Nothing is harder to direct than a man in prosperity; nothing more easily managed than one is adversity. — Plutarch

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.


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
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