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Commonwealth realm

The Commonwealth realms, shown in blue. Former Commonwealth realms are shown in red.

A Commonwealth realm is a sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations that has Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state.[1][2] The sixteen current realms have a combined land area of 18.8 million km (7.3 million mi , excluding Antarctic claims), and a population of 135 million,[3] of which all, except about two million, live in the six most populous states: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, the New Zealand, and Jamaica.

Nearly all the realms were once British colonies that evolved into independent states, the current exceptions being the United Kingdom (UK) itself and Papua New Guinea, which was formed in 1975 as a union of the former German New Guinea administered by Australia as an international trusteeship before independence and the former British New Guinea legally the territory of Papua, administered for the UK by Australia since 1905. The first realms to emerge were colonies that had already previously attained the status of a self-governing Dominion within the British Empire.

For a time, the older term of Dominion was retained to refer to these non-British realms, even though their actual status had changed with the granting of full legislative independence. The word is still sometimes used today, though increasingly rarely, as the word realm was formally introduced with Britain's proclamation of Elizabeth II as queen in 1952 and acquired legal status with the adoption of the modern royal styles and titles by the individual countries.[1] The qualified term Commonwealth realm is not official, and has not been used in law; rather, it is a term of convenience for distinguishing this group of realms from other countries in the Commonwealth that do not share the same monarch.


Current Commonwealth realms

Country Pop. Monarchy Date Queen's Title Sovereign's Royal Standard
Antigua and Barbuda 0.08 Monarchy of Antigua and Barbuda 1981 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Antigua and Barbuda and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth. None
Australia 22.75 Monarchy of Australia 1942 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.
The Bahamas 0.35 Monarchy of the Bahamas 1973 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth. None
Barbados 0.28 Monarchy of Barbados 1966 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Barbados and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
Belize 0.33 Monarchy of Belize 1981 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Belize and of Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth None
Canada 34.63 Monarchy of Canada 1931 , by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith
Grenada 0.11 Monarchy of Grenada 1974 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Grenada and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth None
Jamaica 2.85 Monarchy of Jamaica 1962 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Jamaica and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
New Zealand 4.39 Monarchy of New Zealand 1947 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith
Papua New Guinea 6.19 Monarchy of Papua New Guinea 1975 Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Papua New Guinea and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth[5] None
Saint Kitts and Nevis 0.05 Monarchy of Saint Kitts and Nevis 1983 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Saint Christopher and Nevis and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth None
Saint Lucia 0.17 Monarchy of Saint Lucia 1979 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Saint Lucia and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth None
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 0.12 Monarchy of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1979 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth None
Solomon Islands 0.52 Monarchy of the Solomon Islands 1978 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the Solomon Islands and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth None
Tuvalu 0.01 Monarchy of Tuvalu 1978 Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Tuvalu and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth None
United Kingdom 62.26 Monarchy of the United Kingdom n/a , by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith

Relationship of the realms

The Commonwealth realms are sovereign states, united only in the voluntary and symmetric sharing of the institution of the monarchy,[7] the succession, and the Queen herself; the person of the sovereign and the Crown were said in 1936 to be "the most important and vital link" between the realms.[8] This grouping of countries associated in this manner has been called "an achievement without parallel in the history of international relations or constitutional law."[9] Terms such as personal union,[10][11][12][13][14] a form of personal union,[15] and shared monarchy, amongst others,[16] have all been advanced as definitions since the beginning of the Commonwealth itself, though there has been no agreement on which term is most accurate,[17][16] or even whether personal union is applicable at all.[18] The United Kingdom no longer holds any legislative power over any country besides itself, although some countries continue to use, by their own volition, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as part of their own judiciary; usually as the highest court of appeal.

Conflicts of interest have arisen from this relationship amongst independent states, ranging from minor diplomatic matters such as the monarch expressing on the advice of one of her cabinets views that counter those of another of her cabinets to more serious conflicts regarding matters of armed conflict, wherein the monarch may be simultaneously at war and at peace with himself as head of two hostile nations. In such cases, viceroys have tended to avoid placing the sovereign directly in the centre of the conflict, meaning that a governor-general may have to take controversial actions entirely on his or her own initiative through the exercise of the reserve powers.

