So where and how did this expression originate?
The story goes that in the 11th century, Lady Godiva, who was the patroness of Coventry, tried to persuade her husband, Earl Leofric of Mercia, to alleviate the harsh taxes imposed on the people, who were struggling in their poverty. He promised to do so if she rode naked through the town. Lady Godiva subsequently did so, using her long hair to cover her body and preserve her dignity.
Accounts from the time do not mention a “peeping Tom” character, but much later, during the 17th century, the story seems to have been embellished, perhaps drawing on local folk legends passed on through oral histories. The new version of the story talked of the townspeople staying in their homes, behind closed curtains, out of respect for Lady Godiva’s modesty. However, one person could not restrain himself and peeped out – Tom the tailor. The story goes that he was then struck blind as a punishment. Whatever the truth of the matter, Peeping Tom was born into the language.