Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lady Godiva: The Naked Truth

Lady Godiva
by Adam van NoortHerbert
A detail (inset) of this 1586 painting may
show Leofric checking his wife’s
progress. Later viewers may
have taken him for Peeping Tom.
STAGGERING beneath the yoke of oppressive taxes, the medieval residents of Coventry, England, pleaded in vain for relief. Ironically, deliverance would come from the wife of the very lord who scorned their pleas. Lady Godiva repeatedly urged her husband, Leofric, to lessen the people’s tax burden, and time and again he refused. Yet she persisted, and one day in exasperation he told her he would lower taxes when she rode a horse, naked, through the streets of the town at midday. When she took him at his word and set out on her famous ride, the highborn Lady Godiva became an instant heroine to the common people of Coventry.

A fascinating piece of history. But as it happens, most medieval scholars agree the ride never took place. Professor of English and American literature and language Daniel Donoghue examines the origins and cultural significance of the myth in Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend (Blackwell), and offers insights into how that myth has evolved over the centuries. “The story,” he notes, “was based on the life of Godifu, a real woman who lived in Coventry in the latter part of the eleventh century and was married to one of the most powerful men in England."

Contemporary historians did not consider Godifu particularly noteworthy; what little was written about her at the time mentioned her merely as the wife of a famous man. But Donoghue points out that “two centuries after her death, chroniclers in the Benedictine abbey of St. Albans inserted a fully developed narrative into their Latin histories” and the legend of Lady Godiva was born. “Nobody knows quite why the legend was invented and attached to her name,” he says, “but it does seem to function as a kind of myth of origin for the town of Coventry. At the end, Count Leofric seals the agreement about taxes with his own seal."

One of the myth’s most interesting subplots involves the role of “Peeping Tom,” who doesn’t even appear in the story until the seventeenth century. According to legend, the people of Coventry, as a gesture of respect and appreciation for Lady Godiva’s actions on their behalf, stayed indoors behind shuttered windows to preserve her modesty as she passed. Everyone, that is, except Tom, whose lustful curiosity compelled him to gaze at her and who was then, according to various versions of the legend, struck either blind or dead in punishment.

“Over time, Tom would become the scapegoat and bear the symbolic guilt for people’s desire to look at this naked woman,” says Donoghue. Tom would also become a compelling figure for artists and authors. In A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27), Daniel Defoe visited Coventry and spoke of “the poor fellow that peep’d out of the window to see her…looking out of a Garret in the High Street of the City.” Tennyson’s “Godiva” was a poem that, more than any other literary or historical work of its time, created a standard—and highly romanticized—version of the legend for the Victorian era. In the poem, Tom was blinded: “…but his eyes, before they had their will,/Were shrivell’d into darkness in his head,/And dropt before him. So the Powers, who wait/On noble deeds, cancell’d a sense misused;/And she, that knew not, pass’d…."

Given the sexual tension that the appearance of Tom creates between the observer and the observed, the prurient and the chaste, the punished and the rewarded, Donoghue writes, “Their pairing anticipates Sigmund Freud’s clinical definitions of scopophilia and exhibitionism in terms of one another so well that he almost seems to have Peeping Tom in mind for the former and Lady Godiva for the latter. Only in recent years has Peeping Tom become extricated from the Godiva legend to the extent that it is possible to mention one without calling to mind the other.”

The Godiva myth is filled with contradictions. The lady is obedient to her husband, yet boldly challenges his position on taxes. She rides naked through the streets of the city, yet remains chaste. She is a member of the ruling class who nonetheless sympathizes with the plight of ordinary people. Like other myths, this one offers ways to resolve—symbolically, at least—such conflicting social and sexual dynamics. Myths have also traditionally done what Donoghue describes as the “cultural work” of passing down history, tradition, and shared values. Now movies and television have essentially taken over that role from written and spoken tales. “One reason I decided to write this book was that the legend is dying out,” says Donoghue. “ Our children know about Godiva Chocolates, and they may have a visual image of a naked woman on a horse, but really know nothing about the story.”

