Head of the Commonwealth
Charles, Prince of Wales at COP21.jpg
Charles III
since 8 September 2022
SeatMarlborough House, London
AppointerCommonwealth heads of government
Term lengthLife tenure
Inaugural holderGeorge VI
FormationApril 1949; 73 years ago (1949-04)

The head of the Commonwealth is the ceremonial leader who symbolises "the free association of independent member nations" of the Commonwealth of Nations, an intergovernmental organisation that currently comprises 56 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. The position is currently held by King Charles III.[1]

By 1949, the British Commonwealth was a group of eight countries, each having King George VI as monarch. India, however, desired to become a republic, but not to leave 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 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, other nations, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ghana, and Singapore also became republics, but, as members of the Commonwealth of Nations, recognised her as Head of the Commonwealth.[2]


The Commonwealth Prime Ministers with the King at Buckingham Palace for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, 1949
The Commonwealth Prime Ministers with the King at Buckingham Palace for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, 1949

In 1949, 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, India, Pakistan, and Ceylon. However, the Indian Cabinet desired the country to become a republic, but not to leave the Commonwealth as a consequence of no longer having George VI as king, as happened to Ireland. To accommodate this, the London Declaration, issued in late April 1949,[3][4][5][6] and 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. When India adopted a republican constitution on 26 January 1950, George VI ceased to be its monarch (the president of India, Rajendra Prasad, became 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, "the 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."[7] 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.

The Queen had a personal flag created in December 1960 to symbolise her as Head of the Commonwealth without being associated with her role as queen of any particular country. Over time, the flag replaced the British Royal Standard when the Queen visited Commonwealth countries of which she was head of state but did not possess a royal standard for that country,[8] or of which she was not head of state, as well as on Commonwealth occasions in the United Kingdom. When the Queen visited the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, this personal standard—not any of her royal standards—was raised.[9]

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said Elizabeth was a "behind the scenes force" in ending apartheid in South Africa.[10][11][non sequitur]

After the Queen's death on 8 September 2022, King Charles III became Head of the Commonwealth.


The title was devised in the London Declaration as a result of discussions at the 1949 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. It is rendered in Latin as Consortionis Populorum Princeps,[12][13][14] and in French as Chef du Commonwealth.[15]

Roles and duties

The head of the Commonwealth is recognised by the members of the Commonwealth of Nations as the "symbol of their free association" and serves as a leader, alongside the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. Although Elizabeth II was queen of 15 member-states of the Commonwealth, she did not have any role in the governance of any Commonwealth state by virtue of her role as head of the Commonwealth. She kept in touch with Commonwealth developments through regular contact with the Commonwealth secretary general and the Secretariat, the Commonwealth's central organisation.[16]

The head of the Commonwealth or a representative 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,[17] 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' heads of government, attends a CHOGM reception and dinner, and makes a general speech.

The head of the Commonwealth or a representative has also been present at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games. The Queen's Baton Relay, held prior to the beginning of the Commonwealth Games, carried a message from the head of the Commonwealth to all Commonwealth Nations and territories.[18][19]

Every year on Commonwealth Day, the second Monday in March, Queen Elizabeth II broadcast a special message to all the peoples of the Commonwealth, about 2.5 billion people.[20] That same day, she attended the inter-denominational Commonwealth Day Service held at Westminster Abbey.[21]


The Head of the Commonwealth delivering the inaugural address at the CHOGM 2011 in Perth, Australia
The Head of the Commonwealth delivering the inaugural address at the CHOGM 2011 in Perth, Australia

The position of Head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary and successors are chosen by the leaders of the Commonwealth.[22] Once in office, there is no term limit, so the incumbent is practically chosen for life.

By 2018, with Elizabeth II in her 90s, there had been discussions for some time about whether her eldest son, Charles, or someone else should become the third head of the Commonwealth.[23] 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. Though each Commonwealth realm's laws on royal titles and styles made Head of the Commonwealth part of the Queen's full title,[citation needed] and Queen Elizabeth II declared in 1958, through the letters patent creating Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, that Charles and his heirs and successors shall be future heads of the Commonwealth,[24][25][26][dubious ] there have been conflicting statements on how successors to the position of Head of the Commonwealth are chosen. While the Commonwealth Secretariat asserted any successor would be chosen collectively by the Commonwealth heads of government,[27] Commonwealth heads of government, such as the then prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, had already referred to Prince Charles as "the future head of the Commonwealth",[28] and in 2015 the then prime minister of New Zealand, John Key, said, "the title [of Head of the Commonwealth] should just go with the Crown".[29]

Commentators in British newspapers discussed whether it should be a one-off decision to elect Prince Charles to the headship, whether the British monarch should automatically become head of the Commonwealth, or whether the post should be elected or chosen by consensus.[30][31][32] There was also speculation that a rotating ceremonial "republican" headship might be instituted.[33][34] The Daily Telegraph reported that "the post is not hereditary and many leaders want an elected head to make the organisation more democratic."[35]

In 2018, following the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Commonwealth leaders declared that Charles would be the next head of the Commonwealth,[36] while the role remained non-hereditary.[37][38] Consequently, after the Queen's death on 8 September 2022, Charles automatically became Head of the Commonwealth.[1]

