Lady Godiva in popular culture

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry, in England, covering herself only with her long hair, in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants. Because of the growth of the legend, Lady Godiva has since entered popular culture in a number of countries.


Classical music and opera


The Godiva Procession, a commemoration of the legendary ride, was instituted on 31 May 1678 as part of Coventry fair and was celebrated up to the 1960s. The part of Lady Godiva was usually played by a scantily clad actress or dancer, and the occasion often attracted controversy. For instance, in 1854, the Bishop of Worcester protested against "a Birmingham whore being paraded through the streets as Lady Godiva." These annual processions were enlivened by constant rumours, beforehand, that the girl playing the part of Lady Godiva would actually appear nude, like the original. These hopes were eventually realised in a play staged in 1974, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, entitled The Only True Story of Lady Godiva, in which Lady Godiva appeared naked, riding a motor bike.[4] The celebration has been revived as part of the Godiva Festival.

The wooden effigy of Peeping Tom which, from 1812 until World War II looked out on the world from a hotel at the northwest corner of Hertford Street, Coventry, can now be found in Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre. It represents a man in armour and was probably an image of Saint George. Nearby, in the 1950s rebuilt Broadgate, an animated Peeping Tom watches over Lady Godiva as she makes her hourly ride around the Godiva Clock.[5]

From the mid-1980s a Coventry resident, Pru Porretta, has adopted a Lady Godiva role to promote community events and good works in the city. In 1999 Coventry councillors considered eliminating Godiva from the city's public identity.[6] As of 2005, Porretta retains the status of Coventry's unofficial ambassador. Each September Poretta marks the occasion of Lady Godiva's birthday by leading a local pageant focusing on world peace and unity known as The Godiva Sisters. In August 2007, the Godiva Sisters was performed in front of 900 delegates from 69 countries attending the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children Biennial Conference held at the University of Warwick. In the New Year Honours 2010 Porretta was appointed a Member of the Order of The British Empire for services to the city of Coventry community and tourism services.[7]

The image of Lady Godiva on horseback is also the corporate symbol of the Coventry Building Society, appearing on letterheads, statements, passbooks and other documents.

In 2010 an arts project, "Godiva Awakes", involving a 10 metre tall puppet-version of Lady Godiva, powered by 50 bicycles, leading a procession from Coventry to London, was proposed by the independent company Imagineer productions (best known locally for reviving the Coventry Mystery Plays and reimagining the Coventry Carnival as the Godiva Festival).[8] This proposal went on to become the regional winner and will be realised as part of the Arts Council's 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Engineering mascot

In some university engineering faculties, military engineering corps and other engineering organisations, Lady Godiva is regarded as a mascot and called the "Patron Saint of Engineers" or "Goddess of Engineering." The origin is unclear, although it probably developed in Britain, where several early engineering schools were founded during the industrial revolution. The practice migrated to North America through Canadian schools, such as the University of Toronto and McMaster University, which today hold an annual "Godiva Week" in January consisting of events intended to engender school spirit. By the mid-20th century, the practice of engineering organizations associating themselves with Lady Godiva was well established in the United States.

A particular tradition associated with this is that of drinking songs, which make reference to Lady Godiva, particularly Godiva's Hymn.

Historically, certain college organisations staged an annual "Godiva Ride" in which a naked female (or a costumed male) rode a horse across campus.[9] This practice may have declined with the advent of modern feminist attitudes.[10]


  • Lady Godiva (1911), the first film telling of the story starring Julia Swayne Gordon and produced by the Vitagraph company.
  • Lady Godiva (1928), a British silent short with Gladys Jennings in the title role.
  • Cavalcade (1933). When Cook (Beryl Mercer) asks Alfred Bridges (Herbert Mundin) to give her his opinion about the special clothes she has put on for New Year's Eve, he jokes twice that she reminds him of Lady Godiva.
  • The Ghost Talks (1949), a short film featuring the Three Stooges in a slapstick send-up of the Lady Godiva legend. The film changes key elements of the legend, eliminating Tom's blindness as his penalty and inventing a relationship between the tailor and the Lady. After an encounter between the Stooges and a haunted, empty suit of armour occupied by the spirit of Peeping Tom, the Stooges act out the ghost's narrative of the events of the famous day in costumes based on the clothing of a period many years later than the life of the historic Godiva.
  • Lady Godiva Rides Again (1950) British film with Diana Dors and Pauline Stroud.
  • Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955) starring Irish actress Maureen O'Hara in the title role.[11]
  • Young Guns II (1990). As the town's advocates for "decency" set fire to the local brothel, the madam strips off her clothes, sets loose her long red hair and leisurely rides off the town on horseback, middle of loud protests, insults and catcalls.
  • The Mask (1994) - When in the Bank talking to Stanley (Jim Carrey), Tina (Cameron Diaz) starts talking about Stanley's tie:
TINA: "As I was saying about that tie. It's like one of those, what do you call them, ink blot tests."
STANLEY: "A Rorschach test."
TINA: "That's it. It looks like... um. A young woman riding bareback. You know, like a Lady Godiva or something."


