Lady Godda - Goddess Of Mercia
By Chris Jenkins
First published at Lughnasa 1996
Wild Edric is a well-known figure in Shropshire folklore, and there are sufficient historical records which attest to his being a real historical person. Richard Walker covered many of the known references to him in his article in WHITE DRAGON published at Beltane 1995.
However, though he is an historical figure, Wild Edric is a fine example of a lord or king in sacred marriage with the Queen of the Faeries. This is a common occurence in folklore and mythology, but in this case his fairy wife, Godda, is also a good example of the folk memory of reverence for the Earth Mother in all Her different guises, and in particular that of the Goddess Sovereignty. The world which she inhabits is often called "Faery" and is essentially a state of mind which humans more rarely are aware of than once they were but which is always available for those with eyes to see.
Examples of the various fairy queens abound: in western France, Melusine gave her name to the town of Lusignan and her cult was strong in ancient Poitou. In Languedoc and eastern France she is La Reine Blanche (the White Queen) and also La Reine Pedauque (the Goose-footed Queen) who is the Mother Goose of nursery rhyme. In Brittany she is Dahud or Ahès, who appeared as a deer to a Breton king. To the Basques she is the Goddess Mari, in Christianity Mary, in England Maid Marian, in Wales Modron, in Arthurian myth Morgana, Demeter in Greece and so on. In Scotland and Ireland she is the Cailleach and in Ireland there are also well-known fairy queens such as Cliodna in Munster and Aine in Limerick. In the north of England she is the Goddess Brigantia (not to be confused with St Bridgit) whose name means The High One and who gave her name to the Brigantes tribe. There are also numerous 'saints' such as St Bridgit and St Morwenna who are really Goddesses or fairy queens in other guise.
Most of these cults have survived remarkably well into modern times, as I hope to show in future articles. Consequently I would like to counter Ronald Hutton's assertions in his Pagan Religions of the British Isles and his notion that pagan cults did not survive into modern times. He uses a minimal amount of evidence to expound his theory from amongst the wealth of evidence available. I have to say that many pagans don't help with their vague references to 'The Goddess', for if we wish to ascertain her local names we only have to refer to local myth and folklore. After all, paganus in Latin means country-dweller or local , for in each locality is a local spirit or genius loci.
Fairies are generally female. In Welsh they are 'Y Mamau', or the Mothers, and fairy kings or male fairies are comparatively rare. In Faerie, all is complementary to the material world. There is also time distortion, so that a hundred years in the human world may be only one year in Faerie.
Another point to remember is that, traditionally, most fairies wear green. Green was considered an unlucky colour to wear in the mortal world but for fairies it was the norm. A number of writers have pointed out the fact that Robin Hood wore Lincoln Green, as do his Merrie Men, and have taken this as evidence for a fairy or other worldly origin for Robin and his followers. The Green Man representing nature in all its greenery is another example.
So when we read that Wild Edric was seen, by a miner's daughter from Minsterley, wearing a green cap, green cloak and green coat and mounted on a white horse, and his consort Lady Godda also dressed in green, we are expected to realise that they are from Faerie.
Again, Wild Edric's connection with the monster fish of Bromere Pool (while searching for his lost wife Godda, he gave his sword to the fish for safekeeping) may be a memory of the fairy links with water, of which Melusine and the Lady of the Lake are notable examples.
Wild Edric loved to hunt, making him the classic "Lord of the Hunt" of myth. Richard Walker quoted other well-known Shropshire folklore, that when Edric was hunting he captured Godda who told him that she was Queen of the Fairies and that she had six sister fairies (the usual seven of mythology). Morgana, sister to Arthur, was one of nine fairy sisters, of whom she was High Queen, and the Morrighan in Ireland were three sister Goddesses.
But what of Godda? Is not her name itself of great interest in this regard? The words Godda and Goddess are obviously linked. Another form of her name is Godiva, whose cult was strong in Mercia, especially at Coventry and Southam, where effigies of Godiva were carried in procession and at Southam she appeared as both Black and White Godiva.
Godiva's name was originally godgifu , meaning God's gift, and the historical Lady Godiva was never recorded as living in Coventry, for her husband Earl Leofric lived at King's Bromley in Staffordshire. This indicates that the Godiva of Coventry is not necessarily the same as the historical 'great beauty' and the cult is clearly older than the 11th century.
