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Leofric III, Earl of Mercia, and Lady Godiva

LEOFRIC III, Earl of Mercia. [CHART A22].
Leofric was the son of LEOFWINE, Ealdorman of Mercia, Ealdorman of the Hwicce (one of the peoples of Anglo-Saxon Britain. ). Leofric's elder brother Northman was killed in 1017, in the losing battles against Cnut. Apart from Northman, Leofric had at least two other brothers. Edwin was killed in battle by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1039. Godwine died some time before 1057.

The victorious Cnut divided England into four great provinces: Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria each of which he eventually placed under the control of an earl (a title new to the English, replacing the Anglo-Saxon "ealdorman"). Mercia he initially left in the hands of Eadric Streona, who had been Ealdorman of Mercia since 1007, but Eadric was killed later in the same year of 1017.

Mercia may have been given to Leofric immediately after that. He had certainly become Earl of Mercia by the 1030s. This made him one of the most powerful men in the land, second only to Earl Godwin of Wessex among the mighty earls. He may have had some connection by marriage with Ælfgifu of Northampton, the first wife of Cnut. That might help to explain why he supported her son Harold Harefoot against Harthacanute, Cnut's son by Emma, when Cnut died in 1035.

However Harold died in 1040 and was succeeded by Harthacanute, who made himself unpopular with heavy taxation in his short reign. Two of his tax-collectors were killed at Worcester by angry locals. The king was so enraged by this that in 1041 he ordered Leofric and his other earls to plunder and burn the city, and lay waste the whole area. This command must have sorely tested Leofric. Worcester was the cathedral city of the Hwicce, his people.

When Harthacanute died suddenly in 1042, he was succeeded by his half-brother Edward the Confessor. Leofric loyally supported Edward when he came under threat at Gloucester from Earl Godwin in 1051. Leofric and Earl Siward of Northumbria gathered a great army to meet that of Godwin. Wise heads counselled that battle would be folly, with the flower of England on both sides. Their loss would leave England open to its enemies. So the issue was resolved by less bloody means. Earl Godwin and his family were outlawed for a time.

Earl Leofric and Godiva were noted for great generosity to religious houses. In 1043 he founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry. John of Worcester tells us that "He and his wife, the noble Countess Godgifu, a worshipper of God and devout lover of St Mary ever-virgin, built the monastery there from the foundations out of their own patrimony, and endowed it adequately with lands and made it so rich in various ornaments that in no monastery in England might be found the abundance of gold, silver, gems and precious stones that was at that time in its possession."

In the 1050s Leofric and Godiva appear jointly in the grant of land to the monastery of St Mary, Worcester, and the endowment of the minster at Stow St Mary, Lincolnshire. She and her husband are commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries at Leominster, Chester, Much Wenlock, and Evesham.

Earl Leofric's power was then at its height. But in 1055 his son Ælfgar was outlawed, "without any fault", says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. He raised an army in Ireland and Wales and brought it to Hereford, where he clashed with the army of Earl Ralph of Herefordshire and severely damaged the town. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle wryly comments "And then when they had done most harm, it was decided to reinstate Earl Ælfgar".

Leofric died "at a good old age" in 1057 at his estate at Kings Bromley in Staffordshire. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he died on 30 September, but the chronicler of Worcester gives the date as 31 August. Both agree that he was buried at Coventry.

Leofric may have married more than once. His famous wife Godiva survived him and may have been a second or later wife. Since there is some question about the date of marriage for Leofric and Godgifu, it is not clear that she was the mother of Ælfgar, Leofric's only known child. If Godiva was married to Earl Leofric only in 1040, she could not have been the mother of Ælfgar (whose own children were born in that decade or earlier). If she was married earlier (as early as 1017, as some sources claim), she could have been Ælfgar's mother.

Leofric died on (31 August)(30 September) 1057. Ælfgar succeeded Leofric as Earl of Mercia.

