I have recently decided to write articles on my favourite subjects: English Sports, English History, English Icons and English Inventions. At present I have written over 100 articles which eventually I shall call "An Englishman's Favourite Bits Of England" in various Volumes. Please visit my Blogs page http://Bloggs.Resources.Com where I have listed all my articles to date.
As the passport is such an integral part of travelling the world I thought I would tell the history of the earliest passport from England in 1414 AD.
In England, the earliest surviving reference to a "safe conduct" document appears during the reign of Henry V, in an Act of Parliament dated 1414. At that time, documents like these could be issued by the king to anyone, whether they were English or not. Foreign nationals even got theirs free of charge, while English subjects had to pay. Needless to say, the monarch did not - and still does not - need a safe conduct document.
From 1540, the granting of travelling papers became the business of the Privy Council. By this point the term "passport" was being used, although whether it originated with the idea of people passing through maritime ports or through the gates in city walls ("portes" in French) remains a matter for debate. A passport from this period, issued on June 18 1641 and signed by Charles I, still exists. From 1794, the office of the secretary of state took control of issuing passports, a function that the Home Office retains today. Records remain of every British passport granted from this time, although they continued to be available to foreign nationals and were written in French until 1858, when the passport first acquired its role as a British identity document. Nevertheless, passports were not generally required for international travel until the first world war.
It was in the early 20th century that passports as we would recognise them today began to be used. The first modern British passport, the product of the British Nationality and Status Aliens Act 1914, consisted of a single page, folded into eight and held together with a cardboard cover. It was valid for two years and, as well as a photograph and signature, featured a personal description, including details such as "shape of face", "complexion" and "features". The entry on this last category might read something like: "Forehead: broad. Nose: large. Eyes: small." Remarkably, some travellers claimed to find this dehumanising. Following an agreement among the League of Nations to standardise passports, the famous "old blue" was issued in 1920. Apart from a few adjustments to its duration and security features, the old blue remained a steady symbol of the touring Briton until it gradually began to be replaced by the burgundy-coloured European version in 1988.
The passports of other countries are, on the whole, remarkably similar to Britain's, although some do have their quirks. The new Nicaraguan passport, for instance, boasts 89 separate security features, including "bi dimensional bar codes", holograms and watermarks, and is reputed to be one of the least forgeable documents in the world. The Israeli passport, through no flaw in its design, must be one of the most useless, as it is not accepted by 23 different Muslim countries, nor by Cuba or North Korea. The Vatican, incidentally, has no immigration controls, but it does issue passports. The Pope, among his other honours, always carries "Passport No 1".
The passports of the future will feature embedded microchips and biometric data, such as photographs, fingerprints and iris patterns. Malaysia was the first country to introduce this technology, and Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, the UK, the US, Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Poland, among others, have recently followed.
English Passport History Timeline
A reference is made to 'Safe Conducts' (the earliest passports) in an Act of Parliament during the reign of King Henry V.
The Privy Council Register begins, leaving us a record of Privy Council business. According to the Register, this includes granting passports.
A passport from this date still exists. It was issued on 18 June and signed by King Charles I.
References in the Commons Journal show that both the House of Commons and the House of Lords grants passes to foreign and British subjects during these years.
Until this date, passports were written in Latin or English. From this date onwards they are written in French (but see 1858).
From this date, all passports are issued by the Secretary of State and their issue is recorded. (Before this date some passports were issued and signed by the king or queen.)
From this date, passports are restricted to United Kingdom nationals. (Before this date a 'passport' could be issued to a person of any nationality as a promise of 'safe conduct' from the King or Queen.) Passports start to be written in English again from this date, having been written in French since 1772.
Start of the First World War. By this point, British passports are printed on paper and contain a photograph of the passport holder. The British Nationality and Status Aliens Act is passed. Around the world, countries start issuing passports as a way of distinguishing their citizens from others they think of as 'foreign nationals'.
The first modern UK passport is issued. It is a folded one-page document valid for two years.
End of the First World War.
The League of Nations International Conference on Passports agrees on a new book format for passports.
UK passports no longer show the name of the Secretary of State.
The British Visitor's passport is introduced. It is available from Crown Post Offices and can be used for visiting western Europe.
The first 10-year UK passports are issued.
Passports are changed slightly, for example, the paper used now has a special watermark for security.
A 94-page passport is introduced for frequent travellers.
Passport photographs are now laminated for security - it is harder to change the photograph.
An overprint is added to the laminate to further increase security.
Occupation and country of residence details are no longer included on passports.
'Family' or 'joint' passports are no longer issued.
The first burgundy-coloured machine-readable UK passports are issued. A common format is introduced for European Community member states' passports.
The British Visitor's passport is discontinued.
The first UK passports with references to the European Union are issued.
New security measures include the use of a digital facial image rather than a laminated photograph and intaglio or raised printing on the inside on the front and back covers is introduced. Children under 16 can no longer be included on new adult passports but must have a separate child passport.
26 October: Passports featuring electronic chip and antenna introduced.
October: New passport design includes strengthened security features and iconic images from across the nation.
My family tree has been traced back to the early Kings of England from the 7th Century AD. I am also a direct descendent of Sir Christopher Wren which has given me an interest in English History, English Sports, English Icons and English Inventions which is great fun to research.
Please visit my Funny Animal Art Prints Collection @ http://www.fabprints.com
My other website is called Directory of British Icons: http://fabprints.webs.com
The Chinese call Britain The Island of Hero's which I think sums up what we British are all about.
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