Home >About us >Our history

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

St Lucia joins the Commonwealth Flag of Saint Lucia

22 February 1979

22 February 1979

St Lucia becomes the 42nd country to join the Commonwealth.

Mozambique joins the Commonwealth Flag of Mozambique

13 November 1995

13 November 1995

Mozambique becomes the 54th country to join the Commonwealth.

Malta joins the Commonwealth Flag of Malta

21 September 1964

21 September 1964

Malta becomes the 20th country to join the Commonwealth

Malaysia joins the Commonwealth Flag of Malaysia

31 August 1957

31 Agusut 1957

Malaysia becomes the 10th country to join the Commonwealth.

Lesotho joins the Commonwealth Flag of Lesotho

4 October 1966

4 October 1966

Lesotho becomes the 26th country to join the Commonwealth.

Guyana joins the Commonwealth Flag of Guyana

26 May 1966

26 May 1966

Guyana becomes the 24th country to join the Commonwealth.

Botswana joins the Commonwealth Flag of Botswana

30 September 1966

30 September 1966

Botswana becomes the 25th country to join the Commonwealth.

Belize joins the Commonwealth Flag of Belize

21 September 1981

21 September 1981

Belize becomes the 47th country to join the Commonwealth.

The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC becomes the sixth Commonwealth Secretary-General The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC standing next to a Commonwealth flag

1 April 2016

In a breakthrough for gender equality in the Commonwealth, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC of Dominica was selected new Secretary-General - the first woman to hold the post. On 27 November 2015, in Malta, the Commonwealth Heads of Government appointed her the sixth Commonwealth Secretary-General. She assumed office on 1 April, 2016. Read more

Commonwealth Day, 2016 - An Inclusive Commonwealth Commonwealth Day 2016 theme, An Inclusive Commonwealth

14 March 2016

14 March 2016 In his Commonwelath Day message Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said that "taking strength from its diversity, the Commonwealth succeeds in creating common ground on which to stand together in answering the challenges of our times."

Pages