Lady Godiva

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Copyright 2007, Will Johnson,, Professional Genealogist, All Rights Reserved. This page is locked, if you'd like to add or correct anything, please email me.

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Leofric, Earl of Mercia married a woman named Godgifu ("God's Gift") whose name has come down to us in legend as Lady Godiva. She is most famously known for her legendary ride while naked through Coventry to protest her husband's high taxes on the populace. That this could have actually occurred is very doubtful. It is not noted by any contemporary chronicler and it would have been quite newsworthy certainly. The story is first recited about 200 years after her probable death.

Some sources say that Leofric and Godiva founded the monastery at Coventry, others that they expanded one which was already there.

It is alleged that Aelfgar (who is known from the ASC entry below to be Leofric's son), was also Godgifu's son. Aelfgar was made Earl of East Anglia in 1051 (ASC 1051). He was outlawed and joined forces with Gruffydd (ASC 1055). He was reconciled and restored to his earldom. He succeeded his father upon the later's death in 1057 (ASC 1057), but didn't enjoy his Earldom long. He was outlawed again and is said-to-have died in 1059.

Aelfgar is supposed to have had two sons Edwin and Morcar and a daughter Ealdgyth (Edith) who is said-to-have married Gruffydd ap Llewellyn who was Ruler of Gwynedd and Powys from 1039 and eventually by 1055 King of all Wales, united under him. That there was an alliance between Aelfgar and Gruffydd is shown by the ASC entries, which however do not specifically mention a marriage, or any relationship between Aelgfar and Gruffydd.

Edith and Gruffydd's daughter Nest is said-to-be that Nest who is known to be the wife of Osbert FitzRichard. She is said to have been born in 1058 and gave birth to at least two children. All of this needs to be confirmed or denied by primary research.

Primary sources

  • Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, G.N. Garmonsway (tr,ed). J.M.Dent Ltd, London 1972 (reprint 1992)
    • pg 159 : "The Laud Chronicle (E) — 1036 [1035] (footnote: E has misplaced the vacant annal for 1036) In this year Cnut passed away at Shaftesbury, and he is buried in the Old Minster, Winchester. Soon after his passing there was a meeting of all the councillors at Oxford, and earl Leofric and almost all the thanes to the north of the Thames, and [Cnut's] household troops in London, elected Harold as regent of all England...."
    • pg 163 : "The Worcester Chronicle (D) — 1043 In this year Edward was consecrated king at Wincester on the first day of Easter. And in the same year, a fortnight before St Andrew's day, the king was advised to ride from Gloucester, and [with] earl Leofric and earl Godwine and earl Siward and their band came to Winchester...."
    • pg 174 : "The Laud Chronicle (E) — 1048[1051] ...Earl Siward and earl Leofric and many people with them from the north had come there to the king...."
    • pg 175 : "The Worcester Chronicle (D) — 1052 "...He sent then for earl Leofric and north for earl Siward and asked for troops from them."
    • pg 177 : "The Laud Chronicle (E) — 1048 [1051] "And then Odda was appointed earl over Devon, and over Somerset, and over Dorset, and over Cornwall; and Aelfgar, earl Leofric's son, was given the earldom which Harold had had."
    • pg 184 : "The Abingdon Chronicle (C) — 1055 "A short time after this there was a council in London, and earl Aelfgar, son of earl Leofric, was outlawed without having done anything to deserve his fate. Thereupon he went to Ireland, and added a force of eighteen ships to his own household troops, and sailed to king Gruffydd with that host; and he took him under his protection."
    • pg 188 : "The Laud Chronicle (E) — 1057 "Earl Leofric passed away, and Aelfgar, his son, succeeded to the earldom which his father had had."
  • Anglo Saxon Charters site
    • Charter S1223 : "Leofric, comes, to Evesham Abbey...", stating possibly authentic, and dating 1033x1038. The PASE site states that "Godgifu his wife" is stated within the document as well.
    • Charter S1226 : "Leofric, comes of Chester, founds Coventry Abbey..." [probably spurious, but *note* the conspicuous absence of Godgifu]
    • Charter S1232 : "Leofric, comes, and his wife (Godgifu), to St Mary's, Worcester..."
    • Charter S1233 : "Godiva (Godgifu), wife of Leofric, to St Mary's, Stow..."
  • The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, with the Two Continuations, Thomas Forester (tr). (1854) H. G. Bohn 512 pages. Firstly we need to show that Lady Godiva is mentioned only once in this work, see this index page. Turning to that page, I find page 159 : "[A.D. 1057] ...The renowned Leofric, son of the ealdorman Leofwine, of blessed memory, died in a good old age, at his own vill of Bromley, on the second of the calends of September [31st August], and was buried with great pomp at Coventry; which monastery, among the other good deeds of his life, he and his wife, the noble countess Godiva, a worshipper of God, and devoted friend of St. Mary, Ever-a-Virgin, had founded, and amply endowing it with lands on their own patrimony, had so enriched with all kinds of ornament, that no monastery could be found in England possessed of such abundance of gold....His son Algar was appointed to his earldom.
  • Terry Booth in an e-mail to me provides this :
    • p. 170 "Harold reigned nine months and as many days. The earls Edwin and Morcar, who had withdrawn with their troops from the battle on hearing that he was dead, went off to London, and sent off their sister, queen Elgitha, to Chester . . Page 170
    • p. 456 "By his choice and gift, he [Edward King of England] was succeeded by earl Harold, son of Godwin earl of Wessex, by Gytha, sister of Sweyn, king of Denmark, father of St. Canute, the martyr. He [king Harold] had a son named Harold by his queen Aldgitha, daughter of earl Algar: the same year he fell in battle with William earl of Normandy, who succeeded him in the kingdom." Page 456
  • Terry Booth points out that there are "...several Domesday entries which says Aelfgifu mother of Earl Morcar" like this one
  • Terry Booth in a posting to Gen-Med states : "Florence's statements on Godwine's banishment abt Sep 1051 are here and on the preceding page. Florence's statements on Godwine's restoration 'to his former honors' abt 15 Sep 1052 are : here. Malmesbury's statement is "Godwin and Sweyn retired to Flanders, and Harold

