(Lady). Patroness of Coventry. In 1040, Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, imposed certain exactions on his tenants, which his lady besought him to remove. To escape her importunity, he said he would do so if she would ride naked through the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word, and the Earl faithfully kept his promise.
The legend asserts that every inhabitant of Coventry kept indoors at the time, but a certain tailor peeped through his window to see the lady pass. Some say he was struck blind, others that his eyes were put out by the indignant townsfolk, and some that he was put to death. Be this as it may, he has ever since been called “Peeping Tom of Coventry.” Tennyson has a poem on the subject.
The privilege of cutting wood in the Herduoles, by the parishioners of St. Briavel's Castle, in Gloucestershire, is said to have been granted by the Earl of Hereford (lord of Dean Forest) on precisely the same terms as those accepted by Lady Godiva.
“Peeping Tom” is an interpolation not anterior to the reign of Charles II., if we may place any faith in the figure in Smithfield Street, which represents him in a flowing wig and Stuart cravat.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894