By Charles Coe
July-August 2003 
Found at

Monday, June 23, 2014

Penelope Barker (1728-1796)

"We, the aforesaid Lady's will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed." ~Penelope Barker

 Penelope Barker is famous for hosting the Edenton Tea Party in Edenton, North Carolina, to protest unfair British taxes in 1774.

Born in North Carolina in 1728, she married John Hodgson at a young age. By age nineteen, she was widowed with two children of her own and raised three more from her husband’s previous marriage. She remarried a wealthy planter named James Craven. He died when she was twenty-seven years old and, as he had no other heirs, she inherited all of his estate and became the richest woman in North Carolina. She remarried again to Thomas Barker, who frequently traveled to England on business. While he was away, she managed their estates. She also bore three more children. 

Tired of the British taxing the colonists while not letting them have a say in the government (“taxation without representation”), Penelope wrote a public statement in which she endorsed a boycott of tea and other British products, such as cloth. Ten months after the famous Boston Tea Party organized by men, Barker led a “Tea Party” on October 25, 1774, in the Edenton Home of Elizabeth King. She and 50 other women signed the protest statement. At the meeting, Penelope said:

“Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.”

Part of the declaration stated, “We, the aforesaid Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed."

A British cartoon satirizing the
Edenton Tea Party Participants
Penelope sent the proclamation to a London newspaper, confident the women’s stance would cause a stir in England. British journalists and cartoonists depicted the women in a negative light, as bad mothers and loose women, and did not take them seriously. However, the Patriots in America praised the women for their stance. Women all over the colonies followed Penelope's lead and began boycotting British goods. She died in 1796.

Signers of the Declaration: 

Abagail Charlton, Mary Blount, 
F. Johnstone,
Elizabeth Creacy, Margaret Cathcart,
Elizabeth Patterson, Anne Johnstone, Jane Wellwood,
Margaret Pearson, Mary Woolard, Penelope Dawson,
Sarah Beasley, Jean Blair, Susannah Vail,
Grace Clayton, Elizabeth Vail, Frances Hall,
Elizabeth Vail, Mary Jones, Mary Creacy,
Anne Hall, Mary Creacy, Rebecca Bondfield,
Ruth Benbury, Sarah Littlejohn, Sarah Howcott,
Penelope Barker, Sarah Hoskins, Elizabeth P. Ormond,
Mary Littledle, M. Payne, Sarah Valentine,
Elizabeth Johnston, Elizabeth Crickett, Mary Bonner,
Elizabeth Green, Lydia Bonner, Mary Ramsay,
Sarah Howe, Anne Horniblow, Lydia Bennet,
Mary Hunter, Marion Wells, Tresia Cunningham,
Anne Anderson, Elizabeth Roberts, Sarah Mathews,
Elizabeth Roberts, Anne Haughton, Elizabeth Roberts, Elizabeth Beasly

Boston Coffee Party

In this excerpt from a 1777 letter, Abigail Adams describes for her husband, John Adams, how a group of women nearly rioted when they learned that a merchant tried to profit from the scarcity of goods during the trade embargo with England. Passive resistance became increasingly effective as the women colonists enacted boycotts of British goods.

Although tea was a very popular beverage in the colonies, as in England, America changed from a tea-drinking to a coffee-drinking nation in opposition to the tax on it. Women of the Revolutionary era refused to serve tea to their families or friends, usually substituting coffee, imported with no assistance or tax from England.