to Ireland. His [Godwin's] earldom was given to Elgar, the son of Leofric, a man of active habits; who, receiving, governed it with ability, and readily restored it to him [Godwin] upon his return; and afterwards, on the death of Godwin, when Harold had obtained the dukedom of his father, he reclaimed it, though, by the accusation of his enemies, he was banished for a time." See here"

  • John P Ravilous in a posting to Gen-Med 15 Aug 2007 states : "In the listing provided in Domesday Book (1086) of the lands of the Church of Coventry, in Stanley Hundred, there is a description of the land of Binley. The text states in part, "Aldgid, the wife of Grifin, held this land. The Abbey bought it of Osbern the son of Richard", citingWilliam Reades, trans. Domesday Book, for the County of Warwick (Coventry: W. Reader, 1835), p. 14: 'Ipsa eccl'a ten' BILVEIE. Ibi sunt iii hidae T'ra e' viii car'. In d'nio e' una car' et iiii serui et x uill'i et vi bord' eu' v car'. Ibi viii ac' p'ti. Silua dimid' leu'u l'g' et una q'rent' lat'. T. R. E. et modo ual' LX solid'. Hanc tra' tenuit. Aldgid uxor Grifin. Hanc abb' emit ab 0' filio Ricardi. Ipsa eccl'a ten' in CONDONE iii virg' t'rae. T'ra e' ii car'. Ibi sunt iiii uill'i et vi bord' eu' ii car' et i fiemo. Silua iii q'r' et xxx p'tic' l'g' et iii q'rent' lat'. Valuit et ual' xx solid'.'
  • John P Ravilous in a posting to Gen-Med 16 Aug 2007 quotes Orderic Vitalis : 'Earl AElfgar built a monastery at Coventry...... And Godiva, his pious countess, lavished all her treasure upon the church: sending for goldsmiths she gave them her whole store of gold..... These parents, so devoted to God and beneficent to the church, had a progeny both fair and greatly to be praised: Edwin, Morcar, and one daughter called Edith, who married first Gruffydd king of the Welsh and after his death Harold king of England.' [Chibnall, ed. The Ecclesiatical History of Orderic Vitalis, Book IV, p. 217.] And then John goes on to say :"Orderic was wrong on several details to be sure (Godiva as countess of AElfgar is somewhat noticeable). Sorting out what is wrong from what is correct is an issue; see Part III, p. 139, where Orderic previously stated of Harold and his dealings with Edwin and Morcar, that 'he had taken to wife their sister Edith. She had formerly been the wife of Gruffydd, a great Welsh prince, and had born him Bleddyn the heir to the throne and a daughter called Nest.' Bleddyn was a successor to Gruffydd, but was Gruffydd's half-brother and not his son. The statement there was a daughter Nest does ring true, given what (little) we know of the first generations of the descendants of Gruffydd and Ealdgyth."
  • John P Ravilous in a posting to Gen-Med 16 Aug 2007 states : "In addition to Orderic Vitalis, we also have a statement by William of Jumièges concerning the parentage and marriages of Ealdyth. E. A. Freeman quoted William of Jumièges (vii. 31) in stating that Harold Godwinsson married Aldith, daughter of Earl Al[f]gar, after the death of her 1st husband Gruffydd: "Grithfridi quoque conjugem Aldith, praeclari Comitis Algari filiam, sibi uxorem junxit. " [E. A. Freeman, The History of the Norman Conquest of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), II:659]

