Lower and Upper Penn are mentioned in the Domesday Book as belonging to Godiva and her son Algar respectively.

Lady Godiva was one of the most powerful women in England in the 11th century, but surprisingly little is known about her. Although she is called Godiva today, this is in fact the Latin form of the Anglo-Saxon name Godgifu, meaning “Gift of God”. Her ancestry is uncertain1, all that we can say is that she came from a wealthy background and was born in the latter part of the 10th century. Her brother was Thorold the Sheriff of Lincolnshire. She was described as “the most beauteous of all women of her time” by the chronicler Ingulphus.

Godiva owned land in Ansty, Atherstone, Coventry, Gloucestershire, Hartshill, Kingsbury, Leicestershire, Meriden, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire, including 3 hides (360 acres) in Lower Penn. Her largest holding was in Newark, Nottinghamshire. It is believed that she married twice and was first widowed in about 1028, and suffered from what was thought to be a life-threatening illness. During the illness she bequested property to the church at Ely to ensure her place in the after life. The close call with death left her deeply religious with a great devotion the Virgin Mary.

In what is believed to be her second marriage, she married one of the most powerful men in the country, Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry. He was born on 14th May 968 as the third son of Leofwine, Aelderman of the Hwiccas2. His two older brothers were killed in battle and so Leofric succeeded his father in about 1024. In 1026 he described himself as “Dux” which means a leader of an army.

King's Bromley where Leofric died.

He became one of King Canute’s close and trusted friends and was made Earl of Mercia, one of the three most powerful men in the land.  Canute had two sons; Harold and Hardicanute. Leofric assisted Harold to the throne in 1035 and helped Hardicanute to suppress a revolt in Worcestershire. Most of Worcester was burned to the ground and most of the inhabitants were killed.

When Edward the Confessor came to power, Godwin Earl of Wessex assembled an army against him in 1050. Leofric and Siward, Earl of Northumbria defended the king against the attack and Godwin fled into exile.

Leofric was described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as “wise for God and for the world”. Many thought of him as saint, because along with King Edward he saw a vision of Christ reflected in a mirror held by the chaplain in the Chapel of Our Lady at Westminster.

Like Godiva, Leofric owned a lot of land. Most of his estates were in Staffordshire, including: Alrewas, Barton, Braunston, Bromley, Cannock, Chartley, Drayton, Elford, Rolleston, Rugeley, Tutbury and Uttoxeter. He also owned land in Warwickshire at Ansley, Ansty, Atherstone, Coventry, Foleshill, Hartshill, Kingsbury and Meriden.

Godiva and Leofric were married sometime after 1028. They owned Coventry and regularly visited there. In 1043 they founded a Benedictine monastery on the site of St.Osburg's nunnery in Coventry, which had been destroyed by the Danes in 1016. There was an abbot and 24 monks on the site, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Osburg and All Saints, by Esdi, Archbishop of Canterbury. During the dedication ceremony, Leofric laid the dedication charter which granted the foundation of the monastery on the alter. It also gave him lordship over 24 villages for the maintenance of the abbey. Godiva gave many gifts in the honour of the Virgin Mary and is supposed to have had her gold and silver melted down and made into crosses and images of the saints to decorate the new building. The abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries and the first Coventry Cathedral was built on the site. It was assumed that all traces of the monastery had disappeared until excavations in 1859 revealed the bases of 13th century pillars, which are still visible today.

Godiva and Leofric gave land to many churches on their estates, such as those at Burton-upon-Trent, Coventry, Evesham, Leominster, Much Wenlock and St. Marystow in Lincolnshire. They founded churches in many populated parts of their land and set up preaching crosses in smaller settlements.
In 1912 the base of such a cross was discovered in St. Bartholomew’s churchyard. It appears to be Saxon and has been credited to Godiva. Visiting priests would have preached the gospel here. It is the oldest known man-made structure in Penn.

King's Bromley church.

This is what John of Worcester had to say about Godiva and Leofric in his Chronicle:

Among his other good deeds in this life, he and his wife, the noble countess Godgiva, who was a devout worshipper of God, and one who loved the ever-virgin St. Mary, entirely constructed at their own cost the monastery there [Coventry], well endowed it with land, and enriched it with ornaments to such an extent, that no monastery could be then found in England possessing so much gold, silver, jewels, and precious stones.

Godiva and Leofric had a son, Algar (Elf-spear), who was appointed Earl of East Anglia by King Edward in 1051, after Leofric had helped to suppress Earl Godwin’s revolt. Algar owned a lot of land in Mercia including Upper Penn. He became Earl of Mercia on his father’s death in 1057 and remained so until his own death in 1062. Algar was a strong warrior and colourful character. He was outlawed by King Edward in 1055 because he was considered to be a traitor to the king and to all the people of the land. Before the year was out he was forgiven and returned to his estates. He was briefly banished a second time in 1058. On his death he was buried at Coventry. Algar had two sons, Edwin and Morcar. Edwin was murdered by his own troops on the sands of the Dee and Morecar was involved in Hereward the Wake’s revolt against the Norman invaders in 1070 to 1071.

The base of the Saxon Cross that was discovered at St. Bartholomew's church beneath a sun dial.
Godiva is remembered for the untrue legend of her naked ride through Coventry. It was first recorded in Roger of Wendover’s “Flores History” that was written in 1236, nearly two hundred years after her death. None of the contemporary chroniclers mentioned the event, which if true would certainly have been recorded at the time.

Leofric died on 30th October 1057 and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that “He was very wise in all matters, both religious and secular, that benefitted this nation.” 

He died on his estate at King's Bromley and was buried in St. Mary’s monastery at Coventry.

After Leofric’s death Godiva moved to Evesham and stayed at the monastery. She spent the rest of her life there and witnessed the destruction of her estates. When the Normans invaded, the Saxon landowners lost their possessions to Norman dukes. Although Godiva lost most of her land, she was still a wealthy lady with much land in Warwickshire after the conquest. It is possibly the result of an alliance, made before the conquest, between Duke William and Leofric or Godiva.

Godiva died on 10th September, 1067 at Evesham. She was buried in Evesham Abbey and tradition has it that she was later re-interred in Coventry Abbey, opposite Leofric. But there is no proof of this.

On her deathbed she ordered that her gold-jewelled chain should be placed around the neck of the image of the Virgin in Coventry Abbey. She stated that those who came to pray should say a prayer for every stone in the chain.


1).      Angus Dunphy, Penn to Paper, 1996, p.17

2).      Robert K. Dent and Joseph Hill, Historic Staffordshire, Midland Educational Company Ltd., 1896, p. 57

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