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Queen's Messenger

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

British passport of the Queen's Messenger travelling on official business
British passport of the Queen's Messenger travelling on official business
Badges of King's or Queen's Messengers from 18th to 20th centuries, seen in an exhibition at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Badges of King's or Queen's Messengers from 18th to 20th centuries, seen in an exhibition at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The Corps of Queen's Messengers are couriers employed by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They hand-carry secret and important documents to British Embassies/High Commission and consulates around the world. Many Queen's Messengers were retired Army personnel. Messengers generally travel in plain clothes in business class on scheduled airlines with their consignment.

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 has the status of a diplomatic courier and cannot be detained, however the messenger and the messenger's personal luggage go through normal security screening.

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Transcription

The Queen of England is head of state of over 16 commonwealth realms with include many nations and their overseas territories. The United Kingdom has close diplomatic relations with 53 commonwealth nations and it counts more than 134 Embassies and Consulates spread all over the world. If you look back at the history of the country, Britain has made colonies around the globe, ruled more than 23% of the world population at a time, fought both the world wars and hundreds of smaller wars and battles in almost every corner of the world. Between making colonies, fighting battles, winning wars, establishing colonies, ruling people and maintaining good relations with allies - one thing is extremely essential and that's COMMUNICATION, and very often SECRETIVE COMMUNICATION - exchange of mails or parcels between Britain and its High commissions, consulates and embassies around the world without being hijacked or compromised. For more than 5 centuries, UK has employed a group of loyal men called "King's or Queen's messengers" who have carried government’s top-secret mails and parcels around the world risking their lives and facing dangers that may sound stranger than fiction. These people wear plain clothes, travel in commercial planes sitting next to you and carry no gun, yet, this lesser-known service is dubbed as one of the most efficient and successful secretive services in the world. The service goes back as far as the 15th century when King Richard III reputedly employed a messenger to hand deliver secret documents for his monarch. Later on, Charles II, exiled in Europe, appointed four trusted men to convey messages to Royalist forces in England. When asked how they were to be identified as His Majesty's messengers, Charles II broke off four greyhounds from a silver breakfast platter familiar to royal courtiers and presented each with this token. A silver greyhound thus became the symbol of the service which has remained so to this day. This also gave the messengers a nickname of "Silver Greyhound". 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. This distinctive tie with embroidered pattern works as a pass-key and proves the identity of the messenger in situations where it's difficult to show the Queen messenger's special passport. As messengers proved their usefulness over time, their number increased and by the 17th century, King's Messengers became an important department in the royal palace. Starting from 1795 messengers began to be deployed abroad and their role became not only important but also dangerous. With England being in war with France, it was now impossible to predict when a messenger would arrive back in London. Some were killed whilst on duty while others still succeeded despite dangers. On his way to Europe, a messenger named Andrew Basilico was caught in France but when French officers opened the package they found nothing but bundles of plain papers. Basilico, knowing he was about to be caught, had eaten the papers that contained sensitive information. In another case, a messenger's boat and package were once seized by pirates. The wily messenger challenged the pirate chief to a contest of solving a chess puzzle from an old newspaper clipping. Pirates accepted the challenge being unknown to the fact that the Queen's messenger had already seen the answer in the following week's edition. Briton won the contest and pirates had to let him go with his bag. Another messenger, forced to stay in an unsafe Chinese Hotel, deliberately left his wallet on his bed secreting his diplomatic pouch under the bed frame. The wallet was stolen but, satisfied with his haul, the thief did not search the room further. Queen's Messengers have faced threats of the sort one would see in spy thriller movies. While traveling on communist trains, Queen's Messenger would carry portable stoves to get food safe enough to eat and avoid getting poisoned. A number of messengers have reported encounters with honey traps on their way - women of rare beauty would try to seduce them in order to get secret couriers while others have tried to persuade messengers to take them across the borders using their diplomatic passports. Commitment to the nation has enabled messengers to dodge all bullets. Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 gave Queen's messengers even more widely acceptable recognition and guaranteed diplomatic baggage a safer passage without any hindrance. Messengers carry a special "Queen's Messenger" passport that allows them to avoid regular airport checks and also provide them immunity from being detained. Mails and curious are carried in a bag closed with a tamper-proof seal and has its own diplomatic passport. This 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. In March 2000 Zimbabwe opened Britain's six-tonne diplomatic shipment which sparked diplomatic tensions between the two nations. Confidential mails and documents aren't the only things Queen Messengers have carried in their bags. During the world war 2, Winston Churchill received shipments of Cuban cigars by this means. Each year the Queen's pre-recorded Christmas Day message is sent in the diplomatic bag to every corner of the world. Queen's messengers, today, work under Foreign and Commonwealth Office of UK government. According to the official release of 2015, 18 messengers of age 40-70 are actively performing their duty for the government. Their number has greatly reduced over the last few decades because of the advent of satellite communications. The potential danger of cyber hacking, code-breaking and Wikileaks won't completely eliminate this service anytime soon.

