Peeping Tom watched Lady Godiva ride naked

Peeping Tom was a tailor who was the only person to look at Lady Godiva as she rode naked through the streets of Coventry on market day. He was “blinded by the wrath of heaven”.

model of Godiva and Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom sneaks a look at the naked Lady Godiva. Flickr: Amanda Slater

The story of Peeping Tom was not added to the Lady Godiva legend until the 17th century. It is thought to be propaganda by Puritans wishing to show a lack of morals to damage the reputation of the Church prior to the Reformation.

The first literary references to a “Peeping Tom” figure was in 1634. By 1659 the story was well established that Peeping Tom had looked out of the window at the naked Godiva and been either blinded or, in some versions, killed by God.

There is a statue now called Peeping Tom in Coventry that dates back as far as 1500. But it was not called Peeping Tom then. It was first called “the fellow who peeped” in 1690 and “the Peeper” in 1723.

Peeping Tom

Statue of Peeping Tom in Coventry. Flickr: Anne

It was used in recreations of the Godiva story but had to have had its arms broken off to enable it to be moved in and out of windows. There are expenses recorded for wigs and painting the statue in 1765.

The wooden effigy of Peeping Tom can be seen in Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre. The eyes appear blank, but that may be because the paint has worn off over the years.

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