I'm delighted to welcome back Nicole Galland (author of I, Iago and The Fool's Tale; among others), whose latest novel GODIVA offers us a fascinating, unique look at the infamous nude rider. According to legend, Lady Godiva lifted the unfair taxation of her people by her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, by riding through the streets of Coventry wearing only a smile. It's a story that has endured for nearly a thousand years. But what would drive a lady of the court to take off everything and risk her reputation, her wardrobe, even her life—all for a few peasants' pennies? In this daringly original, charmingly twisted take on an oft-imagined tale, Nicole exposes a provocative view of Countess Godiva and her ride into infamy, turning the legend into an unexpected adventure of romance, deceit, and intrigue.
Please join me in welcoming Nicole Galland.
Godiva: The Naked Truth
When I first encountered Godiva, the countess of Mercia, I thought she should merely play a cameo in a novel I was already working on. But I diligently research even my minor characters, and when I submerged myself in Godivation, I realized she deserved her own novel.
I was captivated by the discrepancy between real history and the “Godiva legend.” Briefly, the latter goes like this: Earl Leofric of Mercia mercilessly taxed the people of Coventry, ignoring his wife’s pleas to give them tax relief – until he declared if she rode naked through the streets of Coventry, he would lighten the tax. Astonished, she did it, and Leofric, indeed, lowered the tax.
Besides the obvious dozen question this anecdote raises (why would an earl encourage his wife to do something so random? and so humiliating? and then reward her for it? to his own detriment?)… this story, upon examination, falls apart for a simple fact in British history: Godiva owned Coventry, and under Anglo-Saxon law, she was the only person who could tax it. Under Norman rule, when the story was first written down nearly 200 years later, then yes, the Coventrians would have been taxed by Leofric. But before the Norman Invasion, things didn’t work like that.
Maybe this means Godiva never made the ride at all. But why would such a specific, well-developed (and bizarre) story – filled with everything from domestic sarcasm to Christian piety – spontaneously pop into being so many decades after the fact? As with most legends, it may have been based on something that really happened, but which over time was skewed and misinterpreted so that it became a tale tailored to a particular audience.
So I decided to do the same. With history to bolster my own take on the legend – namely the existence of the heregeld, a detested national tax that was used solely to fund the king’s private military – I decided to tell the story so that it would speak to a modern audience, in an age of military strife, tax dissension and arguments about the role of government… but also an age of strong, liberated women who are celebrated, not punished, for demonstrating they are forces to be reckoned with. I’ve enjoyed the double challenging of bringing Godiva into the 21st century while rooting her accurately (at last) in the 11th. She’s leapt the millennium surprisingly well – without even using a saddle.