The Enqueteurs: Louis IX’s Messengers

Margaret Wade Labarge describes how, in 1247, having resolved to set out on a crusade, the pious King of France organized a new body of officials to help him put the affairs of his realm in order by investigating any complaints against himself or those who served him.

Recent popular interest in the idea of an ombudsman has encouraged the optimistic belief that all the sins of bureaucracy can be wiped away if only there is an official who is dedicated to upholding the innocent citizen in his struggle against the forces of big government.

Such a conviction has historical parallels—the thirteenth century had its own version of the ombudsman, the enquêteurs, who were instituted by the King himself. In 1247 Louis IX of France created these new officials to help him in the task of putting the affairs of the realm in order before he left on his crusade.

His primary inspiration was undoubtedly religious. It had always been understood by serious crusaders that they should settle any outstanding claims or injustices before they left on their long and dangerous expedition. Although the Church granted crusaders special protection and extensive legal immunities, it still encouraged them to settle all rightful complaints, since it was tacitly understood that many would never return.

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