"Belling the Cat"
Real World Background
In the fable, a group of mice are preyed upon by a cat, and hold a council to decide what to do about her. One of the mice suggests placing a bell on the cat, so that they can hear her approaching. They agree that this is a good idea – but none of them want to be the one who has to place the bell on the cat, presumably keeping the plan from being carried out.
Although the fable has often been attributed to Aesop, it actually first appears in the literature of the Middle Ages; one of its most famous appearances is in William Langland's Piers Plowman in the late 14th century, where the cat is apparently a symbol for King Edward III of England (1327-1377). The fable is also linked to an incident in Scottish history; during the reign of James III of Scotland (1460-1488), the Scottish nobles wished to dispose of the King's favorite, Thomas Cochrane, but none dared confront him. When one of them recalled the "Belling the Cat" fable, Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus, announced that he would "bell the cat", and proceeded to lead the others to overthrow Cochrane; he was thereafter nicknamed "Bell the Cat". (This tale seems to have originated a couple of centuries after the event – and in actual history, Cochrane appears to have been a man loyal to the king whom the Scottish nobles killed to prevent him from interfering with their plan to take the king prisoner, rather than a wicked favorite.)
- "Belling the Cat" at Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia