Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955)
Director: Arthur Lubin.
Starring: Maureen O'Hara (Lady Godiva), George Nader (Lord Leofric), Victor McLaglen (Grimald), Rex Reason (Harold), Torin Thatcher (Lord Godwin), Eduard Franz (King Edward), Leslie Bradley (Count Eustace), Arthur Shields (Innkeeper), Robert Warwick (Humbert), Arthur Gould-Porter (Thorold), Grant Withers (Pendar), Anthony Eustrel (Prior), Kathryn Givney (Abbess), Sim Iness (Oswin), Thayer Roberts (William, Duke of Normandy).
during reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
England in the 11th century was torn by warfare between rival Saxon earls. The King is Edward the Confessor. He is half-Saxon and half-Norman. Edward would have preferred being a monk that a king, but he consented to govern.
King Edward is on a trip. His convoy has to stop for a while to get some sheep out of the road. The shepherd is very inquisitive about who is coming down the road. He asks if Lady Yolanda of Normandy is with them. She is chosen for Lord Leicester. Yes, the Lady is with them. The sister of the King rides in the coach with Yolanda.
The shepherd walks down to the coach and opens the curtains. Naturally, this shocks Yolanda. She protests, but at least he got a look at her. After the convoy goes on its way, the shepherd looks up in the crown of a large tree. Lord Leofric has been hiding up in the tree. He wanted to get a good look at the woman he is supposed to marry and he did. He says her face is a gruesome prospect for a cold night. The shepherd says the Norman woman is much too frail.
Leofric decides that he will be away from court until Yolanda and her retinue have gone. He tells the shepherd that he can get his own bride.
Leofric goes to the local pub. The pub owner tells Leofric that Godwin and his son had stopped on the way to the wedding. Leofric has a long standing feud with the Godwins. He tells the owner that if there is a bed available, prepare a room for him.
The sheriff of Lincolnshire and his men show up. He tells Leofric that King Edward commanded him to take Leofric into custody. The sheriff is a little apprehensive of trying to force Leofric to come with him. So he says: "Please do me the honor to consider yourself my prisoner."
With his consent, the sheriff puts Leofric in a dungeon cell. There are three large men already in there. They want to know why Leofric is in the dungeon. He starts to tell his story about the woman he does not want to marry. The men ask her name and suddenly from seemingly out of nowhere an attractive, red-headed woman comes out to tell Leofric: "Donít you dare tell them her name!" She thinks Leofric has had sexual relations with the woman and is now trying to ruin her reputation. She starts telling off Leofric. Lady Godiva gets so carried away that she starts pushing Leofric backwards.
Leofric tells the she-wolf to stop pushing him. He has done nothing to the woman in question. In fact, he has never been close enough to even touch her. Godiva finally realizes that he is not the cad she thinks he is.
As Leofric tells more of his story, Godiva suddenly realizes that she is speaking to Lord Leofric. She and the three giants now have to formally greet the nobleman. She is Godiva, the sister of the Sheriff of Lincolnshire. She introduces the three prisoners: Grimald, long-time friend and the leader of the gang; Oswin, Grimaldís cousin; and Pendar.
The three well-known prisoners are boozers and fighters. They tell Leofric that the three of them fought the Godwins: Godwin himself, his five sons and fifteen soldiers.
Things are so relaxed at the prison for the guys that they ask permission from Godiva to go to the local tavern. She will let them go, but she is going with them. Godiva agrees to take a walk in the garden with Leofric. Outside the couple is disturbed by the three stooges checking up on Leofric and guarding Godiva.
The kingís soldiers are coming to take Leofric. The three guys agree that they will hand Leofric over to the soldiers, but then ambush the soldiers and free Leofric. Leofricís Prior and his stewart Humbert arrive at the pub. They talk to Leofric about coming to court. Leofric says his own Prior and stewart have turned against him. The Prior says they will leave tomorrow morning after mass.
With Godiva and the three fellows Leofric complains about the frail Norman woman waiting for him at court. Godiva hears this and sets about proving to Leofric that she is very strong. She picks up a huge log and throws it on the fire. Then by herself she pulls the big oak table up closer to the fire.
Leofric and Godiva go outside. She tells him that she is not given to vapors like the frail court women. They kiss. The guys show up and Oswin knocks out Leofric. Lady Godiva is furious at the guys.
Later Leofric and Lady Godiva leave the boys behind. When inquiries are made about where Leofric is, the guys say that Leofric escaped with Godiva. But what really happened was that Leofric and Godiva got married by the Prior with Humbert as the witness.
Leofric brings his wife with him to court. He introduces Godiva as his wife. The frail Norman woman faints dead away. King Edward is mad. He speaks of how arrogantly Leofric has disobeyed his instructions. And now that he is mad, he tells everyone that from now on he will reign as the sole ruler. It will be he who will head the one and only united army. He wants all other "private" armies disbanded.
Lady Godiva is upset. She tells her husband that she shouldnít have come here. He replies that wherever he is, thatís where she should be.
The would-be marriage was arranged by Count Eustace, who has many ties to the Normans. Godwin does not like Eustace at all. He says everyday Norman power grows stronger at court. He wants to make the Saxons more united and, therefore, stronger. Godwin wants peace with Leofric. But, without even thinking about it, Leofric rejects the offer. He just doesnít trust Godwin and his sons.
Eustace is happy about the hard feelings between Leofric and Godwin. He says that with a little dissension Godwin and Leofric will destroy each other. He tells his co-conspirator that he will take Lady Yolanda back to Normandy.
Leofric decides to expand his army. In order to do so he has to raise taxes on the poor people and asks each household for a man to serve in the army. The people donít like it. Leofric oversees the archery practice of the newly recruited archers. The archers simply wonít cooperate. Their arrows never hit their targets. They always fall pitifully short.
Leofric and his wife ride through the village. She notices that the people are giving them a cold reception.
The soldiers are having a hard time getting a young man to come with them. He is accused of refusing to join the military. He is resisting being brought in and his mother is shouting not to take her son away. Leofric says that the penalty for this crime is 50 lashes and one year of extra military duty.
Lady Godiva tries to interceed with Leofric to dispense with the punishment. He gives in to her. Leofric agrees. A little later Godiva tells the mother and son that she will see to it that mother is will be looked after while her son is in the military.
Leofric tells Godiva that she is too kind to people. She says he should work with Godwin to disband both his and Godwinís armies. The two just donít agree on this. She also wants her husband to go easier on the poor people. They start arguing and Godiva decides to hide away in her bedroom until her husband changes his mind. She locks her door and Leofric is angry when he canít get in.
After awhile Leofric gets even more angry and with an axe knocks open her door. He forces her to come down to breakfast. He tells her that she must say something to him. But she resists his entreaties. He finally gives in to her. He says that he will agree to discuss with Godwin the disbanding of both armies.
Leofric is shocked when Godiva says she has already arranged a meeting with Godwin. The two men meet. The two armies will be disbanded. The disputed lands between them will go to the order of St. Benedict for the construction of convents. Godiva looks on contentedly.
Leofric and Godiva go to see King Edward. They find the King on his deathbed. Godiva is upset about the dreary bedroom. She opens all the curtains to let the sunshine in. She also tells the king that he needs some hearty food to eat and she goes to prepare the beef for him. He will also get some ale.
Godwin speaks with the more reasonable Godiva. He says that King Edward is the last of his line. If he doesnít proclaim his successor, his cousin William of Normandy has the same claim on the throne as Godwin himself has. Godwin says that his son Harold will be the heir to the English throne. Godiva tells Godwin that Leofric himself will have to decide on Harold.
King Edward has a good time with Leofric, Godiva and the three guys. He is soon feeling better. Eustace goes to pick up his wife at Dover, England.
Eustace has Norman soldiers billeted in a local village in Godwinís area. The villagers resent this a great deal and they resist with force. The soldiers massacre a good many of the villagers.
King Edward complains that the villagers rebelled against men of arms who were the Kingís soldiers. Leofric tells Edward that the Normans will use the kingís army to due Norman will. Godwin says that now he has to rearm his men for duty in the armed forces. The King is angered by this rebellious talk. He tells an aide to prepare an Edict of Banishment for the Godwins. Their estates will be confiscated and the Godwins will be exiled abroad forever.
Leofric declares for the King, which really upsets Lady Godiva. Count Eustace says that Lady Godiva intrigued together with Earl Godwin to put Harold on the throne. Lady Godiva says she will return to Coventry.
A bit later Godiva and the three guys meet Harold and his men to discuss their plans about what to do with the Norman threat. Eustaceís men overhear some of the conversation. They inform Eustace that Harold is back in England despite his permanent banishment.