Secondary sources

  • "Living Descendants of Blood Royal", Vol 2, by Count d'Angerville, F.R.S.A. World Nobility and Peerage, London. 1962 pg 500 sub Koehler :
    "1) Griffith ap Llewellyn, Prince of North Wales, d 5 Aug 1063 (son of Llewellyn the Great, Prince of N Wales and his wife Angharat II, Queen of Powis); m Editha, dau of Elgar d 1059 Earl of Mercia.
    2) Nesta, d 1058; m (1) Trahaern, Prince of N Wales, d 1081; (2) Osbern, son of Richard FitzScrob, a Norman lord." citing DNB 2, 376
    • I correct "d 1058" to read "b 1058"
    • DNB is Dictionary of National Biography. The article 2, 376 is "Bernard (fl 1093) of Neufmarche" which I extract, in part, next.
  • Dictionary of National Biography (1922), 2, 376, "Bernard (fl. 1093), of Neufmarche (de Novo-mercatu), often called in English 'of Newmarch,' was the son of Geoffrey, son of Thurcytel, lord of Newmarche by the forest of Lions, and of Ada, daughter of Richard of Hugleville....He married the daughter of Osbern, son of Richard Fitz Scrob, the Norman lord who built his castle in Herefordshire before the Conquest....He married, probably as his second wife, Nest, the daughter of another Nest, daughter of Gruffyydd ap Llewellyn and his English wife Ealdgyth, though it is possible that the elder Nest was the wife of Osbern, and that her daughter was the only wife of Bernard....The date of his death is not known....In spite of the pious benefaction made by Nest to her husband's priory, her wickedness caused her son Mahel the loss of his father's estates. Mahel caught her lover coming from her, and beat and mutilated him. In revenge Nest went to King Henry and swore that her son was not the son of her husband Bernard. The king...made Nest's daughter Sibyl...heiress...and gave her in marriage to Miles FitzWalter, constable of Gloucester...." The article cites it's authorites as : "Giraldus Cambrensis, Itin. Kambriae, i. 12; Orderic, 606; Florence, 1088; Anglo-Sax. Chron. 1088; Brut y Tywysogion, 1091; Chron. de Bello, 34, 35; Monasticon, i. 545, iii. 264, 245; Freeman's Norman Conquest, iii. 132, v. 109, and William Rufus, i. 34, ii. 89-91."
    • Itin. Kambriae is Giraldus Cambrensis' work 'Itinerarium Cambriae ("Journey through Wales") writen in 1191. Giraldus lived from 1146 to 1223 and did not begin to write until these events were several decades in the past.
    • Freeman's Norman Conquest is online here
  • Ancestral Roots, 7th edition, line 176 stating :
    2 Gruffydd I ap Llewellyn, Prince of North Wales, king of Gwynedd and Powys, 1039, and of Deheubarth, 1055, slain 5 Aug 1063; m as 1st husb., abt 1057, Edith (or Aldgyth) (176A-4), dau of Aelfgar (176A-3). (ASC 1035, 1051, 1053, 1055, 1057, 1058; CCN 444, 604). She m (2) abt 1064, (Harold II (1B-23), King of England, (CP VI, 451-453, DNB 23: 307; NGSQ 50 (1962): 76-77; Dict of Welsh Biog., cit., p 312)
    • ASC is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which I've transcribed above and which does *not* show this connection at all
    • CCN is Century Cyclopedia of Names, a very poor source for such an important connection
    • NGSQ is the National Genealogical Society Quarterly fully-cited on this page far below
  • "Lady Godiva", by, at Encyclopaedia Romana online. Among other things they claim the Chronicle ascribed to Florence was actually writen by John of Worcester from 1124 to 1140 instead of Florence who died 1118. This attribution would allow relaxing her dates, since she could be as much as a generation younger than previously thought.