July 31 [1777]

"I have nothing new to entertain you with, unless it is an account of a New Set of Mobility which have lately taken the Lead in B[osto]n. You must know that there is a great Scarcity of Sugar and Coffe, articles which the Female part of the State are very loth to give up, especially whilst they consider the Scarcity occasiond by the merchants having secreted a large Quantity. There has been much rout and Noise in the Town for several weeks. Some Stores had been opend by a number of people and the Coffe and Sugar carried into the Market and dealt out by pounds. It was rumourd that an eminent, wealthy, stingy Merchant (who is a Batchelor) had a Hogshead of Coffe in his Store which he refused to sell to the committee under 6 shillings per pound. A Number of Females some say a hundred, some say more assembled with a cart and trucks, marchd down to the Ware House and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver, upon which one of them seazd him by his Neck and tossd him into the cart. Upon his finding no Quarter he deliverd the keys, when they tipd up the cart and dischargd him, then opend the Warehouse, Hoisted out the Coffe themselves, put it into the trucks and drove off. It was reported that he had a Spanking among them, but this I believe was not true. A large concourse of Men stood amazd silent Spectators of the whole transaction."

Source: Adams, Charles Francis, ed. Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams During the Revolution (1876). Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mary Dyer (c. 1611-1660)

"Nay, I came to keep bloodguiltiness from you, desireing you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law made against the innocent servants of the Lord. Nay, man, I am not now to repent." ~Mary Dyer's last words

Mary (Marie) Barrett was was born c. 1611. She married William Dyer, a fishmonger, milliner and Puritan, in London on 27 Oct 1633. She gave birth to eight children, two of whom died in infancy.

In late 1634 or early 1635, the Dyers emigrated to Massachusetts, where William took the Oath of a Freeman. They were admitted to the Boston Church on 13 Dec 1635. In 1637, they became open supporters of Anne Hutchinson during the antinomian heresy period.

Mary gave birth on 11 Oct 1637, to a deformed stillborn baby, who was buried privately. After Hutchinson was tried and the Hutchinsons and Dyers banished from Massachusetts in January 1637, the authorities learned of the "monstrous birth", and Governor John Winthrop had the baby's corpse exhumed in March 1638, before a large crowd. He described it thus:

"It was of ordinary bigness; it had a face, but no head, and the ears stood upon the shoulders and were like an ape's; it had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard and sharp; two of them were above one inch long, the other two shorter; the eyes standing out, and the mouth also; the nose hooked upward; all over the breast and back full of sharp pricks and scales, like a thornback [i.e., a skate or ray], the navel and all the belly, with the distinction of the sex, were where the back should be, and the back and hips before, where the belly should have been; behind, between the shoulders, it had two mouths, and in each of them a piece of red flesh sticking out; it had arms and legs as other children; but, instead of toes, it had on each foot three claws, like a young fowl, with sharp talons."

Winthrop sent descriptions to numerous correspondents, and accounts were published in England in 1642 and 1644. The deformed birth was considered evidence of the heresies and errors of antinomianism.

In 1638, the Dyers were banished from the colony, and followed Hutchinson to Rhode Island. On the advice of Roger Williams, the group moved to Portsmouth, where William Dyer signed the Portsmouth Compact in March 1638 along with 18 other men. The Dyers ultimately settled in Newport, where by 1640, William had acquired 87 acres of land. He flourished in Rhode Island, serving as Secretary for the towns of Portsmouth and Newport from 1640 to 1647, General Recorder, and ultimately Attorney General from 1650 to 1653.

Mary was dissatisfied with Rhode Island life, and traveled alone to England in 1650, where she joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) after hearing the preaching of its founder, George Fox. She eventually became a Quaker preacher in her own right.

William briefly joined her but returned alone to Rhode Island in 1652; Mary remained in England another five years. Her 1657 return to New England was ill-timed; John Endicott had succeeded Winthrop as Governor in 1649, and was far more intolerant of religious dissension. When Mary's ship landed in Boston, she was immediately arrested. Her husband secured her release nearly three months later, on account of his prominent social status in Rhode Island, on the condition that William "give his honor" that Mary would never return to Massachusetts.

Mary continued to travel in New England to preach Quakerism, and was arrested in 1658 and expelled from New Haven, CT for preaching "inner light" and the notion that women and men stood on equal ground in church worship and organization. After her release, she illegally returned to Massachusetts to visit two imprisoned English Quakers, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson. When she traveled to Massachusetts a third time with a group of Quakers to publicly defy the law, she was arrested and sentenced to death. After a short trial, two other Quakers were hanged, but Dyer was spared at the last minute because her son interceded on her behalf against her wishes.