The Crown in the Commonwealth realms

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, pose at Windsor Castle with the Queen's fifteen governors-general in April 2002 The evolution of the Commonwealth realms has led to the scenario wherein the Crown has both a separate and a shared character; it is a singular institution with one sovereign, but also simultaneously operates separately within each country, with the Queen being equally a part of each state and acting in right of a particular realm as a distinct legal person guided only by the advice of the cabinet of that jurisdiction.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25] This means that in different contexts the term Crown may refer to the extra-national institution shared amongst all 16 countries, or to the Crown in each realm considered separately. However, though the monarchy is therefore no longer an exclusively British institution,[19][25] having become "domesticated" in each of the realms,[26] it may in the media and legal fields often still be elaborated as the British Crown for reasons historical, of convenience, or political, regardless of the different, specific, and official national titles and terms used when addressing the Queen of the citizenry in each jurisdiction; for example, in Barbados the Queen is titled as Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados, or simply the Queen of Barbados, with her full title making mention of her position as queen of the other Commonwealth realms. To guarantee the continuity of this arrangement, the preamble of the 1931 Statute of Westminster stipulates that any alteration to the line of succession in any one country must be voluntarily approved by the parliaments of all the realms,[27][28] or, alternatively, a realm may choose to end its participation in the shared monarchy.

From a cultural standpoint, the shared nature of the Crown is less clear. In all realms, the sovereign's name and image and other royal symbols unique to each nation are visible in the emblems and insignia of governmental institutions and militia, leading to the argument that the Crown as a shared link between the Commonwealth realms, with the Crown in right of each country having unique domestic characteristics. The Queen's effigy, for example, appears on coins and banknotes in some countries, and an oath of allegiance to the Queen is usually required from politicians, judges, military members and new citizens. It is also asserted, however, that the Crown throughout the realms remains essentially British and primarily of the United Kingdom, despite the legal and cultural evolution of the Commonwealth since the 1930s. Indeed, by 1959 it was being asserted by Buckingham Palace officials that the Queen was "equally at home in all her realms."[29]

Monarch's role in the realms

The monarch is, in theory, the supreme governor of each of the Commonwealth realms, charged with issuing executive orders, commanding the military forces, and creating and administering laws. However, each country now operates under the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy and the concept of responsible government, meaning that the monarch only exercises her powers on the advice of her Crown ministers, who are usually drawn from, and thus responsible to, the elected lower house of the relevant parliament.

While this remains the case for all the Commonwealth realms, their sovereign resides predominantly in her oldest realm, the United Kingdom, and thus carries out her duties there mostly in person. In the other realms, the Queen normally exercises only those powers related to the appointment of her viceroys (a governor-general in all cases, and a governor in each of the Australian states), usually on the advice of the prime minister of the country or state concerned, though this process may have additional requirements. In certain other cases, the extent to which varies from realm to realm, specific additional powers are reserved exclusively for the monarch such as the appointment of extra senators to the Canadian Senate, the creation of honours, or the issuance of letters patent and on occasions of national importance, the Queen may be advised to perform in person her constitutional duties, such as granting Royal Assent or issuing a royal proclamation. Otherwise, all royal powers, including the Royal Prerogative, are carried out on behalf of the sovereign by the relevant viceroy, which, apart from those already mentioned, include a lieutenant governor in each province of Canada (appointed by the Governor General of Canada) and the Queen's Representative in the Cook Islands, who is appointed by the Queen herself.[30] In the United Kingdom, the Queen appoints Counsellors of State to perform her constitutional duties in her absence.

Similarly, the monarch or other members of the Royal Family will perform ceremonial duties in the Commonwealth realms to mark historically significant events.[31] They do so most frequently in the United Kingdom, and in the other countries during tours at least once every five or six years, meaning the Queen is present in a number of her dominions outside the UK, or acting on behalf of those realms abroad, approximately every other year.

