Queens Messengers • History and Current Status

Queens Messengers History Status

The Corps of Queen’s Messengers are couriers employed by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). They hand-carry secret and important documents to British embassies and consulates around the world. Many of Queen’s Messengers are retired Army personnel. Messengers generally travel in plain clothes in business class on scheduled airlines, carrying an official case from which they must not be separated – it may even be chained to their wrist.

The safe passage of diplomatic baggage is guaranteed by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and for reasons of state secrecy, the diplomatic bag does not go through normal airport baggage checks and must not be opened, x-rayed, weighed, or otherwise investigated by customs, airline security staff, or anyone else for that matter. The bag is closed with a tamper-proof seal and has its own diplomatic passport. The Queen’s Messenger and the messenger’s personal luggage are not covered by special rules, however, so although the diplomatic bag, covered by the passport, is not checked, the messenger and the messenger’s personal luggage go through regular security screening. Queens Messengers History Status

The first recorded King’s Messenger was John Norman, who was appointed in 1485 by King Richard III to hand-deliver secret documents for his monarch. During his exile, Charles II appointed four trusted men to convey messages to Royalist forces in England. As a sign of their authority, the King broke four silver greyhounds from a bowl familiar to royal courtiers and gave one to each man. A silver greyhound thus became the symbol of the Service. On formal occasions, the Queen’s Messengers wear this badge from a ribbon, and on less formal occasions many messengers wear ties with a discreet greyhound pattern while working.

The current number of Messengers as of March 2015 is 16 full-time and two part-time, the departmental headcount is 19. In 1995 a Parliamentary question put the number then at 27. Modern communications have diminished the role of the Queen’s Messengers, but as original documents still need to be conveyed between countries by “safe-hand,” their function remains valuable. A Freedom of Information request to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows that the approved number of the Queen’s Messengers is 19, with this not having changed within ten years as of April 2015. The current number in service as of this date is 18 with 16 of these being employed full-time and two part-time. Queens Messengers History Status

The Passport
A Queen’s or King’s Messenger passport can be considered as the “Blue Mauritius” for passport collectors. I was able some years ago to acquire an excellent King’s Messenger passport from 1941 after I was negotiating with family members of the bearer for over two years!

Queen's and King's Messenger Passport

Here are the details of the last parliamentary question from 2015 and 2005.

1. How many Queens Messengers are currently employed by the FCO and how has this number changed over the previous ten years?
Queen’s messengers are employed through open and fair competition under Civil Service guidelines. The approved headcount for Queen’s Messengers is 19, which has not changed for the past ten years. At any point, the actual number may vary and at this time we are currently running with 18, 16 of which are full-time and 2 of which are part-time. Queens Messengers History Status

2. What is the salary of a Queen’s Messenger?
The salary is based on that of a C4 officer, (salary band £25,200 – £33,200.)

3. What are the costs of Queen Messengers Corps in the latest available fiscal year?
The cost of Queen’s messengers in the latest available fiscal year is £592,500

4. What requirements are there to qualify as a Queen’s Messenger?
The essential skills to qualify as a queens messenger incorporate those requirements of a C4 Officer, which include

  • Ability to work independently or as part of a team
  • Willingness to work overseas for extended periods
  • Flexibility to travel at short notice (sometimes long and arduous journeys)
  • Understanding of the complexities of escorting, or transporting of, Protectively Marked Material or sensitive materials
  • Ability to think quickly on your feet
  • Remain calm under pressure (occasionally extreme pressure)

5. What are the current ages and genders of the Queen’s Messengers, there is no need to provide any information which could identify them
Currently, all Queen’s messengers are male with an age range of 40-70

6. What training do Queens Messengers receive and are they ever armed?
Queen’s messengers receive the core training of a C4 Officer, Induction, mentoring, security, IT, and SAFE training. We can neither confirm nor deny the last part of your request (see below)

7. What is the job description of a Queen’s messenger?
The supervision, safe custody, and carriage of classified material between the FCO London and UK overseas Missions and between Missions. The role involves a large amount of travel and long periods away from the UK, often in difficult areas and areas of extreme weather. The Role deals with varying levels of authority in many different countries calling for a strong and independent nature that can diffuse confrontational situations to protect the material carried.

9. Have Queen Messengers died within service, as known in modern records?
Authors remark: Three Silver Greyhounds have lost their lives since 1945 and all in air crashes. One of those killed was Paul Simpson, a King’s messenger who died aboard the “Star Dust” (registration G-AGWH) a British South American Airways (BSAA) Avro Lancastrian airliner which crashed into Mount Tupungato in the Argentine Andes on 2 August 1947, during a flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. 

Here is an older request on the topic from 1995

Queen’s Messengers Request

Lord Fanshawe of Richmond asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is the total number of staff employed in the Queen’s Messenger Service; the cost of messengers traveling overseas and administering personnel in the United Kingdom; the total cost as a percentage of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Vote; and whether they will give an assurance that there are no plans to replace the service with secure fax or similar system.

23 Jun 1995: Baroness Chalker of Wallasey:

The current complement of Queen’s Messengers is 27 including a superintendent and two messenger escorts. The 1995/6 estimate for the cost of travel overseas is £2.25 million. Staff administration costs for 1995/6 are estimated to be approximately £780,600. The service’s total cost as a percentage of the 1995/6 FCO vote is 0.25 percent. The Cabinet Office Protective Security Review of 1993, covering security policy and practices, has prompted the FCO to look at how to dispatch of mail to overseas posts is carried out. As part of this exercise, the FCO is also looking at the future structure of the Queen’s Messenger Service.

Source: FCO, original pdf document is here

Further reading: Queen’s Messengers face the ax, heroes who resisted all tyrants, honey traps, and pirates

…his uniform of jacket and corduroys was completed by the Queen’s Messengers’ distinctive tie, embroidered with a silver greyhound crest. “If our hands were full and we weren’t able to show our diplomatic passport, that tie acted as our pass,” M.r Courtauld said.


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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...