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Sent to Coventry (orig. posted May 2002)

Posted by (Various posters) on August 10, 2002

Posted by Psi on May 20, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Sending someone to Coventry posted by James Briggs on May 20, 2002

: : : How did the word "Coventry" get that connotation? Is there a prison with that name? Is there any relation to "The Coventry Carol"?

: : I've so far found two possible claims as to why Coventry picked up this reputation.

: : Chambers states that there was once a garrison in Coventry, a fact which was massively unpopular with the local inhabitants, so much so that they would not even speak with any of the soldiers stationed there. Hence, it was effectively guaranteed that any soldier posted to Coventry would be in for some serious shunning.

: : Other sources, including The American Heritage Dictionary, claim that the phrase originated from Coventry being a stronghold of the parliamentary party at the time of the English Civil War, and that it was therefore where the most troublesome Royalists were imprisoned.

: : There's probably other explanations too.

: Here are the explanations that I've found:

: Sent to Coventry; if someone is "sent to Coventry" then they are shunned by their fellow citizens and friends. There are three possible explanations for this phrase. The first comes from the English Civil War. Birmingham was strongly Parliamentarian; the citizens were aware of a small group of Royalists in their midst. Some of these they killed and others they sent as prisoners to nearby Coventry, also a Parliamentary town. Why they did this is not clear and, by being sent to Coventry, these people were rescued. In truth they had good fortune - their colleagues were killed. Thus, I don't like this explanation.
: The second possibility rings a little truer. In this case the citizens of Coventry were in a phase of hating the military, possibly also as a result of the Civil War. Such was this hate that the young women of the town were forbidden to speak to the soldiers garrisoned there. Naturally no soldier welcomed such a posting.
: The third possibility is the one that I like best. It is suggested that the name Coventry is derived from Covin-tree, an oak which is supposed to have stood in front of the castle in feudal times. The tree was used as the gallows and those to be executed were sent to the covin-tree.

If we're down to which explanation we like best, my vote goes to the garrison theory. It sounds like a 17th century equivalent of Siberia - familiar to us all, I assume - where the third sounds like a contrived explanation.

See also - The meaning and origin of 'Sent to Coventry'.