Medieval legend says that a woman named Lady Godiva rode naked on her horse through the English city of Coventry centuries ago. Although a Lady Godiva really existed, no evidence links her with such a deed. The connection occurred when an older fragment of traditional mythology became attached to the name of a historical figure.
Lady Godiva was the wife of Leofric, lord of Coventry According to the story she felt that his taxes on the people were unfair. Irritated, he said that he would change them if she rode naked through the marketplace. She did so, wearing only her long hair. The townspeople respectfully stayed indoors, but a tailor named Tom sneaked a peek out his window and was struck blind. This story seems to be the origin of the expression "peeping Tom."
The tale was first written down in the mid-1200s. It most likely combines the real woman's name with ancient folklore about pagan goddesses and processions through the countryside in their honor.
pagan term used by early Christians to describe non-Christians and non-Christian beliefs
Lady Godiva (gōdī´və), fl. c.1040–80, wife of Leofric, earl of Mercia; famous for her legendary ride through the city of Coventry. She was a benefactor of several monasteries, especially that at Coventry, which she and her husband founded (1043). The legend about her, which first appears in the chronicle of Roger of Wendover, states that her husband agreed to remit the heavy taxation on the people of Coventry if she would ride naked through the town on a white horse. The story of Peeping Tom, the only person who looked through the closed shutters, did not enter the legend until the 17th cent. Michael Drayton (1613), Tennyson (1842), and others made Lady Godiva the subject of poems. A bronze statue of her by Sir William Reid Dick was erected in Coventry in 1949.