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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

Commonwealth Day, 2014 - Team Commonwealth Commonwealth Day 2014 theme, Team Commonwealth

10 March 2014

10 March 2014 In his Commonwealth Day message Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said that "the essence of a team is that – like the Commonwealth – its members know the advantage of working together and the strength of mutual support. The essence of a team also is that – like the Commonwealth – it has shared aspirations and a sense of common purpose, and relies on the range of contributions and different strengths of each of its members. The essence of a successful team – such as the Commonwealth – is that together it achieves more than the sum of its parts."

Commonwealth Day, 2015 - A Young Commonwealth Commonwealth Day 2015 theme, A Young Commonwealth

9 March 2015

9 March 2015 In his Commonwealth Day message Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma stated, "Our theme for this Commonwealth Day and the year ahead is ‘A Young Commonwealth’. This reminds us that youth, and progress through innovation are at the heart of the Commonwealth. New approaches and fresh thinking help us to realise our potential, and continually to replenish the collective wisdom that is our shared Commonwealth inheritance, and a rich resource adding global value."

Commonwealth Day, 2018 - Towards a Common Future Commonwealth Day 2018 theme, towards a common future

12 March 2018

12 March 2018    In her Commonwealth Day message for 2018 Secretary-General Patricia Scotland highlighted the work being done on developing the Commonwealth Blue Charter. “By agreeing to protect the health of oceans and marine life, and to use the precious resources they yield in responsible and sustainable ways, we will be sharing more fairly the benefits they bestow, and preserving these for future generations.”

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Auckland, New Zealand. 10-13 November 1995 Commonwealth Leaders in session at CHOGM 95

10 November 1995

Declarations and Statements

  • The Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration
  • Auckland Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Functional Co-operation
  • Report of the Committee of the Whole
  • Ministerial Group on Small States, Report of the Chairperson

Singapore joins the Commonwealth Flag of Singapore

15 October 1965

15 October 1965

Singapore becomes the 23rd country to join the Commonwealth.

Pakistan joins the Commonwealth Flag of Pakistan

15 August 1947

15 August 1947

Pakistan becomes the 7th country to join the Commonwealth.

Nauru joins the Commonwealth Flag of Nauru

29 November 1968

29 November 1968

Nauru becomes the 30th country to join the Commonwealth.

Zimbabwe joins the Commonwealth Flag of Zimbabwe

18 April 1980

18 April 1980

Zimbabwe becomes the 45th country to join the Commonwealth.

Zambia joins the Commonwealth Flag of Zambia

24 October 1964

24 October 1964

Zambia becomes the 21st country to join the Commonwealth.