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The Head of the Commonwealth is the figurehead and "symbol of the free association of [the] independent member nations" of the Commonwealth of Nations (commonly known as the Commonwealth), an intergovernmental organisation that currently comprises 53 sovereign states. There is no set term of office or term limit and the role itself involves no part in the day-to-day governance of any of the member states within the Commonwealth.

Head of the
Personal flag of Queen Elizabeth II.svg
Queen Elizabeth II at Hillsborough Castle.jpg
Elizabeth II

since 6 February 1952
Style Her Majesty
Term length Life
Inaugural holder George VI
Formation 28 April 1949

By 1949, the British Commonwealth was a group of eight countries, each having George VI as king. India, however, desired to become a republic, but not depart the Commonwealth by doing so. This was accommodated by the creation of the title Head of the Commonwealth for the King and India became a republic in 1950. Subsequently, many other nations including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore ceased to recognize the head of the commonwealth as the head of their respective nations.[1]

The title is currently held by Queen Elizabeth II, George VI's eldest daughter.



The title was devised in the London Declaration as a result of discussions at the 1949 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.[2] Since 1953, it has formed a part of the monarch's title in each Commonwealth realm.

Use in different languages
Language Title Used in
Afrikaans Hoof van die Statebond (lit. 'Head of the Confederation') South Africa
Chinese 共和联邦元首[n 1] (lit. 'Head of the Republic Federation') Singapore
French Chef du Commonwealth Cameroon, Canada, Seychelles, Vanuatu, British Crown dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey
Greek Αρχηγός της Κοινοπολιτείας Republic of Cyprus, Akrotiri and Dhekelia (British Overseas Territory, Sovereign Base Areas)
Latin Consortionis Populorum Princeps Various (as secondary title, especially in the United Kingdom[n 2][3])
Malay Ketua Komanwel Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore
Maltese Kap tal-Commonwealth Malta
Māori Upoko o Nga Herenga ki Ingarangi[4] (lit. 'Leader of the links with England') New Zealand
Portuguese Chefe da Commonwealth Mozambique


The Head of the Commonwealth, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is recognised by the members of the Commonwealth of Nations as the "symbol of their free association" and serves as a leader, with assistants[citation needed] that play key roles, such as the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. The Head of the Commonwealth does not, though, have any role in the governance of any Commonwealth state; Elizabeth's positions as monarch of each of the 16 Commonwealth realms are separate from that of Head of the Commonwealth.

The Head of the Commonwealth or a representative (such as Charles, Prince of Wales) attends the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), held at locations throughout the Commonwealth. This is a tradition begun by the monarch on the advice of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1973,[5] when the CHOGM was first held in Canada. During the summit, the Head of the Commonwealth has a series of private meetings with Commonwealth countries' leaders, attends a CHOGM reception and dinner, and makes a general speech. The Queen or a representative is also present at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games and on every Commonwealth Day, the second Monday in March, broadcasts a message to all member countries.

The London Declaration states that "The King [acts] as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth", whereby both republics and kingdoms that are not Commonwealth realms can recognise the monarch as Head of the Commonwealth without accepting the person as the country's head of state. However, though each Commonwealth realm's laws on royal titles and styles make Head of the Commonwealth part of the reigning monarch's full title, and Queen Elizabeth II declared in 1958, through the Letters Patent creating her son, Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales, that Charles and his heirs and successors shall be future Heads of the Commonwealth,[6] there have been conflicting statements on how successors to the position of Head of the Commonwealth are chosen. The Commonwealth Secretariat asserts any successor will be chosen collectively by the Commonwealth heads of government.[7] Commonwealth heads of government, such as then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have already referred to Prince Charles as "the future head of the Commonwealth"[8] and in 2015 then-Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key said "The title [of Head of the Commonwealth] should just go with the Crown".[9] The Daily Telegraph reported that "the post is not hereditary and many leaders want an elected head to make the organisation more democratic."[10] Representatives of the monarchy have approached other Commonwealth governments to support Charles's succession to the title, but it will likely not be part of the proclamation declaring him as king; as part of Operation London Bridge, British officials will lobby diplomats and foreign dignitaries as they gather in London for Elizabeth's funeral.[11]


In 1949, King George VI was king of each of the countries that then comprised the British Commonwealth (later the Commonwealth of Nations): the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ceylon, India, and Pakistan. However, the Indian Cabinet desired the country become a republic, but not depart the Commonwealth as a consequence of no longer having George VI as king, as happened to Ireland. To accommodate this, the London Declaration, devised by Canadian prime minister Louis St. Laurent, stated that the King, as the symbol of the free association of the countries of the Commonwealth, was the Head of the Commonwealth.[12] When India adopted a republican constitution on 26 January 1950, George VI ceased to be its monarch (the President of India, Rajendra Prasad, becoming head of state), but it did regard him as Head of the Commonwealth.