Contents

History

The formal role and title ‘Royal Messenger’, whether to King or Queen, is most certainly evident within the retinues of English Monarchy, certainly extending back to the early 12th Century.

Suggested reference: ‘King's Messengers 1199-1377: A List of All Known Messengers, Mounted and Unmounted, who Served John, Henry III, and the First Three Edwards', by Mary C. Hill.

The abstract of Mary Hill’s book reads "The work of the king's messengers, bearing important messages to all parts of the realm and overseas, was vital to the government of medieval England ... Deservingly, the best messengers were well rewarded in service and retirement. Styled 'Nuncii' or 'Cursores' to distinguish horsemen and runners, they were familiar figures about the royal household, and were often known by distinctive nicknames. Mary Hill has succeeded in identifying, from Wardrobe and Exchequer accounts, and other sources, all the messengers for the reigns of John, Henry III, and the first three Edwards. They are presented in alphabetical order with a service record for each man, commentary and references. This study constitutes an important and valuable resource for all those interested in administrative, court or postal history for the period 1199-1377"

A noted 15th Century 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.[1] 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.[1] 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.

Modern day

Queen's Messenger diesel locomotive seen at Bristol Temple Meads station in 2008
Queen's Messenger diesel locomotive seen at Bristol Temple Meads station in 2008

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, but declining.

In 1995 a Parliamentary question[2] put the number of Messengers then at 27. The number in March 2015 was sixteen full-time and two part-time, and the departmental headcount was nineteen.[3] In December 2015 an article in the Daily Express suggested that the Queen's Messenger service was "facing the chop by cost-cutting Foreign Office mandarins who see them as a legacy of a by-gone age".[4]

The British Rail Class 67 diesel locomotive 67005 bears the name Queen's Messenger.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Mitchell, Keith (25 March 2014). "The Silver Greyhound - The Messenger Service". GOV.UK. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Hansard". UK Parliament. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  3. ^ Freedom of Information Act 2000 Request Ref: FOI Ref: 0315 Letter from Foreign & Commonwealth Office, dated 27 April 2015
  4. ^ Giannangeli, Marco (5 December 2015). "Queen's Messengers face the axe, heroes who resisted all tyrants, honeytraps and pirates". Daily Express. Retrieved 7 September 2016.

Further reading

  • Antrobus, George Pollock, and Cecil Hunt. King's Messenger, 1918-1940, Memoirs of a Silver Greyhound. London: H. Jenkins, 1941.
  • Bamber, Iain. From Pouch to Passport: A History of Kings & Queens Messenger Insignia. Mandurah, W.A.: DB Publishing, 2009.
  • O'Brien-Twohig, Michael. Diplomatic Courier. Elek Books, 1960.
  • Wheeler-Holohan, Vincent. The History of the King's Messengers. London: Grayson & Grayson, 1935.

External links

This page was last edited on 25 November 2019, at 14:10
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