May 31, 1043 — Lady Godiva makes her famous ride

While there actually was a real Lady Godiva – although, as a Saxon, her name was more likely Godgifu or Godgyfu (Godiva is a latinised version) – it’s unlikely that she actually did ride naked through the streets of Coventry.

Legend has it that she rode naked to protest the taxes that her husband, Lord Leofric, had laid upon the common people, and that, in respect for her sacrifice, all of them looked away as she rode through a busy market day street (except for a tailor named Thomas – the original Peeping Tom – who was apparently struck blind for daring to look upon her).

In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it – but Coventry’s tourist industry still owes a great deal to women who are willing to get their kit off and go for a ride. (Indeed, the date I’ve used here is the date of the annual commemoration of the ride in Coventry.)

1809 — Joseph Haydn dies

Franz Josef Haydn is known as both the “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet” because of his important contributions to these genres. However, despite his many contributions to the sonata form, he is not the “Father of the Sonata.”

He was a prolific composer with few illusions regarding the magnitude of his talents or the importance of his contributions to the development of music. He died at age 77, shortly after an attack on Vienna by Napoleon’s force. Among his last words was a characteristically humble attempt to calm and reassure his servants when cannon shot fell in the neighborhood: “My children, have no fear, for where Haydn is, no harm can fall.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python