The Legend of Lady Godiva and the Trade Tokens of Coventry

Possibly better known now due to her association with a brand of chocolates, the Lady Godiva in Anglo-Saxon days was a noblewoman married to Leofric, the Earl of Mercia in what is now central England. Though the legend surrounding her is viewed today rather apocryphally, it nevertheless has survived for at least seven centuries at least in part because of its risqué nature. The story dates to the 13th century, while Godiva herself (Godgifu in Old English) floruit around the time of the Norman invasion in 1066. Sympathetic toward the citizens of Coventry as a result of the burdens of taxation levied by her husband, she beseeched him repeatedly to cease with his oppressive taxes, with each entreaty being quashed. Finally, having grown weary of Godiva’s many requests, Leofric acquiesced, stating that he would grant her wish solely on the condition that she would strip naked and ride a horse through the streets of Coventry. Taking him at his word, she did just that, clad only in her long hair that, in the world of art, is often "strategically" used to cloth her. Upon her agreement to the proposal, Leofric issued a commandment that the townsfolk look away and remain indoors, lest they see his wife’s unclothed state. All but one—a man named Thomas—obeyed this order. Poor Thomas, having caught an illicit glimpse at the naked countess, was allegedly struck blind. From this tale, the notion of a "peeping Tom" originated and persists in the vernacular to this day.

The legendary "naked ride" is still celebrated widely in Coventry, with numerous references in the form of monuments, art, and a festival. An unclothed female upon a horse is even on the city’s flag and coat-of-arms. It is clear that, despite its rather dubious origin, the tale is treated as a civic badge of honor. In numismatics, this is abundantly clear, with numerous late-18th century Coventry trade tokens employing this popular iconography. On these pieces, Lady Godiva is presented riding left upon a horse, seated sidesaddle toward the viewer and modestly attempted to cover herself.

Our upcoming Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction in February will offer a charming selection of these "Lady Godiva" tokens, presenting different years, reverse types, and artistic renditions of the countess. Though it is more likely that this event did not occur, it is rather fitting that the ride—for which the alleged purpose was the lowering of taxes to aid the local economy—eventually made its way onto a form of token specie meant to alleviate the current coining shortage and facilitate the commerce of not just Coventry, but of the United Kingdom as a whole.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions (until January 21st) for our next Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction will be in February 2020. Following that, our next live public auction will be our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show in March 2020—a monumental event that will mark our tenth anniversary of auctions in Asia! If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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