She was forced to return to Rhode Island, and traveled to Long Island, NY, to preach, but her conscience led her to return to Massachusetts in April 1660 to "desire the repeal of that wicked [anti-Quaker] law against God's people and offer up her life there." Despite her husband's and family's pleas, she refused to repent, and was again convicted and sentenced to death on June 1.

The next day, as she was escorted to the gallows by Captain John Evered of the Boston military company, Evered said to her "...that she had, previously been found guilty of the same charge, and been banished, that she now had one last chance to repent and be banished again." Dyer refused and was then hanged.

After her death a member of the General Court, Humphrey Atherton, is reputed to have said, "She did hang as a flag for others to take example by." 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643)

"One may preach a covenant of grace more clearly than another... But when they preach a covenant of works for salvation, that is not the truth." ~Anne Hutchinson

Anne Marbury Hutchinson, daughter of Anglican minister Francis Marbury, was baptized 20 Jul 1591 in Alford, Lincolnshire, England. She lived in London as a young adult and married there an old friend from home, William Hutchinson. The couple moved back to Alford, where they began following the dynamic preacher named John Cotton in the nearby major port of Boston, Lincolnshire.

After Cotton was compelled to emigrate in 1633, the Hutchinsons followed a year later with their 11 children, and soon became well established in the growing settlement of Boston where William built a house directly across the street from the renowned and respected three-time governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop.

Forthcoming with her personal religious understandings, Anne was soon holding meetings in her home to discuss John Cotton's sermons. Soon the meetings were attracting up to 60 people -- men and women. For a woman to engage theological discussions posed a subtle challenge to the patriarchy that governed the Bay Colony. From across the street, John Winthrop characterized Hutchinson as "a woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit and active spirit, and a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man."

She gave Winthrop ample reason to worry. In the fall of 1636, Anne accused Puritan ministers of making salvation dependent on an individual's good works rather than on divine grace, which was contrary to Puritan teaching. The ministers denied this charge, arguing that good works are evidence of conversion and salvation, not the grounds of salvation. They argued that they were therefore not teaching a Covenant of Works.

Anne persisted, arguing that assurance of salvation came from a mystical experience of grace, "an inward conviction of the coming of the Spirit." She believed that by teaching that good works were evidence of true conversion and salvation, ministers were still preaching a Covenant of Works rather than a Covenant of Grace. She went further, claiming that God had communicated to her by direct revelations and declaring that she was capable of interpreting the Scriptures on her own.

Her charges constituted a frontal attack on the spiritual authority of both the church and society. For Puritans, the ultimate source of authority was the Bible as it was interpreted by duly authorized ministers. Anne's claim that she possessed the authority to interpret the Bible challenged this basic principle. Even more galling was her claim that she received immediate revelations from God. Her challenge to official doctrine threatened to tear the Massachusetts Bay Colony apart.

In November 1637, Anne was brought before the General Court, the colony's principal governing body, on charges of sedition. Winthrop questioned her closely, but she eluded his grasp. The court adjourned.

The following day she changed her position and freely acknowledged that God spoke to her directly. This claim constituted blasphemy. Now the court had grounds to punish her. The assembly voted and handed down its judgment: banishment.

Anne and William found refuge in Roger Williams' colony in Providence, RI to which they were followed by thirty-five families. Then she went to the shores of Long Island, where Indians who had been defrauded of their land thought she was one of their enemies; they killed her and her family.

Twenty years later, the one person back in Massachusetts Bay who had spoken up for her during her trial, Mary Dyer, was hanged by the government of the colony, along with two other Quakers, for "rebellion, sedition and presumptuous obtruding themselves."

Anne's experience speaks to a persistent question: What is the source of religious authority? Is it the individual or the community? Who decides? How much dissent can a religious community tolerate? What are the limits, if any?

(Ref. (See also the Antinomian Controversy.)