Citizens in Commonwealth realms or British Overseas Territories may request birthday or wedding anniversary messages to be sent from the sovereign. This is available for 100th, 110th, and beyond for birthdays; and 60th ("Diamond"), 65th, 70th ("Platinum"), and beyond for wedding anniversaries.[32]

Religious role of the monarch

The sovereign's religious role differs from country to country. In all realms except Papua New Guinea the Queen is sovereign "By the Grace of God", a phrase that forms a part of her official title within those states. In Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, "Defender of the Faith" (in Latin: fidei defensor) the ancient phrase first granted in 1521 by Pope Leo X to King Henry VIII is also included as a part of the royal title and the sovereign is anointed as such in the only coronation that takes place in any of the realms,[33] a ceremony in the context of a church service imbued with theological and constitutional symbolism and meaning, held at Westminster Abbey in London, United Kingdom.

However, it is solely in the United Kingdom that the Queen actually plays a role in organised religion. In England, she acts as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and appoints its bishops and archbishops who thereafter act as her Lords Spiritual. In Scotland, she swears an oath to uphold and protect the Church of Scotland and sends to meetings of the church's General Assembly a Lord High Commissioner as her representative, when she is not personally in attendance.[34] Unusually for the Church of Scotland, Glasgow and Dunblane Cathedrals are both owned by the British Crown, though they are not like the Chapels Royal, which exist in both the United Kingdom and Canada and form a part of the Ecclesiastical Household in those two countries. In England and Scotland, these chapels are Royal Peculiars, and fall directly within the jurisdiction of the British monarch, as opposed to a diocese, as is the norm. To them, the Queen may also appoint her own chaplains from either the Church of England or of Scotland.

Royal family

As with the sovereign, a single royal family is shared by the Commonwealth realms, similarly being most frequently referred to in a casual fashion as the British Royal Family, sometimes causing conflict with official national titles, such as in Canada. Though there is no strict legal or formal definition of who is or is not a member of the Royal Family, the group is loosely defined as the extended family of the monarch. These persons constitute the apex of a modern royal court, regularly performing public duties at hundreds of events throughout the 16 realms each year. For this work, the Royal Family members receive no salary from any state; instead, only the expenses incurred for each event (security, transportation, venue, etc.) are, due to the nature of the Crown in the realms, funded by the relevant state individually through the ordinary legislative budgeting process. These engagements are organised in order for the Crown to honour, encourage, and learn about the achievements or endeavours of individuals, institutions, and enterprises in a variety of areas of the lives of the Queen's subjects. As representatives of the monarch, Royal Family members often also join the nation in commemorating historical events, holidays, and celebratory and tragic occurrences, as well as sponsoring or participating in numerous charitable, cultural, and social activities. Their work, which is all formally recorded in the Court Circular, draws public attention to amicable relations within and between the nations of the Commonwealth and beyond; the members of the Royal Family draw enormous media coverage in the form of photographic, written, and televised commentary on not only their activities and public roles, but also family relationships, rites of passage, personalities, attire, and behaviour.


The Personal Flag of Queen Elizabeth II, used in a general capacity within the Commonwealth
The Personal Flag of Queen Elizabeth II, used in a general capacity within the Commonwealth
The Queen employs various royal standards to mark her presence, the particular one used depending on which realm she is in or acting on behalf of at the time. There are currently unique flags for Australia, Barbados, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, and two variations for the United Kingdom one for Scotland and another for the rest of the country. All are heraldic banners displaying the shield of the sovereign's coat of arms for that state, and each, save for those of the UK, are defaced in the centre with the Queen's Personal Flag, a crowned E for Elizabeth surrounded by a garland of roses representing the countries of the Commonwealth. This latter flag on its own is used for realms that do not have a unique personal standard for the monarch, as well as for general use in representing the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. The monarch previously held royal standards for Sierra Leone, Mauritius, Malta, and Trinidad and Tobago, but these banners became obsolete when the countries became republics.

Other members of the Royal Family have their own personal standards. In the United Kingdom, most have their own distinctive banner or banners. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge also have one each for Canada. Those who do not possess a standard for an individual realm will use their British standard to identify themselves when touring other Commonwealth realms and foreign countries.

