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.
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.
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.
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.
The Commonwealth library and archives are available for historical research and study at Marlborough House in London.
The Commonwealth Small States Office provides subsidised office space for diplomatic missions of Commonwealth small states, as well as a business centre for tenants and visiting small states delegations attending multilateral meetings in Geneva.
South Africa withdraws from The Commonwealth, after pressure from member states against its apartheid policies
1 November 1995
Cameroon becomes the 53rd country to join the Commonwealth.
21 March 1990
Namibia becomes the 52nd country to join the Commonwealth.
7 May 1984
Brunei Darussalam becomes the 52nd country to join the Commonwealth.
19 September 1983
St Kitts & Nevis becomes the 50th country to join the Commonwealth.
9 July 1982
Maldives becomes the 49th country to join the Commonwealth.
1 November 1981
Antigua & Barbuda becomes the 48th country to join the Commonwealth.
30 July 1980
Vanuatu becomes the 46th country to join the Commonwealth.
12 July 1979
Kiribati becomes the 43rd country to join the Commonwealth.