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Our history

The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political associations of states. Its roots go back to the British Empire, when countries around the world were ruled by Britain.

The early Commonwealth

Over time different countries of the British Empire gained different levels of freedom from Britain. Semi-independent countries were called Dominions. Leaders of the Dominions attended conferences with Britain from 1887.

The 1926 Imperial Conference was attended by the leaders of Australia, Canada, India, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa.

At the 1926 conference Britain and the Dominions agreed that they were all equal members of a community within the British Empire. They all owed allegiance to the British king or queen, but the United Kingdom did not rule over them. This community was called the British Commonwealth of Nations or just the Commonwealth.

Birth of the modern Commonwealth

The Dominions and other territories of the British Empire gradually became fully independent of the United Kingdom.

India became independent in 1947. India wanted to become a republic which didn't owe allegiance to the British king or queen, but it also wanted to stay a member of the Commonwealth.

At a Commonwealth Prime Ministers meeting in London in 1949, the London Declaration said that republics and other countries could be part of the Commonwealth. The modern Commonwealth of Nations was born.

King George VI was the first Head of the Commonwealth, and Queen Elizabeth II became Head when he died. But the British king or queen is not automatically Head of the Commonwealth. Commonwealth member countries choose who becomes Head of the Commonwealth.

The modern Commonwealth

Since 1949 independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined the Commonwealth. Membership today is based on free and equal voluntary co-operation.

The last 2 countries to join the Commonwealth - Rwanda and Mozambique - have no historical ties to the British Empire.

The Commonwealth Secretariat was created in 1965 as a central intergovermental organisation to manage the Commonwealth's work.

Commonwealth library and archive

The Commonwealth library and archives are available for historical research and study at Marlborough House in London.

Stories from the Commonwealth archive

United Republic of Tanzania joins the Commonwealth Flag of the United Republic of Tanzania

9 December 1961

9 December 1961

United Republic of Tanzania becomes the 14th country to join the Commonwealth.

Uganda joins the Commonwealth flag of Uganda

9 October 1962

9 October 1962

Uganda becomes the 17th country to join the Commonwealth.

Tuvalu joins the Commonwealth Flag of Tuvalu

1 October 1978

1 October 1978

Tuvalu becomes the 40th country to join the Commonwealth.

Trinidad and Tobago joins the Commonwealth Flag of Trinidad and Tobago

31 August 1962

31 August 1962

Trinidad and Tobago becomes the 16th country to join the Commonwealth.

Tonga joins the Commonwealth Flag of Tonga

4 June 1970

4 June 1970

Tonga becomes the 31st country to join the Commonwealth.

Swaziland joins the Commonwealth Flag of the Kingdom of eSwatini (formally Swaziland)

6 September 1968

6 September 1968

Swaziland becomes the 29th country to join the Commonwealth.

Solomon Islands joins the Commonwealth Flag of the Solomon Islands

7 July 1978

7 July 1978

Solomon Islands becomes the 39th country to join the Commonwealth.

Sierra Leone joins the Commonwealth Flag of Sierra Leone

27 April 1961

27 April 1961

Sierra Leone becomes the 13th country to join the Commonwealth.

Samoa joins the Commonwealth Flag of Samoa

28 August 1970

28 August 1970

Samoa becomes the 32nd country to join the Commonwealth.

St Vincent and The Grenadines joins the Commonwealth Flag of St Vincent and The Grenadines

27 October 1979

27 October 1979

St Vincent and The Grenadines becomes the 44th country to join the Commonwealth.

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