  • "Godiva" (1842), a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
  • Hereward the Wake (1866), a novel by Charles Kingsley, features Lady Godiva as a character.
  • Women in Love (1916), a novel by D. H. Lawrence features a sculpture entitled Lady Godiva; a character refers the name to "the middle-aged wife of some Earl or other, who covered herself with her long hair," and is mocked.
  • Guli ("The Heart"), a poem by Galaktion Tabidze, includes a mention of Lady Godiva.[12]
  • "Boston" (1928) a novel by Upton Sinclair, references Lady Godiva on page 652.
  • The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family (1939), a short illustrated novel by Dr. Seuss.
  • Kaputt (1944), a novel by Curzio Malaparte, includes a mention of Lady Godiva.
  • "Ariel" (1965), a poem by Sylvia Plath, includes a mention of Lady Godiva.
  • "Peeping Tommy" (1965), a short story by Robert F. Young deals with a time traveler named Tom Taylor who travels back to witness the ride and inadvertently becomes the Peeping Tom.
  • "Nicotine," a poem by Ezra Pound, mentions Lady Godiva.
  • Amentu (1974), a poem by Ismet Ozel
  • King Hereafter (1982), a novel by Dorothy Dunnett, features Lady Godiva as a character.
  • Inshalla (1992), a novel by Oriana Fallaci, has a small subplot centred on the purchase of a sex doll called Lady Godiva.
  • "Superman/Batman #20" (2005) has a villain named Godiva whose nudity is covered only by her long hair.
  • "Godiva" (2008), a historical novel by Nerys Jones, who died while the book was in press, relates the tumultuous events of 1042 culminating in the events of the legend and features Lady Godiva as the heroine.
  • "Naked" (2008), a short story by Louise Hawes, part of her book of retold fairytales; "Black Pearls, A Faerie Strand."
  • "No Lady Godiva", poem by Charles Bukowski
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's novel, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, a group of major characters have time-traveled to the Battle of Britain, with part of the group having traveled to Godiva's time period. However, a mention is made in dialogue that they will not be adding a sight-seeing stop to witness Godiva's ride. Most covers of this novel also show protagonist Maureen nude, with her hair protecting modesty in a manner common to representations of Godiva.


Several popular songs make contemporary usage of the Lady Godiva image. These include:


