Lady Godiva's tax protest
Seventeen a beauty
She made a ride that caused a scene
In the town
Her long blonde hair
Hangin' down around her knees
All the cats who dig striptease
Prayin' for a little breeze
Her long blonde hair
Falling down across her arms
Hiding all the lady's charms
Peter and Gordon’s 1966 chart topper celebrates the world’s most famous tax protest, the fabled and likely fictitious 11th century ride of Lady Godiva, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia in Anglo-Saxon England.
The story of the lady’s naked ride was first recorded in Roger of Wendover’s 13th century book Flores Historiarum or Flowers of History. Despite its title, the book is a chronicle of events not a gardening guide.
The tale has been embellished over the centuries, but the plot remains the same: Leofric refuses Godiva’s entreaties to lower the taxes on the oppressed residents of Coventry. One day, though, Leofric gives in, saying he’ll cut taxes if she rides naked through the town at midday.
In a report on the historic person, the BBC wrote, “The rest of the story is not documented at all, but it is said that so great was her compassion for the people of Coventry that Godiva overcame her horror of doing this. She ordered the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred. Loosening her long hair to cover her as a cloak, she mounted her waiting horse.
“Then she rode through the silent streets unseen by the people, who had obeyed her command because of their respect for her.”
Peeping Tom, the tailor who was struck blind for looking, was added to the story in the 17th century.
Lady Godiva appeared on a privately minted 1792-1794 halfpenny token issued during Great Britain’s Condor token craze. The token, which was designed by William Mainwaring and struck by William Lutwyche, shows a not-too-pretty nude equestrian on one side along with the date and the legend PRO BONO PUBLICO, a wording with a double meaning on this piece.
With small change in short supply, private mints struck hundreds of trade tokens, often with imaginative designs, to meet the English public’s need. The legend PRO BONO PUBLICO appears on many Condor tokens, meaning that they were struck for the public good. Lady Godiva’s ride, too, was for the public good.
The other side of the Godiva token shows Coventry’s symbol – an elephant with a castle turret in place of a saddle – and the legend COVENTRY HALFPENNY. The edge says where it was payable and by whom.
Circulated examples are common and generally sell for $50 or less.
The public grew tired of the collectible tokens in 1795 as supply exceeded demand. The need for the unofficial coinage ended in 1797 when Great Britain started striking copper half pennies and pennies.
The token series takes its name from James Condor (1761–1823) who cataloged the pieces in his 1798 book, An arrangement of Provincial Coins, tokens, and medalets issued in Great Britain, Ireland, and the colonies, within the last twenty years, from the farthing to the penny size.
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