The King speaks with Eustace and Leofric. Leofric pleads with Edward to give him some men to lead and he will bring in the rebel leaders. Eustace says that Leofric cannot be trusted because the leader of the rebels is his wife. He adds that Godiva lives together under one roof with Harold hidden away in Coventry Castle. Leofric objects that now his personal honor is involved in this. He says it will be he who will determine the punishment if there is guilt.
A messenger arrives with a message for Lady Godiva. The Prior tells her that apparently her husband believes the lies spread about her. He tells her to go to the convent where she will be given sanctuary. She is going to have to hide from her own husband.
Leofric shows up at the convent demanding to see his wife. But the abbess refuses to let him in. She says Godiva does not wish to see him. So Leofric decides to find Harold. All the Godwins have gotten together at Warwick. So Leofric goes to Warwick.
Lady Godiva has not heard from the Godwins. She says that she must speak to her husband. He has already put a lot of the rebels in the dungeon jail cells. Godiva says to an aide to find Humbert and have him go speak with Leofric. Tell him that Godiva will give herself up if Leofric will come to see her.
Godivaís three guys are surrounded by the Kingís soldiers. Leofric throws both the trio and Humbert into the dungeon. He then tells the Eustace forces that they can move the arms from York to London.
Leofric plays drunk and goes down to the dungeon cells. He overcomes the guards there and lets the political prisoners go. The Godwins arrive at the dungeon. Leofric says that he is sorry but this was the only way he could get everyone together without arousing suspicion. Now Leofric starts putting Normans into the dudgeon cells.
The combined Saxon forces ambush the convoy bringing the arms from York to London. The two sides fight it out for control of the arms. Harold is wounded. Leofric picks him up and puts him on his own horse. He slaps the horse on the rear end to get it to go home. While doing this, Leofric is hit in the shoulder with an arrow.
The Saxons get control of the arms, but the Normans have Leofric. They hold him as prisoner in his own castle. Godiva comes running in to see her husband. She learns that the wound is not serious. Husband and wife are now told that they both will go to the gallows. Godiva apologizes for ever having doubted her husband in the first place.
Leofric and Godiva admit they helped bring the Godwins back to England. And now the Earls are united against King Edward. King Edward is disturbed at this news. Eustace tells King Edward that Godiva must be put through the ancient Saxon ritual. The Saxons would force any unfaithful wife to strip naked and ride through town on a horse. At the end of the ride the woman would be stoned to death. This way, Godiva will die in disgrace as a guilty person, not as a martyr.
Godiva accepts the challenge. She says she will show the King and Eustace that she can ride through the town naked and no one in Coventry will even look upon her nakedness.
In the morning Lady Godiva rides through the town. Actually a nun walks the horse through the town with a naked Godiva riding the horse. (There is no nudity per se as Godivaís long hair hides the critical parts of her body.)
Tom, the peeping Tom, tries to get a look at Godiva and is blinded by Grimald who pushes a fire torch into his face.
Eustace gives the order to an aide to take a hundred men to take out Godwin when he comes to try to speak with the King. Godwin makes it to see the king. Godwin orders the Normans out of England. The Norman soldiers surround Godwin.
The quick-thinking Leofric grabs Count Eustace and puts a sword to his throat. He tells Eustaceís men to put down their weapons or else he will kill Eustace. The men comply.
The Saxons escape to another room but are still surrounded by Normans outside. Leofric tells Eustace to back his men down. Eustace refuses, but Leofric starts shooting arrows all around his head to make the man scared. Eustace gives in. He even takes an oath. Eustace backs his men down and the Saxons are saved.
The King apologizes to Godiva and he agrees to appoint Harold Godwin as his heir. But to make sure that they are not in trouble with the King, Godiva asks permission from her husband to faint just this once. He gives her permission and down she goes. Now she feels safe because the king will forgive them for any of their possible trespasses against him.
Interesting movie but it has its history all jumbled up. This film makes the conflict between the Saxon and Normans the centerpiece of the movie. William the Conqueror conquered England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. So it seems strange that the film featured a Saxon defeat of a Norman gradual takeover of England when the Normans were set to take over in 1066 by force of arms.
A young Maureen OíHara looked very pretty. I thought the actor playing the part of Leofric was way too loud when he talked. It seemed like he was always shouting.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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