LEofricus, that Noble Earle
Of Chester, as I reade,
Did for the City of Couentry,
Many a noble deed.
Great priuiledges for the towne.
This Nobleman did get,
And of all things did make it so,
That they tole-free did sit:
Saue onley that for horses still,
They did some custome pay,
Which was great charges to the towne,
Full long and many a day.
Wherefore his wife, Godiva faire,
Did of the Earl request,
That therefore he would make it free,
As well as all the rest.
So when the Lady long had sued,
Her purpose to obtaine:
Her Noble Lord at length she tooke,
Within a pleasant vaine,
And vnto him with smiling cheare,
She did forthwith proceed,
Entreating greatly that he would
Performe that goodly deed.
You moue me much, faire Dame (quoth he)
Your suit I faine uould shunne:
But what would you performe and do,
To haue this matter done?
Why any thing, my Lord (quoth she)
You will with reason craue,
I will performe it with good will,
If I my wish may haue.
If thou wilt grant one thing (said he)
Which I shall now require,
So soone as it is finished,
Thou shalt haue thy desire.
Command what you thinke good, my Lord,
I will thereto agree:
On this condition that this Towne
For euer may be free.
If thou wilt thy cloaths strip off,
And here wilt lay them downe,
And at noone day on horsebacke ride
Starke naked thorow the Towne,
They shall be free for euermore:
If thou wilt not do so,
More liberty than now they haue,
I neuer will bestow.
The lady at this strange demand,
Was much abasht in mind:
And yet for to fulfil this thing,
She neuer a whit repinde.
Wherefore to all the Officers
Of all the Towne she sent:
That they perceiuing her good will,
Which for the weale was bent,
That on the day that she should ride,
All persons thorow the Towne,
Should keepe their houses and shut their doores,
And clap their windowes downe,
So that no creature, yong or old
Should in the street be seene:
Till she had ridden all about,
Throughout the City cleane.
And when the day of riding came,
No person did her see,
Sauing her Lord: after which time,
The towne was euer free.
This ballad (Full title: How Couentry was made free by Godiva, Countesse of Chester.) is part of The Garland of Good Will, probably first printed 1592 (see the notes at the link) and several times in the 17th century.