Bring Me The Head of Lady Godiva
“You test me, husband. But I will show my true love for you” declared Lady Godiva.
“I was joking, wife” exclaimed Earl Leofric, “I can cut the tax.”
“I must show you my proper wifely obedience” she answered. There was a mad look in her eye as she rode out naked on her favourite white mare.
Unwilling to use force – you did not publicly strike or grab a high-ranking Saxon noblewoman – Leofric ran ahead. Shouted out “my wife is mad, but I shall put out the eyes of any man who gazes upon her.”
All the men and most of the women duly turned away. Not that many had much wish to do otherwise, with this fat middle-aged and pious woman.
But then the Benedictine monks took a hand. Installed by Leofric and Godiva several years back, they showed intelligent gratitude. They chanted prayers, and threw in front of the horse a series of cups of pure water from a rain-butt. Evil could not cross running water, it was said. Or at least not easily, or in daylight.
They had it right. The ‘horse’ instantly became a centaur. A female centaur with shameless breasts displayed, and nothing to cover her immodest rear end.
Lady Godiva slid off, looking dazed. A nearby woman instantly took off her own cloak and wrapped her in it.
The centaur scowled at the monks. “I serve no devil, your Christian fantasy. I could have brought back the goddess. I almost had the key. I just had to make the proper circuit, which you block.
“Her true name is Godgyfu, ‘Gift of God’, and it is also mine. But she has forgotten what it once meant.
“She did nothing except yield to my spell. My bargain was with your little lion-lord. He offered me possession of his wife’s head, if I would make her love him and obey.
“I never promised she would do this in a sane manner.”
The creature turned to green smoke, and vanished.
No one was actually blinded. But none dared speak of these terrifying events, save a monk who wrote it down in Greek to ease his own mind. A story published long after these displaced Saxon nobles were almost forgotten.
Copyright ©Gwydion M. Williams
The real story of Godiva and her relatives would be as good as anything in Game of Thrones or The Last Kingdom. Leofic Earl of Mercia died in 1057. Their son Ælfgar Earl of Mercia was sometimes a rival to the Godwinsons. He married a sister of Edwin and Morcar, and died in 1060. Their daughter Ealdgyth – Godiva’s granddaughter – was first the wife of a Welsh king, and then of Harold Godwinson. Her probable son by Harold became an exile, and their fate is unknown. Edwin and Morcar were probably not trusted by King Harold, which may be a reason he rushed to the fatal Battle of Hastings. Both managed for a time to work with King William, but came to bad ends.
Alfred Duggan’s excellent historic novel The Cunning of the Dove assumes continuing rivalry, and presents Harold’s marriage to Ealdgyth Ælfgar’s daughter as almost a rape. I don’t think he mentions Godiva. She is listed in the Doomsday Book as one of the few surviving Saxon large landholders. But by 1086 her lands are held by others. Little more is known of her age and fate, or of her other children – she had nine.
The real Leofric and Godiva founded a Benedictine monastery in 1043. Leofric means Beloved Ruler, but could be taken as Leo for lion.
Stories about her naked ride begin in the 13th century, and are obviously fiction. The source is the Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History); two different (though related) Latin chronicles by medieval English historians. They were associated with the Abbey of St Albans.
The Wikipedia entry includes the suggestion that she rode as a penitent in just a simple white shift, equivalent to underwear. That folk stories elaborated this until it became nudity. Possible. But it may have been invented completely by a monk who was theoretically denied normal sexual outlets. Lots of them had lots of sexual guilt, and medieval pictures of hell are full of lewd unhealthy imagery.
I took the title, but nothing else, from a 1974 film called Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. And from a jest in the London magazine Time Out that did a pseudo-review called Bring Me the Head of Linda Lovelace. That was before the lady came forward with claims she had been forced into most of what she’d been famous for.