The governors-general throughout the Commonwealth realms also each use a personal flag, which, like that of the sovereign, passes to each successive occupant of the office. Most feature a lion passant atop a St. Edward's royal crown with the name of the country across a scroll underneath, all on a blue background. The two exceptions are those of, since 1981, Canada (bearing on a blue background the crest of the Royal Coat of Arms of Canada) and, since 2008, New Zealand (a St. Edward's Crown above the shield of the Coat of Arms of New Zealand). The lieutenant governors of the Canadian provinces each have their own personal standards, as do the governors of the Australian states.

Historical development

Dominions emerge

The possibility that a colony within the British Empire might become a new kingdom was first mooted in the 1860s, when it was proposed that the British North American territories of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada unite as a confederation that might be known as the Kingdom of Canada.[35][36][37] In light of geo-political circumstances at the time, however, the name was abandoned in favour of the Dominion of Canada. As more British colonies followed Canada in gaining legislative independence from the United Kingdom, Prime Minister of Canada Wilfrid Laurier was led to insist at the 1907 Imperial Conference that a formula be created to differentiate between the Crown and the self-governing colonies. For the latter the Canadian precedent was followed, and the term Dominion was extended to apply to Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and the colonies of the Cape, Natal, and Transvaal, before and after they merged in 1910 with the Orange River Colony to form the Union of South Africa. These countries were joined in 1921 by the Irish Free State. A compiled portrait of the main delegates to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, including some of the Dominion delegates.

King George V with his prime ministers at the Imperial Conference of 1926<!-- #tag:ref -->
King George V with his prime ministers at the Imperial Conference of 1926

Although the Dominions were capable of governing themselves internally, they technically remained especially in regards to foreign policy and defence subject to British authority, wherein the governor-general of each Dominion represented the British monarch-in-Council reigning over these territories as a single imperial domain. It was commonly held in some circles that the Crown was a monolithic element throughout all the monarch's territories; A.H. Lefroy wrote in 1918 that "the Crown is to be considered as one and indivisible throughout the Empire; and cannot be severed into as many kingships as there are Dominions, and self-governing colonies."[38] This unitary model began to erode, however, when the Dominions gained more international prominence as a result of their participation and sacrifice in the First World War, in 1919 prompting Canadian prime minister Robert Borden and South African minister of defence Jan Smuts to demand that the Dominions be given at the Versailles Conference full recognition as "autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth." The immediate result was that, though the King signed as High Contracting Party for the empire as a whole,[39] the Dominions were also separate signatories to the Treaty of Versailles, as well as, together with India, founding members of the League of Nations.

The pace of independence thereafter increased, with Canada exchanging envoys with the United States the following year and in 1923 concluding in its own right the Halibut Fisheries Treaty,[39] Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George stating in 1921 that the "British Dominions have now been accepted fully into the community of nations,"[40] and, by 1925, the Dominions felt confident enough to refuse to be bound by Britain's adherence to the Treaty of Locarno. This, combined with a realisation that the Crown was already operating distinctly and separately within each of the jurisdictions of the Canadian provinces and Australian states,[41][39] appeared to put to rest previous assertions that the Crown could never be divided amongst the Dominions.

Between the wars

Another catalyst for change came in 1926, when then Governor General of Canada the Lord Byng of Vimy refused the advice of his prime minister (William Lyon Mackenzie King) in what came to be known colloquially as the King Byng Affair.[42] Mackenzie King, after resigning and then being reappointed as prime minister some months later, pushed at the Imperial Conference of 1926 for a reorganisation of the way the Dominions related to the British government, resulting in the Balfour Declaration, which declared formally that the Dominions were fully autonomous and equal in status to the United Kingdom.[43] What this meant in practice was not at the time worked out; conflicting views existed, some in the United Kingdom not wishing to see a fracturing of the sacred unity of the Crown throughout the empire, and some in the Dominions not wishing to see their jurisdiction have to take on the full brunt of diplomatic and military responsibilities.[26]