There are many places in England connected with Godda and Godiva. Good Easter in Essex was called Godithestre, or Godda's sheepfold (Estre); Goodnesstone in Kent links to the myth of the Goodwin sands which became confused with Earl Godwin. Fair Rosamund, another historical figure who has clear fairy origins, retired to Godstow nunnery by Oxford in one version of her death, the place name element stow being an Old English word denoting a holy place.
There is little space in this article for further investigating all the links between Godda, Godiva and Fair Rosamund. This will have to wait until future articles, but for now here is a fine Mercian example. Returning to Shropshire, the local Godda cult was inherited by St Millburgha.
Like Godda, she was chased on horseback, though this time it was by a gang of rough men. She was riding a white horse, reminding one of Lady Godiva, and it is worth noting that the famous "Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross" is also told of Coventry: "Ride a Cock Horse to Coventry Cross".
St Millburgha caused a miracle reminiscent of fairy time distortion for she caused the barley which was being sown by labourers as she passed to be fully grown and ready for cutting within a day, instructing the workmen to tell her pursuers, truthfully, that they had only just sown the seed when she passed by.
When she reached Stoke St Milborough she fell from her horse and struck her head on a rock. Finding no water there to bathe her wound, she bade her white horse to strike the ground three times, whereupon water gushed out to form St Millburgha's spring.
The historical St Millburgha was daughter to Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, and her link to Godda is immediately clear when we realise that the Domesday name for Stoke St Milborough in 1086ce was Godestoch, meaning Godda's Stoke, and it only became Stoke St Millborough in 1291ce.
Furthermore, St Millburgha was protectress of the nearby river Corve, which she made to flow miraculously, as well as protectress of birds and crops - hence her control over the barley crop mentioned earlier.
The plot thickens when we find that Fair Rosamund (of Godstow, or the sacred place of Godda, in Oxfordshire) had a well sacred to her name at Corfham on the river Corfe, a few miles west of Stoke St Millborough, and the site of her now filled-in well is just south west of her father's stronghold at Corfham Castle (GR 518844).
It thus seems likely that Corfham once belonged to Godda, but this must also be true of St Millburgha's priory at Much Wenlock, which in Welsh was called Gwen Lloe or white / sacred hollow , and where there is a St Millborough's well from where she began her ride to Stoke St Millborough. And who do we find responsible for restoring Much Wenlock priory after the Danish raids? Who but the beautiful Lady Godiva herself.
Again, on the River Corve at Bourton there is mention of a St Milborough's Thorn in 1541ce. When I visited the village recently none of the locals had heard of this thorn, but some workmen who were laying a drain near the Shepherd's well (at GR 597962) told me that the water of that well could not be stopped, and one of them proudly showed me his cut finger which he said had healed remarkably quickly after repeated immersions in this well. I couldn't help wondering if the wonderful feeling there was because it was once the site of Godda's well, and indeed just behind the well is an old thorn tree in a hedgerow which, though it is not the original St Millborough's Thorn, could be its daughter. It is worth rememberng that sacred thorns, on which rags and so on were hung, often grew over sacred wells.
There is a local tradition at Fivehead (Five Hides) in Somerset that Lady Godiva once lived there, which given the unlikeliness of this historically must once more refer to Godda; and the St Catherine's well there was possibly once Godda's well. I then wondered if The Five Springs, like Fivehead, sited north west of Stoke St Millborough, was also sacred to her.
Indeed The Five Springs are on Brown Clee Hill, and Leland noted in the 16th century that the Clee Hills 'be holy', for they were noted for being the haunt of fairies. Some time ago I noticed that the three hillforts on the three peaks of the Clee Hills align exactly. Furthermore, a line through these three forts, Titterstone Clee Fort, Clee Burf Fort and Abdon Burf Fort align exactly on the Shepherd's Well at Bourton. By then aligning the other sites I mentioned, the layout shown in the map is discovered. The reader will see that there is also an interesting alignment between The Five Springs, Godda's Well at Stoke St Millborough and the mouth of the River Corve at Ludlow and serve to bring together some of the strands discussed above.
I hope that this short article has shown some of the connections surrounding Godda and her cult and that the reader will be encouraged to go and visit for him or herself the sites connected to Shropshire's local Goddess.