Godiva is the Latin form of Godgifu. Women’s names in Old English do not end in A in the nominative. That simple act of renaming, which ignores cultural and linguistic conventions, is the real clue to the process by which an historical character came to be associated with something that probably never happened.
Godgiefu, or Godgifu, God’s gift, did exist and she did play an important role in the development of Coventry and late Anglo-Saxon England. She was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia.
Not much is known about her except her connection to Coventry and the fact that by 1067 she was one of the wealthiest women in England.
She and her husband founded, or reestablished, a religious institution where Coventry now is, in about 1043, dedicating it to St Mary, St Osberg and All Saints.
There had already been a convent there which had been sacked by the Danes in or about 1016. Its Abbess, Osberg, had been martyred. Little is known about the early foundation or its abbess, except that she died and courtesy of Godiva and Leofric her head ended up on the alter in a jewel spangled box.
The couple were noted benefactors, and amongst the things that they were supposed to have donated to their new establishment was a reliquary holding the arm of Saint Augustine of Hippo.
Stumbling over such little gems of information is what makes doing research for a project like Lady Godiva and me so enthralling. But while it sent me spinning off on a productive sidetrack for now the digressions can wait.
Although her dates are sketchy, she outlived Leofric.
Before he died there is some evidence that that Coventry may have become their chief residence if not their permanent home.
Their granddaughter was twice a Queen. First of Wales, then married to the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, probably in a move designed to appease her bothers, whose activities in 1066 probably didn’t make Grandma proud. She was alive after the conquest, recorded as one of the richest women in England, and was buried by Leofric’s side in Coventry.
And the ride?
Remember that mistranslation.