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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 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 or 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 (QM) and their personal luggage however are not covered by special rules, so although the diplomatic bag, covered by the passport, is not checked, he and his 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 is not readily available; a Parliamentary question in 1995 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. An undated paper on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, apparently from 2005 or perhaps later, gives the number as 15. A Freedom of Information request to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows that the number of the Queen's Messengers, as of 7 February 2013, is 15. 13 are employed full time, while 2 are employed part time.