  • "And Then There's Maude," the theme song to the 1972-1978 series Maude, written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Dave Grusin, and performed by Donny Hathaway, opens with the lines, "Lady Godiva was a freedom rider; she didn't care if the whole world looked."
  • In the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "Private Plane," Captain Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) describes the Royal Flying Corps as "the biggest show-offs since Lady Godiva entered the royal enclosure at Ascot claiming she had literally nothing to wear."
  • In the Charmed episode "The Bare Witch Project," a student at Magic School accidentally conjures Lady Godiva and Lord Dyson out of a history book. Later, Phoebe, inspired by Lady Godiva, decides to ride naked on horseback—wearing only a long blonde wig—through a crowded San Francisco street in protest, passing by a coffeehouse whose owner won't allow his female guests to breastfeed while seated. Phoebe's naked protest ride results in the coffee shop owner lifting the breastfeeding ban.
  • In an episode "The Godiva Affair" of the British sitcom Dad's Army, women in the town of Walmington-on-Sea compete for the part of Lady Godiva to head a carnival procession in the town, ultimately performed by Elizabeth, the wife of Captain Mainwaring, causing him to collapse in astonishment and shame.
  • In the Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman episode "The Race" Hank, the saloon keeper, suggests that if Dr. Quinn rides like Lady Godiva in the race "folks might go for it". In other words, she would be allowed to compete in the males only horse race.
  • In the 3-hour pilot episode "Oil" from the first season of Dynasty, Blake Carrington complains that his headstrong and flirtatious daughter Fallon "thinks she's some kind of Lady Godiva."
  • In one Frasier episode, a costume party is held with the theme of characters from literature. Frasier (played by Kelsey Grammer), dressed as the Bishop of Bath from The Canterbury Tales, sees a woman in a flesh-colored bodystocking (played by Grammer's then real-life wife, Camille Donatacci), and guesses that she's Lady Godiva. She says she's Eve from the Bible, leading Frasier to say, "Now I know why it's called the Good Book!"
  • In another Frasier episode, the character of Maris was involved in an unfortunate chemical bonding incident while performing a Lady Godiva impression on a horse saddle her husband Niles Crane had bought her.
  • In the episode "Dead Uncles and Vegetables" from the second season of Gilmore Girls, the grocer Taylor Doose refers to the rejected troubador running the farmer's market as Lady Godiva because of his long hair.
  • The title of Canadian comedy-drama series Godiva's is an allusion to Lady Godiva.
  • Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling featured a character named Godiva who rode to the ring on a horse and wore a sheer bodysuit.
  • In the "Twelve Hungry Men" episode of Hancock's Half Hour, a spoof of Twelve Angry Men, Hancock demonstrates his mangled view of the Godiva legend by comparing it to the case in hand: "Take the case of Doubting Thomas who was sent to Coventry for staring through a keyhole at Lady Godiva. Can anybody prove he was looking at her? Can anybody prove it was he who shouted 'Get your hair cut!'?"
  • In a sketch in his 1984 Christmas special, Bob Hope, playing Ebeneezer Scrooge, visits a psychiatrist, played by Brooke Shields. Scrooge tells his psychiatrist, "I was very unhappy as a young man. You've heard of Lady Godiva? Well, she always rode side-saddle, and I was always on the wrong side of the street!"
  • Dorothy Reynolds portrayed Lady Godiva in the BBC TV series Hereward the Wake (1965).
  • The Histeria! episode "Tribute to Tyrants" featured a sketch about the legend of Lady Godiva, portrayed by the World's Oldest Woman.
  • Home Time, a 2009 sitcom filmed and based in the city.
  • In an episode of Jeopardy! aired in October 2007, the clue for Final Jeopardy was 'Paul III roared at him, "I have waited 30 years for your services. Now I'm Pope, can't I satisfy my desire?"' a contestant answered 'Who is Lady Godiva?'
  • Mad Men season 2 episode, the comedian Jimmy Barrett suggests that Betty Draper arrive at a party on her horse, "like Lady Godiva". In the Mad Men Season 5 episode, "The Other Woman", Peggy Olson transforms Michael Ginsberg's ad concept for Château Cheval Blanc, about a leather-jacketed bar patron in London (which the client dislikes), into a Paris-based "Lady Godiva"-like pitch (which the client likes) on the spot.
  • In the 1970s TV series Maude, the opening song, sung by Donny Hathaway, includes the lyrics, "...Lady Godiva was a freedom rider, she didn't care if the whole world looked."
  • In the Round the Twist episode "Linda Godiva," Linda helps Pete win a cross-country horse race by being invisible, she is later turned visible and is seen riding the horse naked.
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Apology," Jerry's girlfriend regularly walks around in his apartment naked, and at one point he refers to her as "Lady Godiva."
  • In an episode of Spin City, the mayor's rebellious daughter rides naked though Central Park, New York City in protest.
  • In the episode of The Suite Life on Deck, "Bermuda Triangle", Zack plans to have faces of famous European women in history on balloons including Lady Godiva.
  • In the first episode of The Vicar of Dibley, several characters reminisce about when Letitia Cropley rode through Dibley stark naked in a Lady Godiva reenactment.
  • In an episode of Time Squad Larry showed Otto videos of previous missions and in one of these missions Lady Godiva was riding her horse naked while Tuddrussel ran after her, trying to persuade her to wear some clothes.
  • In the M*A*S*H season 9 episode "Your Retention, Please", Cpl. Klinger, in a fit of regret while thinking that he has re-enlisted, rides Col. Potter's horse Sophie through the camp, dressed only in a long platinum-blonde wig.

Video games

  • In FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, commentator Andy Gray refers to a goalkeeper who is left exposed by his defenders: "Lady Godiva had more cover than he's had!"
  • The title "Lady Godiva" can be obtained in the game Warhammer Online when a player summons their mount in a capital city while not wearing any armor.

See also


  1. Edward T. James; Janet Wilson James; Paul S. Boyer; Radcliffe College (1971). "Whitney, Anne". Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press. pp. 600–601. ISBN 978-0-674-62734-5.
  2. "Whoopi Goldberg as Lady Godiva" 23 April 2010
  3. "Vítezslav Novák: Lady Godiva". Universal Edition. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  4. Roy Palmer (1976) The Folklore of Warwickshire: 138-9
  5. Coventry Now & Then: Hertford Street from Broadgate
  6. "Don't Drop Lady Godiva", Coventry & Warwickshire News, 15 November 1999
  7. "Ringmaster and rockers honoured by Queen". BBC News. 31 December 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2009. Pru Poretta, who has been Coventry's official Lady Godiva since 1982, has also been appointed MBE. ... She said she was "shocked and humbled" to receive the honour, for services to the city's community and tourism services.
  8. Artists Taking the Lead
  9. Facts, figures, myths, oddities, people, places and traditions that help define the University of Alberta, Charlene Rooke and Rick Pilger, University of Alberta New Trail Magazine, November 1998
  10. "Students scrutinize Lady Godiva ride", CBC Archives, 4 February 1990
  11. Crowther, Bosley. "Movies: About Lady Godiva". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  12. Guli ("The Heart") by Galaktion Tabidze (in Georgian) on the official website of the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia
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