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Introduction

Deed and Medieval Map of Lands Once Belonging to Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva (Godifu, d. after 1066), Countess of Mercia is best known for her notorious ride through Coventry clad only in her long hair to protest unjust taxes levied by her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, upon his tenants. Although the ride is probably no more than legend, Godiva was an actual person, well attested in the historical record and one of the most powerful women in England in her time. She is mentioned in the Domesday survey as one of the few Anglo-Saxons and the only woman to remain a major landholder after the Norman conquest in 1066.  What is known of her property holdings suggests that her family was from north-west Mercia. Among her holdings listed in Domesday Book in 1066 is the village of Branston, now in modern Staffordshire. By 1086, the land had passed to Burton Abbey.

The Tarlton Law Library holds a small manuscript, (87 mm X 240 mm), with text in Anglo-Saxon and Latin on one side and a small map and text in Anglo-Saxon on the other. The document is a late version of one of two deeds of King Edmund I (921-946) found in the Burton Abbey Cartulary (a cartulary is a bound collection of charters) gifting Wulsie the Black (also Wulfsige) with lands including the village of Branston that Lady Godiva held in 1066. The manuscript dates from much later than the given date of 942, but it is possible that it is an extract used to resolve a property dispute between the heirs of Lady Godiva and Burton Abbey.   While the Tarlton Law Library holds numerous English manuscripts, this manuscript is one of the earliest in our collection and is of particular interest due to its connection to Lady Godiva and Burton Abbey. For more on the Tarlton's manuscript collection, see the Early Modern English Manuscript Collection.

Lady Godiva on horseback

Lady Godiva by John Collier, c. 1897, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum (public domain)

Ann Williams, ‘Godgifu (d. 1067?)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., Oct 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10873, accessed 13 Oct 2016]