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We know her name. We know of her naked ride. We don’t know her true story.
We all know the legend of Lady Godiva, who famously rode naked through the streets of Coventry, covered only by her long, flowing hair. So the story goes, she begged her husband Lord Leofric of Mercia to lift a high tax on her people, who would starve if forced to pay. Lord Leofric demanded a forfeit: that Godiva ride naked on horseback through the town. There are various endings to Godiva’s ride, that all the people of Coventry closed their doors and refused to look upon their liege lady (except for ‘peeping Tom’) and that her husband, in remorse, lifted the tax. Naked is an original version of Godiva’s tale with a twist that may be closer to the truth: by the end of his life Leofric had fallen deeply in love with Lady Godiva. A tale of legendary courage and extraordinary passion, Naked brings an epic story new voice.
We’re delighted to welcome Eliza Redgold to RHR today, to talk about her new novel, Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva
If the rider heard he made no sign. Clad in a silver helmet and armored in brown leather, he galloped under the arches, my warning ignored. His great black horse circled the courtyard, raising dust as he halted in front of the steps.
For a moment he didn’t move. Nor did I, except to tighten my fingers on the handle of my blade.
He lifted off his helmet.
A pair of piercing eyes met mine.
This is not Thurkill.
The knowledge flashed into my brain. The man in front of me was tall and strong. Many years younger than my father, perhaps thirty years of age, his face a tanned brown. His hair, tawny as an owl wing, fell to the studded collar of his armor, its leather stretched across his shoulders.
He spoke. “You are Godiva.”
Hawk high I lifted my head. “I am. Who are you? Why have you come to my lands?”
Dirt swirled in the air as his horse hoofed the ground. River deep turned his gaze as he took me in, lingering on the thick braid that fell over my shoulder to brush to my thigh.
“Well?” A flame flickered though me, hotter than fear. A flame I’d never known. “Who are you?”
# # # # # # # #
Falling in Love with Leofric
History has been hard on Lord Leofric of Mercia. In the famous story about Lady Godiva he is definitely the villain of the piece, ready to impose heavy taxes on the poor and ignobly allow his wife to carry out her daring ride.
There’s more to Leofric’s story. While writing Naked I discovered that after his marriage to Godiva, the Earl of Mercia was a changed man. Ancient records suggest Leofric and Godiva’s marriage was a strong one. Together they supported monasteries, built abbeys and churches and aided the poor. The original cathedral in Coventry was founded by Godiva and Leofric.
Far from being a villain, Leofric was a Saxon hero who fought hard against the Danish (Viking) invasion. Godiva and Leofric’s enemy in Naked, Thurkill the Tall, was a real person who took control of Mercia in a Danish attempt to quash the mighty Saxons. Yet Leofric won back his lands and became one of the first Saxon Earls of England.
Older stories about Godiva and Leofric also exist. In one version of the tale, Godiva’s ride is not a penance, but a love-chase. In the story, Leofric sets his wife a riddle to test her. She must come to him neither being clothed or unclothed, without a foot touching the ground. Cleverly, Godiva rides rather than walks and covers her naked body with her hair.
As I wrote Godiva’s story the more I became intrigued by her enigmatic husband. I certainly fell in love with Leofric. The question is: did Godiva?
Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, 14 July 2015
Time and Setting: 1023 Coventry, England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Jill
Then his reply came, soft as an assassin’s footfall.
Coventry, England 1023AD and nineteen year-old Godiva has just lost both her parents, who were ambushed on the road and killed by Danes. She inherits the estates of her Saxon father. And the responsibilities. On the heels of this tragedy, comes news that Thurkill and his band of Danes are heading to Coventry.
But before Thurkill reaches the unprepared and untrained villagers, Leofric of Mercia, renowned for his campaign against Thurkill, rides into Coventry. Joining forces with Leofric and his warriors, Godiva acknowledges that the only way to permanently defend her people and lands is to form a geo-political alliance in marriage with Leofric, to protect both Coventry and Mercia.
What an absolutely wonderful take on the legendary ride of Lady Godiva!
Though the naked ride of Lady Godiva through the streets of Coventry may be legend, Godiva and her husband, Leofric were real historical figures. What I especially enjoyed here is the author’s skill in recreating a plausible reason for her ride.
In previous years, the people of Coventry have struggled to bring in their crops, and are now facing difficult times as well as the prospect of famine. When Leofric insists that their taxes be raised, so that Coventry pays the same taxes as Mercia, Godiva stands as an advocate for her people, and tries to persuade her husband to relent.
“Is there nothing you wouldn’t do for your people?” […]
“I’ll do anything.”
In a fit of pique, Leofric then demands she take the penitent’s ride, naked through the streets of Coventry.
Written in first person from Godiva’s point-of-view, Eliza Redgold has penned a very enjoyable and well-researched historical novel of England at a time when the Danish king, Canute reigned over the Saxons. Without drowning the reader in the political details of the day, she nevertheless brings the 11th century to life, with enough descriptions of the era and setting to balance the entertaining story and delightful romance.
Some of the narrative is written in short sharp sentences, sometimes of only one or two words. Some readers may find the style offputting, but I think it was used to great effect. For me it came across in similar rhythm to a poem. And indeed this may have been deliberate, reflecting the lines of Lord Tennyson’s 1840 poem, Godiva that begin each chapter.
There is an added subplot to the tale, and Godiva’s ride, that’s revealed towards the end, that neither Godiva nor readers are privy to, since the narrative is told through Godiva’s eyes. It does come somewhat out-of-the-blue. However there are clues throughout that may be picked up by other (smarter) readers.
I enjoyed this a lot and hope to see more from Eliza Redgold. Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva is definitely recommended for readers of romantic historical fiction, and even historical romance.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ELIZA REDGOLD is based upon the old, Gaelic meaning of her name, Dr Elizabeth Reid Boyd. English folklore has it that if you help a fairy, you will be rewarded with red gold. She has presented academic papers on women and romance and is a contributor to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Romance Fiction. As a non-fiction author she is co-author of Body Talk: a Power Guide for Girls and Stay-at-Home Mothers: Dialogues and Debates. She was born in Irvine, Scotland on Marymass Day and currently lives in Australia.