Kings messenger badge 1820
These badges are rare and when offered at the collectors market they always go well. However, messenger badges are rather more likely to find than King´s or Queen´s messenger passports. Maybe because they are precious items and a passport is “just” a piece of paper.
King´s and Queen´s messengers have been employed to carry Royal messages since the 15th century. Richard III reputedly employed a messenger to hand-deliver his private papers in 1485. Charles II employed four messengers. When asked how they were to be identified as His Majesty’s messengers, Charles II broke off four greyhounds from a silver breakfast platter and presented each with this token. This has remained the symbol of the Messenger to this day.
In 1641 ‘Forty messengers of the Great Chamber of Ordinary’ were lodged in the Royal Palaces, under the orders of the Lord Chamberlain. The formation of the Foreign Office in 1782 saw the King’s messengers take a more prominent role. The Messenger Service was now divided into two separate divisions, King’s Home Service Messengers and Corps of King’s Foreign Service.
The messenger role was particularly hazardous from 1795. With France at war with most of Europe including England, the Messenger’s role became not only important but also dangerous. A Messenger traveling through France was highly vulnerable.
It was now impossible to predict when a messenger would arrive back in London. These delays caused the Foreign Office to use Home Service Messengers for foreign duty. A restructure, in 1795, resulted in 30 messengers interchanged between Home and Foreign Service.
Some were killed whilst on duty. However, despite the dangers, the messengers still succeeded in their duties. One reported/notable story involved a messenger, thought to be Andrew Basilico:
Andrew Basilico was sent to Europe to deliver a package. This involved traveling through France. With the threat of the messenger being caught, the dispatch was written in a small corner of a sheet of paper. Basilico was caught and the French, on opening the packages, only found bundles of plain paper. Basilico, knowing indeed he was about to be caught, had eaten the corner of the dispatch. He was later exchanged for a French General. Kings messenger badge 1820
Another interesting tale concerns a messenger who was to escort a prisoner back to London. He ended up taking the prisoner home. His wife dutifully cooked a meal for the three of them. With no guards, the husband and wife were obviously taking a considerable risk, and slept with a loaded pistol – not the sort of work you would volunteer to take home today! The prisoner is likely to have been a Gentleman or Officer rather than your usual rogue. As well as heroics there were also disciplinary matters.
In 1834 a complaint was made against William Cookes returning from Vienna. The complaint from an Austrian Post Master at Dobra reported Cookes use of two carriages; the second being for a Mr Knight, gentleman. He commented: ‘what business has a messenger with two carriages?’ followed by ‘the idea of a man being his own Avant courier has at least the merit of originality’.
At the National Archives, one can also find lists of the dates of appointment, deaths, and pensions received, the number of year’s service, and names of those who died in service. For example, Andrew Basilica was appointed on 5 October 1782 and retired after 31 years of service on 7 December 1813 with a pension of £266 13s 4d. He died on 28 August 1824 leaving his wife a pension of £75.
This Kings messenger badge 1820 recently sold at an auction
If you are interested in the history of the King´s messengers I recommend the following book – The History of the King’s Messengers, V Wheeler-Holohan (Grayson and Grayson, 1935)