Head of the Commonwealth

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Head of the
Personal flag of Queen Elizabeth II.svg
Queen Elizabeth II March 2015.jpg
Queen Elizabeth II

since 6 Feb 1952
Style Her Majesty
Term length Life
Inaugural holder King George VI
Formation 28 April 1949
Website thecommonwealth.org

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.

By 1949, the then 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. The title is currently held by the eldest daughter of George VI, Queen Elizabeth II.


The title was devised in the London Declaration as a result of discussions at the 1949 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.[1] 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)
Hindi राष्ट्रमंडल के प्रमुख Rāṣṭramaṇḍala kē Pramukh Republic of India
Latin Consortionis Populorum Princeps Various (as secondary title, especially in the United Kingdom[n 2][2])
Malay Ketua Komanwel Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore
Maltese Kap tal-Commonwealth Malta
Māori Upoko o Nga Herenga ki Ingarangi[3] (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 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,[4] 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,[5] 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.[6] 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"[7] and Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key has said "The title [of Head of the Commonwealth] should just go with the Crown".[8] In the Daily Telegraph, it was reported "the post is not hereditary and many leaders want an elected head to make the organisation more democratic."[9]


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.[10] 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 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."[11] 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.[12]

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said Elizabeth was a "behind the scenes force" in ending apartheid in South Africa.[13][14]

List of Heads of the Commonwealth

Name Portrait Birth Death Start End
George VI King George VI of England, formal photo portrait, circa 1940-1946.jpg 14 December 1895 6 February 1952 28 April 1949[n 3] 6 February 1952
Elizabeth II Elizabeth II greets NASA GSFC employees, May 8, 2007 edit.jpg 21 April 1926 Living 6 February 1952[n 4] Incumbent

See also


  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 to the throne of the Commonwealth realms.


  1. London Declaration 1949 (PDF), Commonwealth Secretariat, retrieved 2 April 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Biography of Elizabeth II (UK)". archontology.org.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Translation of Ingarangi at Māori Dictionary Online". Retrieved 17 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 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)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Elizabeth II, Letters Patent creating Prince Charles Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, 1958 (PDF), Queen's Printer, retrieved 3 June 2014<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. FAQs, The Commonwealth, retrieved 18 December 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on Commonwealth Day, Prime Minister of Canada, 10 March 2014, retrieved 4 April 2014<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Charles wins support to head Commonwealth". New Zeland Herald. 28 November 2015. Retrieved 28 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Head of the Commonwealth role could become hereditary, royalcentral.co.uk, retrieved 31 January 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. London Declaration (PDF), Commonwealth Secretariat, 1949, retrieved 29 July 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Head of the Commonwealth". Commonwealth Secretariat.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Mailbox". Royal Insight. September 2006. p. 3. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Geddes, John (2012). "The day she descended into the fray". Maclean's (Special Commemorative Edition: The Diamond Jubilee: Celebrating 60 Remarkable years ed.): 72.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>