some of its DJs edited themselves shouting the words “Radio Times” (a BBC-owned magazine) over “Rolling Stone” (per Wikipedia).

Here is Dr. Hook performing “Hey Lady Godiva” set to images of naked ladies on horseback by Johnny Doe.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Remember, Lady Godiva put all she had on a horse and she lost her shirt!” – W.C. Fields

Further to the Independence Day Smile, the Reverend Bob Beasley of , Ontario writes:

“Hi Dave

Thanks for mentioning the annual Detroit/Windsor Ford Fireworks, part of the annual International Freedom Festival, held each year on the Monday before the Canada Day and Independence Day holidays. The fireworks are a highlight of the year for locals on both sides of the Detroit River. It is estimated that around a million people gather on both sides of the river for the fireworks display each year. Everyone arrives early and finds the best viewing spot they can along the river, many bringing a picnic with them. There is a party atmosphere all along the river. It is a family event, with kids running around and playing until the sun sets and the fireworks begin. Many people have a favourite spot and return to that spot each year. Once the fireworks begin, there is an overwhelming sense of awe, with tons of “wows” along with lots of cheering and clapping. Those who have a boat are allowed to watch from the river, but aren’t allowed to get as close as they used to – safety and security are more stringent than in the past. I’ve never seen the fireworks from the river, but those who have say it is even more impressive than from the shore. 

Patience is called for when the fireworks end. Getting hundreds of thousands of cars away from the riverfront takes a very long time. Streets are clogged with traffic. No matter how people plan ahead for an exit route, it just takes time. What we usually do is just stay in place until most people have left so we don’t have to sit in the car stuck in the traffic.

The past two years, because of the pandemic, the fireworks have been carried on local TV stations. Hopefully we will be able to see them live from the riverside next year. 



Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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