Pointless public inquiries: nothing new

December 14, 2012

Since the dawn of time, it seems, just as today, public inquiries have been a way to avoid, obfuscate and delay. But I hadn’t realised quite what a lengthy pedigree the pointless public inquiry has.

In 1562 five hundred Huguenots (French Protestants) defied the law and worshipped in a barn within the limits of the town of Vassy. Soldiers attacked and several worshippers were killed. Catholics and Protestants throughout the country took up arms. Writing of the queen regent’s response to the incident Sarah Bakewell, in her brilliant biography of essayist Montaigne says:

Catherine de’ Medici, acting on behalf of the twelve-year-old Charles XI, ordered an inquiry into Vassy, but it fizzled out as public inquiries do, and by now it was too late.

The outcome of this fizzle was about as disastrous as one can imagine: civil war lasting the best part of half a century. Leveson and co do not, one presumes, stand to be quite so inadvertently influential.

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