What did follow was that the Dominion governments gained a separate and direct relationship with the monarch, without the British Cabinet acting as an intermediary, and the governors-general now acted solely as a personal representative of the sovereign in right of that Dominion. Though no formal mechanism for tendering advice to the monarch had yet been established former Prime Minister of Australia William Morris Hughes theorised that the Dominion cabinets would provide informal direction and the British Cabinet would offer formal advice[44] the concepts were first put into legal practice with the passage in 1927 of the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act, which implicitly recognised the Irish Free State as separate from the UK, and the King as king of each Dominion uniquely, rather than as the British king in each Dominion. At the same time, terminology in foreign relations was altered to demonstrate the independent status of the Dominions, such as the dropping of the term "Britannic" from the King's style outside of the United Kingdom.[45] Then, in 1930 George V's Australian ministers employed a practice adopted by resolution at that year's Imperial Conference,[39] directly advising the King to appoint Sir Isaac Isaacs as his Australian governor-general, against the preferences of the British government and the King himself.

These new developments were explicitly codified in 1931 with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, through which Canada, the Union of South Africa, and the Irish Free State all immediately obtained formal legislative independence from the UK, while in the other Dominions' adoption of the statute was subject to ratification by the Dominion's parliament. Australia and New Zealand did so in 1942 and 1947, respectively, with the former's ratification back-dated to 1939, and, though originally covered by it, Newfoundland never ratified the bill and reverted to direct British rule in 1934. What resulted was the inability for the parliament at Westminster to legislate for any Dominion unless requested to do so. Further, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was left available as the last court of appeal for some Dominions.[46] This was all met with only minor trepidation either before or at the time, and the government of Ireland was confident that the relationship of these independent countries under the Crown would function as a personal union,[15] akin to that which had earlier existed between the United Kingdom and Hanover (1801 to 1837), or between England and Scotland (1603 to 1707). The civil division of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales later found in 1982 that the British parliament could have legislated for a Dominion simply by including in any new law a clause claiming the Dominion cabinet had requested and approved of the act, whether that was true or not.[47] Further, the British parliament was not obliged to fulfill a Dominion's request for legislative change. However, the words in the Statute of Westminster became written expression of a conventional rule that developed whereby British law would not extend beyond the borders of the United Kingdom unless a Dominion supplicated otherwise.[39] By 1937, the Appeal Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa ruled unanimously that a repeal of the Statute of Westminster in the United Kingdom would have no effect in South Africa, stating: "We cannot take this argument seriously. Freedom once conferred cannot be revoked."[48] Others in Canada upheld the same position.[39]

The first prominent example of this arrangement working in practice came with the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936,[39] for which it was necessary to gain the approval of all the Dominions of the Commonwealth before the resignation could take place;[49] Canada, the Union of South Africa, and the Irish Free State even passed unique legislation to solidify the changes in succession within their jurisdictions. Following the accession of Edward's brother, George VI, to the throne, the United Kingdom created legislation that would provide for a regency in the event of the incapacitation of the monarch. Though input was sought from the Dominions on this matter, all declined to make themselves bound by the British legislation, feeling instead that the governors-general could carry out royal functions in place of a debilitated sovereign.[50] Peter Fraser]] (New Zealand), and John Curtin (Australia)

During his tenure as Governor General of Canada, Lord Tweedsmuir urged the organisation of a royal tour of the country by King George VI, so that he might not only appear in person before his people, but also personally perform constitutional duties and pay a state visit to the United States as king of Canada.[51] While the idea was embraced in Canada as a way to "translate the Statute of Westminster into the actualities of a tour," throughout the planning of the trip that took place in 1939, the British authorities resisted at numerous points the idea that the King be attended by his Canadian ministers instead of his British ones.[52] The Canadian prime minister (still Mackenzie King) was ultimately successful, however, in being the minister in attendance, and the King did in public throughout the trip ultimately act solely in his capacity as the Canadian monarch. Yet, the international status of the Crown was also illustrated by George VI simultaneously bolstering from both Canada and the United States support for the UK in the looming war with Nazi Germany.[51]