GODIVA. (Lady Godiva). (Godgifu). [CHART A22].
Godiva (or Godgifu) (c. 990? – September 10, 1067) was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in England in order to gain a remission of the oppressive toll imposed by her husband on his tenants. The name "peeping Tom" for a voyeur comes from later versions of this legend in which a person named Tom watched her ride and was struck blind.

Godiva was the wife of Leofric (968–1057), Earl of Mercia. Her name occurs in charters and the Domesday survey, though the spelling varies. The Anglo-Saxon name Godgifu or Godgyfu meant "gift of God"; Godiva was the Latinised version. Since the name was a popular one, there are contemporaries of the same name and care should be taken not to confuse them.

It also appears from the chronicles of Ely, Liber Eliensis (end of 12th century), that she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry. Writing in the 12th century, Roger of Wendover credits Godiva as the persuasive force behind this act. In the 1050s, her name is coupled with that of her husband on a grant of land to the monastery of St Mary, Worcester and the endowment of the minster at Stow St Mary, Lincolnshire. She and her husband are commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries at Leominster, Chester, Much Wenlock and Evesham.

Her mark, "di Ego Godiva Comitissa diu istud desideravi", appears on a charter purportedly given by Thorold of Bucknall to the Benedictine monastery of Spalding. However, this charter is considered spurious by many historians. Even so, some genealogists have argued that Thorold, who appears in the Domesday Book as sheriff of Lincolnshire, was probably her brother.

The place where Godiva was buried is a matter of debate. According to one source, she was probably buried at the Church of the Blessed Trinity at Evesham, which is no longer standing. However the novelist Octavia Randolph says that Godiva was buried next to her husband at the priory church in Coventry.

Dugdale (1656) says that a window with representations of Leofric and Godiva was placed in Trinity Church, Coventry, about the time of Richard II.

The legend

According to the popular story, the beautiful 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 remit the tolls. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would ride naked through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that all persons should keep within doors or shut their windows, she rode through, clothed only in her long hair. Only one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as Peeping Tom, disobeyed her proclamation in the first famous instance of voyeurism. In the story, Tom bores a hole in his shutters so that he might see Godiva pass, and is struck blind. In the end, Godiva's husband keeps his word and abolishes the onerous taxes.

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, who quoted from an earlier writer. The later story, with its episode of "Peeping Tom", appeared first among 17th century chroniclers.

At the time, it was customary for penitents to make a public procession in only their shift — a sleeveless white garment similar to a slip today and one which was certainly considered "underwear". Thus, scholars speculate, Godiva may have actually traveled through town as a penitent, in her shift. Godiva's story may have passed into folk history to be recorded in a romanticized version.

Another theory has it that Lady Godiva's "nakedness" may refer to her riding through the streets stripped of her jewelry, the trademark of her upper class rank.

However, there is no trace of any version of the story in sources contemporary with Godiva. Thus, it remains doubtful as to whether there is any historical basis for the famous ride.

Like the story of Peeping Tom, the claim that Godiva's long hair effectively hid her nakedness from sight is generally believed to have been a later addition (compare Rapunzel). Certain other thematic elements are familiar in myth and fable: the resistant Lord (Esther and Ahasuerus), the exacted promise, the stringent condition and the test of chastity. Even if Peeping Tom is a late addition, his being struck blind demonstrates the closely knit themes of the violated mystery and the punished intruder (compare Diana and Actaeon).

At Leofric's death in 1057, his widow lived on until after the Norman Conquest. She appears in the Domesday survey as one of the few Anglo-Saxons and the only woman to remain a major landholder after the conquest. By the time of this great survey in 1086, Godiva had died, but her former lands are listed. It appears that she died between 1066 and 1086. Some sources maintain that she died on September 10, 1067.

CHILDREN of Leofric III, Earl of Mercia, and Lady Godiva:
  1. ALFGAR III, Earl of Mercia. [CHART A22].