Her Majesty Queens Messengers – History and Current 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 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 normal security screening.
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 2 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 10 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 2 part-time.
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 2 years!
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 last 10 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 change and at this time we are currently running with 18, 16 of which are full time and 2 of which are part time
2. What is the salary of a Queens 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 Queens 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 transportation 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 Queens 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 Queens 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 is able to diffuse confrontational situations in order 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 these 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 travelling overseas and administering staff 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 a 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 2 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 total cost of the service as a percentage of the 1995/6 FCO vote is 0.25 per cent. The Cabinet Office Protective Security Review of 1993, covering security policy and practices, has prompted the FCO to look at the way in which dispatch of mails 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
…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,” Mr Courtauld said.