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What is the origin of the expression Peeping Tom? What is the origin of the expression "Peeping Tom"?

A tailor called Tom was supposed to be the only person to see Lady Godiva ride naked through Coventry in the 11th century. He was immediately blinded by the wrath of heaven.

Godiva's real name was Godgifu, and she was married to Earl Leofric of Mercia, one of the four all-powerful lords that ruled England under Canute, the Danish king. She was also a rich landowner in her own right, and the most valuable of her properties was Coventry.

Godgifu was wise, religious and charitable. But her husband Leofric did not share her religious beliefs or her fondness for the Midlands. He tyrannised the church, and mercilessly squeezed an oppressive tax from the people of Coventry to pay for King Canute's bodyguard.

According to the legend, when Godgifu begged her husband to change his ways, the earl replied that first she would have to ride naked through the streets of Coventry on market day. He assumed she was too modest to actually do something like that.

It certainly seems possible that the historical Godiva performed some sort of public penance in Coventry for the misdeeds of her husband. It may be she appeared in the streets stripped of her usual badges of rank. The memory of this event in the peoples' minds might well have been mixed up with a Christian vision of Eve, naked and beautiful and bravely preserving her modesty by means of her long hair.

Historical fact merged with legend some 600 years later, when the story was altered slightly setting the scene for Peeping Tom's appearance.

According to the new story, Godiva sent messengers around the town instructing everyone to remain indoors and shutter their windows on the allotted day. Because she was so popular in the city, and every taxpayer would benefit from her heroic act, they all gladly did as they were asked.

William Camden, after a visit to Coventry in 1659, said he had been shown a statue that represented a man who had been struck blind for peeping into the street as Godiva rode past. The Peeping Tom story was probably a joke explanation of the statue's anguished expression and blank eyes. They were blank because the statue was very old and the original paint on its surface had long since worn off. No one really knew the background of the statue, it could well have just been an ancient pagan statue whose purpose was simply to guard the city. But from then on it became forever linked with the Godiva story, and the legend of Peeping Tom was born.

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