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Coventry History, United Kingdom

Not much is known about the ancient history of this area, however there was most likely already a Benedictine abbey in Coventry when Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife, Lady Godiva, established a cathedral there in 1043 A.D. 

Lady Godiva is said to have ridden nude through town on horseback in order to protest against the rising taxes her husband was imposing on his tenants.  It was not long before a market near the abbey gates grew into a settlement.  By 1200, Coventry was a textile trade center. 

“Coventry Blue” cloth was invented around this time and was very popular throughout Europe.  The growth of the area made the city the fourth largest in all England by 1300.  The city was also second on the list of best-defended cities in England after impressive city walls were built because of the city’s economic and strategic significance.

Edward, the Black Prince of Wales and Henry VI both lived in Coventry at Cheylesmore Manor House.  Edward visited the area frequently and used the manor as a hunting lodge.  The seal and motto of the city are both in honor of Edward. During several different occasions in the 15th century, Coventry served as the temporary, unofficial capital of England.  The first time was in 1404 when King Henry IV called a meeting of Parliament in the city.  This happened several other times as well. 

During the Wars of the Roses, Margaret of Anjou, King Henry IV’s wife, moved the Royal Court to Coventry.  Because of its political and economic importance, the city was its own county until 1842. In the 16th century, the textile trade declined and then, in the 17th century, during the English Civil War, Coventry was a Parliamentarian stronghold and was attacked many times by Royalists.  They were never able to breach the walls of the city, however.  Even the king’s own army of 6000 cavalry troops was not able to take the city. 

Coventry was also used as a prison for Royalists at that time.  Later in the century, the restored monarchy had the city walls torn down as a punishment to the city for its support of the Parliamentarians.

Coventry was able to get back on its feet, again, in the 1700’s when several French immigrants moved to the city and introduced silk and ribbon weaving.  The city’s economy soon began to flourish and was a major center for textiles once again.  Later in that century, major nation transport services began to open up.  The first was the Coventry Canal and the second was rail lines for the London and Birmingham Railway in 1838. 

 In the late 1800’s full-blown industrialism had a great positive impact on Coventry’s economy and population growth.  In fact, the city is the home of one of the first modern bicycles and at one time was the largest bicycle producer in the world.  Early in the 20th century, bicycle-making evolved into the manufacturing of automobiles.  Jaguar was one of the most successful manufacturers in the area. 

Coventry was almost untouched by the Great Depression and, in fact, the population grew rapidly during this decade. Beginning in August of 1939, Coventry was the site of many bombings.  The first was by the Irish Republican Army and nine days later World War II began.  Due to its heavily industrial nature, Coventry was bombed extensively on two different occasions.  The city was rebuilt, though, and began to prosper once again.

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