Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.
This is said to be about Lady Godiva, whose
husband, the Earl, imposed a heavy tax upon his subjects. She begged
him to reconsider, and he told her that only if she rode naked through
Coventry, would he do her bidding. She did just that, galloping through
Coventry upon a white horse, wearing nothing but her long hair and jewels.
A more likely account is that this rhyme
refers to the visit of the Queen of England to Banbury, to see a huge
stone cross upon a high hill. A decorated cockhorse (a horse added to
a team of horses to assist a wagon through high water or over difficult
terrain) was brought to help pull her coach up, but her coach lost a
wheel, whereupon the Queen mounted the cockhorse and rode to the top
of the hill. The cross was torn down at the end of the 16th century.
A new cross (one that still stands in Banbury) was built in 1859.