    "Among his other good deeds in this life, he and his wife, the noble countess Godgiva, who was a devout worshipper of God, and one who loved the ever-virgin St. Mary, entirely constructed at their own cost the monastery there [Coventry], well endowed it with land, and enriched it with ornaments to such an extent, that no monastery could be then found in England possessing so much gold, silver, jewels, and precious stones." The Chronicle of John of Worcester: The Annals from 450 to 1066 (1995) edited by R. R. Darlington and P. McGurk, translated by Jennifer Bray and P. McGurk (Oxford Medieval Texts)
  • The 1985 EB has this to say
    fl c 1040-1080, Anglo-Saxon gentlewoman famous for her legendary ride while nude through Coventry, Warwickshire
    Godiva was the wife of Leofric, earl of Mercia, with whom she founded and endowed a monastery at Coventry. The chronicler Florence of Worcester (d. 1118) mentions Leofric and Godiva with respect, but does not refer to the ride. There is no evidence connecting the rider with the historical Godiva.
    The earliest extant source for the story is the 'Chronica' (under the year 1057) of Roger of Wendover (d. 1236). He recounts that her husband, in exasperation over her ceaseless imploring that he reduce Coventry's heavy taxes, declared that he would so if she rode naked through the croweded marketplace. She did so, her hair covering all of her body except her legs. Ranulf Higdon (d.1364) in his 'Polychronicon', says that as a result Leofric freed the town from all tolls save those on horses. An inquiry made in the reign of Edward I shows that at the time no tolls were paid in Coventry except on horses. A later chronicle assets that Godiva required the townsmen to remain indoors at the time fixed for her ride. Peeping Tom, a citizen who looked out his window, apparently became a part of the legend in the 17th century. In most accounts he was struck blind or dead.
  • "Godgifu of Bucknall" on Genealogics citing : 1) PA (1975) ref 130; and 2)Descendents of Leofric of Mercia (2002), John Ravilous and Rosie Bevan
  • Schwennicke ES Vol II,78 states : "King Harold II, married 1065 Ealdgyth of Mercia. widow of Griffith ap Llywelyn, king of Gwyned and Powis, daughter of Earl Alfgar. Then it gives the children of Harold II but they are by Eadgyth Swannesha." [courtesy of Leo van de Pas]
  • History of the Norman Conquest, by Edward Augustus Freeman is online in Google Books. Volume VI is an index of the rest of the set and in particular we can see here on page 104 that there are ten references to Godiva:
    • Freeman citing Domesday 244, 244b states "Two women HOLD [emphasis mine] lands in "alms" Eadgyth who kept her own estate, and Leofgifu the nun, whose lands had been held T.R.E. by Godgifu, the widow of Leofric"

Further reading

  • Paulvheath recommends in a posting to Gen-Medieval 14 Aug 2007 the book "Anglo-Saxon Bishops, Kings and Nobles" by W G Searle (1899), stating "He summarized the information known about Anglo-Saxon genealogies up to that time and carefully cited his sources, which can therefore be checked."
  • Doug McDonald in a posting to Gen-Medieval 14 Aug 2007 cites a source : Walter Lee Sheppard, "Are you a descendant of Lady Godiva", *National Genealogical Society Quarterly*, vol. 50, no. 2 [June 1962], pp. 74-78
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