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Peeping Tom of Coventry

Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, imposed some very severe imposts on the people of Coventry, which his countess, Godiva, tried to get mitigated. The earl, thinking to silence her importunity, said he would comply when she had ridden naked from one end of the town to the other. Godiva took him at his word, actually rode through the town naked, and Leofric remitted the imposts. Before Godiva started, all the inhibitants voluntarily confined themselves to their houses, and resolved that anyone who stirred abroad should be put to death. A tailor thought to have a peep, but was rewarded with the loss of his eyes, and has ever since been called Peeping Tom of Coventry. There is still a figure in a house at Coventry said to represent Peeping Tom.

Matthew of Westminster (1307) is the first to record the story of Lady Godiva: the addition of Peeping Tom dates from the reign of Charles II. In Smithfield Wall is a grotesque figure of the inquisitive tailor in “flowing wig and Stuart cravat.”

In regard to the terms made by Leofric, it may be mentioned that Rudder, in his History of Gloucester, tells

us that “the privilege of cutting wood in the Herduoles was granted to the parishioners of St. Briavel's Castle, in Gloucestershire, on precisely similar terms by the Earl of Hereford, who was at the time lord of Dean Forest.”

Tennyson, in his Godiva, has reproduced the story.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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