When this threat became reality, there was some uncertainty in the Dominions about the ramifications of Britain's declaration of war against Adolf Hitler. Australia and New Zealand had not yet ratified the Statute of Westminster; the Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, considered the government bound by the British declaration of war,[53][54] while New Zealand coordinated a declaration of war to be made simultaneously with Britain's.[55] As late as 1937, some scholars were still of the mind that, when it came to declarations of war, if the King signed, he did so as king of the empire as a whole; at that time, W. Kennedy wrote: "in the final test of sovereignty that of war Canada is not a sovereign state... and it remains as true in 1937 as it was in 1914 that when the Crown is at war, Canada is legally at war,"[56] and, one year later, A. Berriedale Keith argued that "issues of war or neutrality still are decided on the final authority of the British Cabinet."[57] In 1939, however, Canada and South Africa made separate proclamations of war against Germany a few days after the UK's. Their example was followed more consistently by the other realms as further war was declared against Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Finland, and Japan.[39] At the war's end, it was said by F.R. Scott that "it is firmly established as a basic constitutional principle that, so far as relates to Canada, the King is regulated by Canadian law and must act only on the advice and responsibility of Canadian ministers."[58]

Post-war evolution

Once the Second World War was over, India and Ceylon became independent Dominions of the Commonwealth, though it was made clear at the time that India would soon move to a republican form of government. Unlike Ireland and Burma at the time of their becoming republics, however, there was no desire on the part of India to give up its membership in the British Commonwealth, prompting a Commonwealth Conference and the issuance of the London Declaration in 1949, which entrenched the idea of Canadian prime minister Louis St. Laurent that different royal houses and republics be allowed in the Commonwealth so long as they recognised as the international organisation's symbolic head the shared sovereign of the UK and the Dominions.[59] At approximately the same time, the tabling in 1946 of the Canadian parliament's Canadian Citizenship Act brought into question the homogeneity of the King's subjects, which, prior to that year, was uniformly defined in terms of allegiance to the sovereign, without regard to the individual's country of residence. Following negotiations, it was decided in 1947 that each Commonwealth member was free to pass its own citizenship legislation, so that its citizens owed allegiance only to the monarch in right of that country. Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh]], on a tour of Canada, 3 November 1951

As these constitutional developments were taking place, the Dominion and British governments became increasingly concerned with how to represent the more commonly accepted notion that there was no distinction between the sovereign's role in the UK and his or her position in any of the Dominions. Thus, at the 1948 Prime Ministers' Conference the term Dominion was avoided in favour of Commonwealth country, in order to avoid the subordination implied by the older designation.[60] Then, with the British proclamation of Elizabeth II's accession to the throne in 1952, the phrases Commonwealth realm and Head of the Commonwealth became established, deriving from the words that declared the monarch as "of this Realm, and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth." The Commonwealth realms' prime ministers thereafter discussed the matter of the new monarch's title, with St. Laurent stating at the 1953 Commonwealth Conference that it was important to agree on a format that would "emphasise the fact that the Queen is Queen of Canada, regardless of her sovereignty over other Commonwealth countries."[20] The result was a new Royal Style and Titles Act being passed in each of the seven realms then existing (excluding Pakistan), which all identically gave formal recognition to the separateness and equality of the countries involved, and replaced the phrase "British Dominions Beyond the Seas" with "Her Other Realms and Territories", the latter using the medieval French word realm (from royaume) in place of dominion. Further, at her coronation, Elizabeth II's oath contained a provision requiring her to promise to govern according to the rules and customs of the realms, naming each one separately. The change in perspective was summed up by Patrick Gordon Walker's statement in the British House of Commons: "We in this country have to abandon... any sense of property in the Crown. The Queen, now, clearly, explicitly and according to title, belongs equally to all her realms and to the Commonwealth as a whole."[19]

Princess Alexandra represents her cousin, Queen Elizabeth II, at the opening of the newly created realm of Nigeria's federal parliament, 3 October 1960
Princess Alexandra represents her cousin, Queen Elizabeth II, at the opening of the newly created realm of Nigeria's federal parliament, 3 October 1960

