Front Matter Early Times The Druids The Britons Caesar in Britain Queen Boadicea The Great Walls The Great Irish Saint The Anglo-Saxons Brave King Arthur The Laws of the Saxons The Story of St Augustine Three Great Men The Danish Pirates King Alfred and the Cakes Alfred conquers the Danes A King's Narrow Escape The King and the Outlaw The Monasteries An Unlucky Couple St Dunstan King Canute and the Waves A Saxon Nobleman Lady Godiva's Ride The Battle of Hastings The Conquest Lords and Vassals Death of William The Brothers' Quarrels Arms and Armour The "White Ship" Matilda's Narrow Escapes Story of Fair Rosamond Thomas a Becket Murder of Thomas a Becket Richard's Adventures Richard and the Saracens The Faithful Minstrel Death of Richard The Murder of Arthur The Great Charter The Rule of Henry III A Race Persecution of the Jews The Conquest of Wales A Quarrel with France The Coronation Stone The Insolent Favourite Bruce and the Spider Death of Edward II The Murderers punished The Battle of Crecy The Siege of Calais The Age of Chivalry The Battle of Poitiers The Peasants' Revolt Richard's Presence of Mind A Tiny Queen Henry's Troubles Madcap Harry A Glorious Reign The Maid of Orleans The War of the Roses The Queen and the Brigand The Triumph of the Yorks The Princes in the Tower Richard's Punishment Two Pretenders A Grasping King Field of the Cloth of Gold The New Opinions Death of Wolsey Henry's Wives The King and the Painter A Boy King Lady Jane Grey The Death of Cranmer A Clever Queen Elizabeth's Lovers Mary, Queen of Scots Captivity of Mary Stuart Wreck of the Spanish Armada The Elizabethan Age Death of Elizabeth A Scotch King The Gunpowder Plot Sir Walter Raleigh King and Parliament Cavaliers and Roundheads "Remember" The Royal Oak The Commonwealth The Restoration Plague and Fire The Merry Monarch James driven out of England A Terrible Massacre William's Wars The Duke of Marlborough The Taking of Gibraltar The South Sea Bubble Bonny Prince Charlie Black Hole of Calcutta Loss of the Colonies The Battle of the Nile Nelson's Last Signal The Battle of Waterloo First Gentleman of Europe Childhood of Queen Victoria The Queen's Marriage Wars in Victoria's Reign The Jubilee

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

Lady Godiva's Ride

Before we go on to the conquest of England by the Normans, you will like to hear the stories of two events which have become very famous because two great English poets, Tennyson and Shakespeare, have used them as the subjects of a beautiful poem and a fine tragedy.

In the middle of the eleventh century, many of the English towns and villages were under the rule of harsh Saxon noblemen. One of these noblemen was Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry. He was so anxious to get richer that he once imposed a heavy tax upon the inhabitants of Coventry.

Lady Godiva.


When the people heard of this, they were in despair, for it was impossible to pay it and have enough money left to buy food. As they knew it was useless to appeal to the hard-hearted earl, they went to his wife, the beautiful Lady Godiva, and implored her to help them, or they and their children would starve.

Lady Godiva was as good as she was beautiful, and although she was afraid of her cruel husband, she went to him, begged him not to tax the people, and promised to do anything he wished, if he would only spare them.

"Very well, then," cried the brutal earl; "ride through the town at noonday, naked, and the people shall not be taxed."

When Lady Godiva heard this, she shrank with horror; for she knew her husband would tax the people unless she rode naked through the town. But although she was as modest as beautiful, and would rather have died than do an unwomanly thing, she made up her mind to go through this frightful ordeal rather than see the people starve.

By her orders, a herald rode through the town, telling the people what the earl had said, and bidding them all stay in their houses, with closed doors and windows, and not glance out until it was twelve o'clock, and Lady Godiva had passed by. These orders were obeyed, and when the trembling Godiva stole out of her room, clad only in her long hair, which rippled down to her knees, no one was to be seen. She mounted her horse, rode all through the town, and back; and because she had done this, her husband did not tax the people, who were grateful to her as long as she lived.

We are told that there was only one man in the city who was mean enough to try to peep at Lady Godiva as she rode by. This man, who was a tailor, and who has ever since been known as Peeping Tom of Coventry, was severely punished, however; for before he had caught a glimpse of Godiva, he was stricken blind.

The second story is not so pleasant. During the reign of Edward the Confessor, Duncan was King of Scotland. Among his followers there was a nobleman named Macbeth. He was a very ambitious man, and, advised by his wife, he murdered the Scotch king one night when the monarch was sleeping in his house. Duncan dead, and his sons having fled to England, Macbeth became king in his turn, and reigned over Scotland seventeen years.

But he never enjoyed the crown, and he and his wife were haunted by remorse night and day. An old prophecy had made Macbeth believe he would rule for ever, for it said he would be king until "Birnam woods came to Dunsinane." But one day when Macbeth was in Dunsinane Castle, one of his servants cried out that the forest was coming. Macbeth rushed to the window in time to see that a large army had come to attack him, and that each soldier carried a leafy bough which he had cut in passing through Birnam woods. The prophecy had come true, for Birnam woods had come to Dunsinane, and though Macbeth fought bravely, he was slain by Duncan's sons.

The poet Shakespeare has written a grand tragedy about this story of Macbeth. The play is one of the greatest treasures of English literature, and when you are older you will read it over and over again with ever new delight.