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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

Grenada joins the Commonwealth Image of Grenada flag

7 February 1974

7 February 1974

Grenada becomes the 36th country to join the Commonwealth.

The Bahamas joins the Commonwealth Image of The Bahamas flag

10 July 1973

10 July 1973

The Bahamas becomes the 35th country to join the Commonwealth.

Bangladesh joins The Commonwealth Image of Bangladesh flag

18 April 1972

18 April 1972

Bangladesh becomes the 34th country to join the Commonwealth.

Fiji joins the Commonwealth Flag of Fiji

10 October 1970

10 October 1970

Fiji becomes the 33rd country to join the Commonwealth.

Mauritius joins the Commonwealth Flag of Mauritius

12 March 1968

12 March 1968

Mauritius becomes the 28th country to join the Commonwealth.

Barbados joins the Commonwealth Flag of Barbados

30 November 1966

30 November 1966

Barbados becomes the 27th country to join the Commonwealth.

The Gambia joins the Commonwealth Flag of The Gambia

18 February 1965

18 February 1965

Gambia becomes the 22nd country to join the Commonwealth.

Malawi joins the Commonwealth Flag of Malawi

6 July 1964

6 July 1964

Malawi becomes the 19th country to join the Commonwealth.

Kenya joins the Commonwealth Flag of Kenya

12 December 1963

12 December 1963

Kenya becomes the 18th country to join the Commonwealth.

Jamaica joins the Commonwealth Flag of Jamaica

6 August 1962

6 August 1962

Jamaica becomes the 15th country to join the Commonwealth.

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