A History of British Passports.

Things they didn't teach you at school, then, and most certainly not now.
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A History of British Passports.

Postby Sandie Seward » Thu Oct 11, 2007 2:15 pm

THE British passport has had a long and proud history and a good many revamps - but there has been one constant. For 600 years it has been inextricably linked to our monarch.

Introduced in 1414, and mentioned by Henry V in his speech on the eve of Agincourt (according to Shakespeare), a passport or 'Safe Conduct' started out as just a note issued to someone travelling on the king's business.

Written in Latin or English and personally signed by the monarch, it asked that the holder be allowed to travel freely, and specified the destination, time and purpose of his journey.

There were, of course, earlier passports. The first known reference is found in the Bible's Book of Nehemiah, when an official serving a Persian king asks to travel to Judah. The king agrees and gives him a letter demanding he is granted safe passage.

The term passport probably originates from medieval documents which were sometimes required to pass through the gates - 'porte' in Latin - of ancient walled cities. In medieval times, such documents could be issued by local authorities.

The oldest surviving British passport --signed by King Charles I - was issued on June 18, 1641. The latest record of a monarch signing was in 1778, by George III for Sir John Stepney who from 1775 to 1782 was on a diplomatic mission to Dresden.

Like all British passports issued between 1772 and 1858, it was written in French - the official language of diplomacy. From 1794 the system changed so that passports were granted by the Secretary of State and centrally registered.

The First World War was the catalyst for a shake-up. Nation states issued passports to distinguish their own citizens from foreign nationals. At the outbreak of war, they were printed on paper, with a gluedon photo of the holder and cost 6d but they changed again when the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 came into force in 1915.

This determined in law that all persons born in the United Kingdom and Crown's dominions would hold the status of British subject and was the first modern British passport - a one-page document folded into eight, with a cardboard cover and a detailed personal description.

Again the design was short-lived. A League of Nations conference in 1920 agreed to a book-format passport for member states, each to be issued in two

languages - their own and French. Thus 'Old Blue', the passport sporting the Royal Coat of Arms, traditional wording and issued at the discretion of the government under the Royal Prerogative, was born. Over the next 68 years, other than the removal of the name of the Secretary of State from the text of the first page in 1954, and small security-related changes, very little changed. But in 1988 Old Blue was replaced by today's shrunken burgundy booklet with European Union on the cover.

Initially it was desperately unpopular but, despite cosmetic changes, its essential Britishness - the Royal Coat of Arms in gold on the front and the traditional wording on the first page - remained. It was still a UK passport, not an EU one - a fact very dear to our hearts.

Which is why, when the Royal Coat of Arms came under threat in 2000 - EU commissioner Antonio Vitorino wanted to replace it with the 12 yellow stars of the EU - there was such an uproar that the proposals were hurriedly shelved.
Sandie Seward
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Re: A History of British Passports.

Postby Brian » Tue Mar 23, 2010 8:42 pm

My wife just got one of the new RFID passports.
I was reading the inside cover and was surprised
To learn that British subjects do not have the right of abode
In the United Kingdom.

I checked this out at this link
Prior to 1949 under common law
British Subjects (any one born in Britain)
Had the right of abode in the UK.
After 1983 we became British Citizens
And the designation British subject was relegated
to a small sub category ?

Below are some surprising quotes
“The status of British subject cannot now be transmitted by descent, and will become extinct when all existing British subjects are dead.”
“The term "British subject" now has a very restrictive statutory definition in the United Kingdom, and it would therefore be incorrect to describe a British citizen as a British subject”

I bet you could win a bit of money in pub quizzes
With this one. How many people in the UK know they
Stopped being British Subjects 1n 1983.

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Joined: Tue Mar 23, 2010 8:16 pm

Re: A History of British Passports.

Postby startfresh » Fri Jul 16, 2010 11:41 am

good work chaps freshy
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