In the same period, Walker also suggested to the British parliament that the Queen should annually spend an equal amount of time in each of her realms. The Lord Altrincham, who in 1957 criticised Queen Elizabeth II for having a court that encompassed mostly Britain and not the Commonwealth as a whole,[61] was in favour of the idea, but it did not attract wide support.[62] Another thought raised was that viceregal appointments should become trans-Commonwealth; the Governor-General of Australia would be someone from South Africa, the Governor-General of Ceylon would come from New Zealand, and so on. The prime ministers of Canada and Australia, John Diefenbaker and Robert Menzies, respectively, were sympathetic to the concept, but, again, it was never put into practice.[63]

The principle of fully separate and equal realms was followed in all future grants of independence, including those that came through the winds of change that swept through Africa in the 1960s, the collapse of the Federation of the West Indies in 1961, and at later dates. In post-colonial Africa, within a few years of their founding the realms drafted new constitutions in order to become republics within the Commonwealth; South Africa was the only exception, having been a Dominion and then a realm for 54 years before becoming a republic in 1961. The white minority government of Rhodesia in 1965 issued its unilateral declaration of independence, and its members affirmed their loyalty to Elizabeth II as Queen of Rhodesia, a title to which she had not consented, did not accept, and was not recognised internationally. Her representative in the colony, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, immediately dismissed his prime minister, Ian Smith, but this action was ignored by Smith and he appointed, without the Queen's consent, an Officer Administrating the Government to perform the governor's constitutional duties until 1970, when Smith's government declared Rhodesia a republic. The country to most recently become a Commonwealth realm was Saint Kitts and Nevis, achieving the status in 1983. At the same time, in other Commonwealth realms, including the United Kingdom, movements emerged advocating a republican government in place of constitutional monarchy; they were, and continue to be, countered by monarchist leagues that support the existing system and/or celebrate the historical and modern connections the shared monarchy provides. Unsuccessful referenda on proposed models of republics have taken place in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

On 6 July 2010, Queen Elizabeth II addressed the United Nations in New York City as queen of all 16 Commonwealth realms.[64] The following year, the Prime Minister of Jamaica spoke of a desire to make that country a republic,[65][66] while the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party (which favours Scottish independence) stated an independent Scotland would be a Commonwealth realm.[67]

Former Commonwealth realms

Country From To Original republican system Method of transition Royal Standard
Ceylon 1948 1972 Parliamentary republic New constitution
Fiji 1970 1987 Parliamentary republic Military coup
Gambia 1965 1970 Presidential republic Referendum
Ghana 1957 1960 Presidential republic Referendum
Guyana 1966 1970 Parliamentary republic Constitutional amendment
India 1947 1950 Parliamentary republic New constitution
Ireland 1931 1949 Parliamentary republic Act of parliament
Kenya 1963 1964 Presidential republic New constitution
Malawi 1964 1966 Single-party republic New constitution
Malta 1964 1974 Parliamentary republic Constitutional amendment
Mauritius 1968 1992 Parliamentary republic Constitutional amendment
Nigeria 1960 1963 Parliamentary republic Constitutional amendment
Pakistan 1947 1956 Parliamentary republic New constitution
Sierra Leone 1961 1971 Presidential republic New constitution 30px
South Africa 1931 1961 Parliamentary republic Referendum and new constitution
Tanganyika 1961 1962 Presidential republic New constitution
Trinidad and Tobago 1962 1976 Parliamentary republic New constitution
Uganda 1962 1963 Parliamentary republic Constitutional amendment

Republican referendums

Various Commonwealth realms have held referendums to consider whether they should become republics. These include:

  • Ghanaian constitutional referendum, 1960 (passed)
  • South African republic referendum, 1960 (passed)
  • Gambian republic referendum, 1965 (failed)
  • Gambian republic referendum, 1970 (passed)
  • Australian republic referendum, 1999 (failed)
  • Tuvaluan constitutional referendum, 2008 (failed)
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines constitutional referendum, 2009 (failed)

See also

  • Commonwealth unification movement
  • Member states of the Commonwealth of Nations
  • States headed by Elizabeth II
  • African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States




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  • Maitland, F; "The Crown as a Corporation"; Law Quarterly Review; Vol. 17, No. 131; 1901
  • McIntyre; P.; "The Strange Death of Dominion Status", Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History; Vol. 27, No. 2; 1999; 193-212

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