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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

First meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers

13 June 1966

13 - 16 June 1966, London, United Kingdom. "It was agreed that Commonwealth countries should act in concert wherever possible in wider international organisations concerned with international trade and trade policy. Such action would aim to improve the position of Commonwealth countries in a practical way."

First Commonwealth Medical Conference

4 October 1965

4 - 13 October 1965, Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Ministers concluded that "adequate medical services are an essential foundation of social and economic progress in the developing countries. The Conference therefore took as its purpose a thorough review of the existing co-operation between Commonwealth countries in the fields of medicine and health and an examination of how this co-operation can be strengthened and extended."

First Commonwealth Education Conference

15 July 1959

15 - 28 July 1959, Oxford, United Kingdom. The meeting of Education ministers was convened in recognition of " the great importance of education and training as an indispensable condition of development. It is an objective of Commonwealth countries that their people should be able to share as widely as possible in the advantages of education of all kinds and at all levels".

Commonwealth Foundation is established

1 January 1966

Housed in Marlborough House in London, UK, the Commonwealth Foundation was set up to administer the interchanges between Commonwealth organisations in professional fields throughout the Commonwealth.

First meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers

21 July 1949

London, United Kingdom, 21 July 1949.
Ministers reviewed the economic position of the sterling area, in light of the recent fall in the level of gold and dollar reserves.

Regular meeting of Commonwealth Youth Ministers begin

10 May 1992

Male, Maldives, 10 -12 May 1992.
The discussions explored ways in which Ministries of Youth could be strengthened and the effectiveness of youth literacy and community service schemes improved.
Ministers had previously met in 1973 to consider the establishment of a Commonwealth Youth Programme.

Fiji's suspension from membership of the Commonwealth lifted Flag of Fiji

25 September 2014

Fiji was reinstated as a full member of the Commonwealth following a decision by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) at their 44th meeting in New York.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Abuja, Nigeria, 5-8 December, 2003 HM Queen Elizabeth II with Commonwealth Heads of Government, Abuja 2003

5 December 2003

Theme: Development & Democracy: Partnership for Peace & Prosperity

Declarations and Statements

  • The Aso Rock Commonwealth Declaration – Development and Democracy: Partnership for Peace and Prosperity
  • The Aso Rock Statement on Multilateral Trade
  • The Abuja Communiqué
  • CHOGM Statement on Zimbabwe
  • Functional Co-operation: Report of the Committee of the Whole
  • Ministerial Group on Small States:  Chairperson’s Report to CHOGM