Elizabeth II became Head of the Commonwealth on her accession in 1952, stating at the time "[t]he Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace."[13] The following year, a Royal Style and Titles Act was passed in each of the Commonwealth realms, adding for the first time the term Head of the Commonwealth to the monarch's titles.

In December 1960, the Queen had a personal flag created to symbolise her as Head of the Commonwealth and not associated with her role as queen of any particular country. Over time, the flag has replaced the British Royal Standard when the Queen visits Commonwealth countries of which she is not head of state (and thus does not possess a unique royal standard for that state) and on Commonwealth occasions in the United Kingdom. When the Queen visits the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, this personal standard—not any of her royal standards—is raised.[14]

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said Elizabeth was a "behind the scenes force" in ending apartheid in South Africa.[15][16]


With the Queen in her 90s, and the position of "Head of the Commonwealth" not technically hereditary, talks as to whether or not Prince Charles or someone else should become the third person to hold it have been going on for some time.[17]

Sources told the BBC that the issue was to whether it should be a one-off decision to elect Prince Charles to the Headship, or whether a new process should be agreed upon to ensure that it is always the British monarch who automatically becomes head of the Commonwealth.[18][19][20]

Rumours have also circulated that rotating ceremonial "republican" headship might be instituted.[21][22]

List of Heads of the CommonwealthEdit

Name Portrait Birth Death Start End
George VI   14 December 1895 6 February 1952 28 April 1949[n 3] 6 February 1952
Elizabeth II   21 April 1926 Living 6 February 1952[n 4] Incumbent

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Written in Simplified Chinese. Mandarin Hanyu Pinyin: Gònghé Liánbāng Yuánshǒu. Mandarin is one of the four official languages of Singapore and Simplified Chinese is the official script.
  2. ^ In the United Kingdom, the sovereign's titles in Latin have been regulated by laws.
  3. ^ Based on the London Declaration and does not match his reign as king, which began on 11 December 1936.
  4. ^ Date of Elizabeth II's accession as Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


  1. ^ "About the commonwealth". The Foreign and Commonwealth office, UK. Retrieved 12 January 2018. 
  2. ^ London Declaration 1949 (PDF), Commonwealth Secretariat, retrieved 2 April 2013 
  3. ^ "Biography of Elizabeth II (UK)". 
  4. ^ "Translation of Ingarangi at Māori Dictionary Online". Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Heinricks, Geoff (2001), Canadian Monarchist News, Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada, Winter/Spring 2000–2001, retrieved 26 February 2010  Missing or empty |title= (help); |contribution= ignored (help)
  6. ^ Elizabeth II, Letters Patent creating Prince Charles Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, 1958 (PDF), Queen's Printer, retrieved 3 June 2014 
  7. ^ FAQs, The Commonwealth, retrieved 18 December 2013 
  8. ^ Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on Commonwealth Day, Prime Minister of Canada, 10 March 2014, retrieved 4 April 2014 
  9. ^ "Charles wins support to head Commonwealth". New Zealand Herald. 28 November 2015. Retrieved 28 November 2015. 
  10. ^ Rayner, Gordon (27 November 2015). "State visit to Malta: Queen hints to sceptical leaders that Prince should be next Head of the Commonwealth". 
  11. ^ Knight, Sam (2016-03-17). "Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen's death". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-03-17. 
  12. ^ London Declaration (PDF), Commonwealth Secretariat, 1949, retrieved 29 July 2013 
  13. ^ "Head of the Commonwealth". Commonwealth Secretariat. 
  14. ^ "Mailbox". Royal Insight. September 2006. p. 3. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008. 
  15. ^ Geddes, John (2012). "The day she descended into the fray". Maclean's (Special Commemorative Edition: The Diamond Jubilee: Celebrating 60 Remarkable years ed.): 72. 
  16. ^ MacQueen, Ken; Treble, Patricia (2012). "The Jewel in the Crown". Maclean's (Special Commemorative Edition: The Diamond Jubilee: Celebrating 60 Remarkable years ed.): 43–44. 
  17. ^ Landale, James (13 February 2018). "Commonwealth in secret succession plans" – via 
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^

External linksEdit