2nd July 1998 – Don’t Shoot the Messenger.

Don’t shoot the messenger-Latin ‘Argumentum Ad Hominen’, or as in Antigone by Sophocles ‘No-one loves the messenger’.

The role of Herald or messenger was developed in the reign of Edward III as an announcer of war and peace. The Herald in the early days had been responsible for conducting tournaments and acting as a Master of Ceremonies (MC).

They were later employed in military and diplomatic missions bearing letters as early diplomacy required. In battle they organised the contingents in order of feudal precedence, as well as recording casualties.


SAM_1937 (2)

This depicts a Herald as a Messenger, Ambassador, painted in 15thc, as a Herald wearing a tabard of the Royal Arms. It is one of many depicting the legend of St.Ursula.

The notion of not shooting the messenger, was a serious warning, especially as Town Criers gave news under the monarch‘s protection and anyone threatening the Herald/ Crier was construed as an attack on the monarch to be regarded as treason.

Bad news in effect was thus construed as unacceptable, and no more so than in the modern age where companies and organisations are involved.(1)

Today in 1998 the Royal Assent was given to the Public Interest Disclosure Act, coming into force exactly a year later. Basically it gave some kind of protection to ‘Heralds’ of ‘bad’ news as far as the organisation was concerned, but which many thought should be in the public domain: ‘Whistleblowers’. However the complexity of the Act left many loop-holes to be exploited and have been ever since.

Many disclosures about bad practice in companies or public services regarding health and safety or financial irregularity, for instance, had, and still are, regard as putting a spotlight on practices that organisations would rather not see highlighted.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger. Two major cases might be cited: Paul Moore in 2004 was sacked for whistle-blowing on the undue risks Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) were taking. If he had been taken seriously thousands, including the Author, would not have lost money when the Company had to be rescued by Lloyds Bank under the aegis of the Government.

In the National Health Service (NHS) there have been dozens of cases where staff, including Consultants have been debarred from working for years, whilst on full pay, for daring to reveal matters the hospital would rather keep secret. Many have been sacked with ‘gagging’ clauses.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger.The most high profile case occurred in 2013 when Stafford Hospital was found to have a suspiciously high number of deaths of the elderly, resulting in a public inquiry which found appalling conditions and over 1000 unnecessary deaths.

Julie Bailey took up the case as her mother was a victim, but in the process was publicly abused by those whose livelihoods were under threat. She was forced to leave the town after constant foul deeds on her café where excreta was spread and she was verbally abused in Tesco. Her mother’s grave was defiled and she was forced to move away from Stafford, a town divided.

What Julie’s campaign did was to force action resulting in many other hospitals being found negligent and in need of drastic improvement.The Head of NHS England was forced to take early retirement owing to his culture of ‘gagging’clauses, and sheer bad practice which he of course denied. The Messenger refused to be cowed.

It is not surprising that Shakespeare uses the theme in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (Act V Scene II) for instance:

Mercade:- ‘I am ‘sorry Madam: for the news I bring, is heavy in my tongue. The King your father…’

Princess: -‘Dead for my life…’

Mercade:-‘Even so my tale is told…’

In Henry IV (1598) Pt 2 Act 1 Scene 1…’Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news hath but a losing office’. Also in Antony and Cleopatra, when Antony has married another, and Cleopatra threatens to treat the messenger’s ‘eyes as ball’.

(1) In medieval times when most people were illiterate, the Town Crier announced public notices which were then posted on the local inn, this lead to many newspapers being called the Post.

By-laws, proclamations of the monarch, market days, selling loaves of sugar and adverts all came under the Town Criers’ purview, and as late as 1798 the Chester Bellman was advertising damaged sugar which was being sold by the Chester Canal Company.

Ref: unc.edic/-haggerty/herald_war

Ref: nursing times.net/nursing-practice.

Ref: Daily Mail 26.6.2013, article on Julie Bailey and attacks. Amanda Cable.

Pic Ref: Wagner, Herald and Ancestor, Gt Britain, British Museum Publications Ltd 1978.

Next Post: Diamonds and Carbon.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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