How did the phrase ‘being sent to Coventry’ originate?

To be ‘sent to Coventry’ is a very lonely and unhappy experience. The phrase means that other people deliberately ignore you. Mo one will talk to you. Everyone carries on normally around you as though you do not exist. No wonder people ‘sent to Coventry’ feel isolated and persecuted. That is exactly the intention.

But why did Coventry get landed with this reputation? As usual with expressions that have been around for long time, there are numerous explanations. According to one, the people of Coventry disliked soldiers so much that if a woman was seen talking to a soldier, she was immediately shunned by everyone. During the Civil War 350 years ago, soldiers fighting on the side of King Charles I who were taken prisoner in Birmingham were sent to nearby Coventry. The people of Coventry were strong supporters of the Parliamentary side of the war. So they shunned the captured soldiers.

There is an older explanation too. This comes from three hundred years before the Civil War and has nothing to do with soldiers. The people sent to Coventry then were monks. During the fourteenth century monks who belonged to the Carthusian order used to be sent to Coventry as a punishment. The Carthusians are silent monks. They are not supposed to talk to each other, and anyone who does talk known what is coming to him. Six hundred years ago monks who were ‘unruly’, which probably meant the ones who liked a chat now and then, and those who were undisciplined, were packed off to Covnetry. There the Carthusuans had cells where the offenders could be locked up in solitary confinement for a while to teach them a lesson. No one talked to them, and Coventry soon got a bad name among talkative monks.


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