The Queen’s Passport

This was one of my most-popular articles in 2011. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

Just a quick thought: what does it say on the inside front cover of the Queen‘s passport?

A British passport, with its famous inside text.

Presumably it ought to say:

My Secretary of State requests and requires in my name all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.

Nonetheless, I’ll bet that she doesn’t get as much trouble at passport control as I do, despite the fact that she doesn’t have a surname at all (to be completely accurate, Windsor is the name of her royal house, and is not a surname in the conventional sense). It makes the Passport Office look a little silly to complain about my unusually short name.

Interesting fact about passports: in their current form, they’re a comparatively new invention, but have achieved a rather quick ubiquity in international travel. Historically, the term “port” in their name doesn’t refer, as you’d expect, to sea ports, but instead to the “portes” (gates) of walled cities: most early passports granted the bearer the permission of their lord or monarch to travel between cities in their own country – sea ports and international boundaries were considered fair game for anybody to cross.

It was only really with the outbreak of the First World War that it became a widespread mandate that travelers had passports to cross international borders, as the nations of Europe fought to prevent spies. The Schengen Area – only around 25 years old and hailed as welcome liberalisation of European international transit laws – could actually be likened to a step backwards to a simpler time when citizens movements were not so closely monitored.