List of heads

No. Portrait Name Term
Start End Duration
King George VI LOC matpc.14736 (cleaned).jpg
George VI
26/28 April 1949[n 1] 6 February 1952 2 years, 284 days
Queen Elizabeth II official portrait for 1959 tour (retouched) (cropped) (3-to-4 aspect ratio).jpg
Elizabeth II
6 February 1952 8 September 2022 70 years, 214 days
Charles Prince of Wales.jpg
Charles III
(born 1948)
8 September 2022 Incumbent 106 days

See also


  1. ^ Based on the London Declaration.[3]


  1. ^ a b The Commonwealth - About Us, TheCommonwealth.org. Retrieved 10 September 2022
  2. ^ "Our history". Commonwealth. Retrieved 11 September 2022.
  3. ^ a b London Declaration 1949 (PDF), Commonwealth Secretariat, archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2012, retrieved 2 April 2013
  4. ^ S. A. de Smith (1949), "The London Declaration of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, April 28, 1949", The Modern Law Review, Wiley on behalf of the Modern Law Review, 12 (3): 351–354, doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1949.tb00131.x, JSTOR 1090506
  5. ^ Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family: A Glorious Illustrated History, Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2016, p. 118, ISBN 9780241296653
  6. ^ "MEETING of PRIME MINISTERS, APRIL, 1949 Text of Final Communique Issued at the Conclusion of the Meeting of Prime Ministers Held at London from 22 to 27 April, 1949, Together with Press Statement by the Right Hon. P. Fraser London, 28 April, 1949". Papers Past. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  7. ^ "Head of the Commonwealth". Commonwealth Secretariat. Archived from the original on 31 March 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2009.
  8. ^ "Personal Flags". Royal Household. Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  9. ^ "Mailbox". Royal Insight. September 2006. p. 3. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008.
  10. ^ Geddes, John (2012). "The day she descended into the fray". Maclean's (Special Commemorative Edition: The Diamond Jubilee: Celebrating 60 Remarkable years ed.): 72.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Biography of Elizabeth II (UK)". archontology.org.
  13. ^ "Burke's Peerage".
  14. ^ "No. 39873". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 May 1953. pp. 3023–3023.
  15. ^ "Lois codifiées Règlements codifiés". Site Web de la législation (Justice). 1 January 2003. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  16. ^ "Commonwealth Governance". Royal.uk. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  17. ^ Heinricks, Geoff (2001), "Trudeau and the monarchy; National Post", Canadian Monarchist News, vol. Winter/Spring 2000–2001, Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada, archived from the original on 22 June 2008, retrieved 26 February 2010
  18. ^ "Queen's baton relay". Archived from the original on 7 February 2018. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Commonwealth Games: Queen's Baton Relay route announced". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  20. ^ The Commonwealth Yearbook 2006, Commonwealth Secretariat, 2006, p. 21, ISBN 9780954962944
  21. ^ Robert Hardman (2007), A Year with the Queen, Touchstone, p. 208, ISBN 9781416563488
  22. ^ "About us". The Commonwealth. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  23. ^ Landale, James (13 February 2018). "Commonwealth in secret succession plans". BBC News.
  24. ^ Elizabeth II, Letters Patent creating Prince Charles Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, 1958, Queen's Printer, retrieved 3 June 2014
  25. ^ Prince Charles should not automatically succeed the Queen as the Head of the Commonwealth, says Corbyn[circular reference]
  26. ^ Why Prince Charles deserves to be the next Head of the Commonwealth[circular reference]
  27. ^ "FAQs | The Commonwealth". web.archive.org. 3 November 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  28. ^ Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on Commonwealth Day, Prime Minister of Canada, 10 March 2014, archived from the original on 7 April 2014, retrieved 4 April 2014
  29. ^ "Charles wins support to head Commonwealth". New Zealand Herald. 28 November 2015. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  30. ^ Mount, Harry (13 February 2018). "After seven decades of slogging around the globe, doesn't Prince Charles deserve to lead the Commonwealth?". The Telegraph – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  31. ^ Mohabir, Nalini (15 February 2018). "The next head of the Commonwealth must not be a royal from Brexit Britain - Nalini Mohabir". The Guardian.
  32. ^ Palmer, Richard (13 February 2018). "Prince Charles 'might NOT be next head of Commonwealth if the Queen dies'".
  33. ^ Perring, Rebecca (13 February 2018). "'Disastrous consequences!' Anger at talks to block Charles' role as Head of Commonwealth".
  34. ^ "What Prince Charles should say to the Commonwealth - Coffee House". 18 February 2018.
  35. ^ Rayner, Gordon (27 November 2015). "State visit to Malta: Queen hints to sceptical leaders that Prince should be next Head of the Commonwealth". telegraph.co.uk. Archived from the original on 28 November 2015.
  36. ^ "Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 - Leaders' Statement". The Commonwealth. The Commonwealth of Nations. 21 April 2018. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  37. ^ "Prince Charles to be next Commonwealth head". BBC News. 20 April 2018. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  38. ^ "Prince Charles to succeed Queen as Commonwealth head". Sky News. 20 April 2018. Retrieved 20 April 2018.