Commonwealth Realm

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search

A Commonwealth Realm is any one of the 16 sovereign states of the Commonwealth that recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their Queen and head of state. In each Realm, she acts as the monarch of that state, and is titled accordingly. For example, in Barbados, she is known as "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados", or, simply, the Queen of Barbados (See List of Titles and Honours of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom).

Outside the United Kingdom, the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister of each Realm, appoints a Governor-General to act as her vice-regal representative during her absence. She is also represented by a Governor in each state of Australia, and by a Lieutenant-Governor in each province of Canada. These officials exercise almost all the powers of the constitutional monarch with mostly symbolic, figurehead duties, but also reserve powers, called Royal Prerogative.

Fourteen of the Realms are former British self-governing colonies (including the Dominions) that became independent countries either after the ratification of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the collapse of the Federation of the West Indies in 1961, or at later dates. The latest country to become a Commonwealth Realm was Saint Kitts and Nevis, upon independence in 1983. The only two Commonwealth Realms that were never colonies of the United Kingdom are Papua New Guinea, which was administered by Australia as an international trusteeship before independence in 1975, and the UK itself.

Within the Commonwealth itself, there is no difference in status between the Commonwealth Realms and the other Commonwealth members, which are either republics (the great majority) or realms with their own monarchs (Brunei, Lesotho, Malaysia, Swaziland, and Tonga). While the Great Council of Chiefs of Fiji recognises Queen Elizabeth II as 'Paramount Chief', she is not regarded as the Head of State, and Fiji remains a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations.


Current Commonwealth Realms

The Commonwealth Realms are each members of, but should be distinguished from, the Commonwealth of Nations, which is an organisation of mostly former British colonies, the majority of which do not consider the Queen to be Head of State.

Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen poses for different official portraits in each country. Here she poses as the Queen of Canada wearing the insignia of the Order of Canada and standing beside the Canadian flag.
Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen poses for different official portraits in each country. Here she poses as the Queen of Canada wearing the insignia of the Order of Canada and standing beside the Canadian flag.

Commonwealth Realms are:

Additionally, under the 1981 Constitution, the Queen in right of New Zealand is head of state in the Cook Islands, but any change in the succession made by New Zealand would have no effect in the Cook Islands unless separately ratified there.

Flags of the Queen in Commonwealth Realms

See Royal Standard for the different standards used by the Queen

The Personal Flag of Queen Elizabeth II
The Personal Flag of Queen Elizabeth II

The queen flies the British Royal Standard only in the United Kingdom; she has separate flags for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and Barbados. Each is a banner of the country's coat of arms with the royal cypher in the centre, a crowned 'E' for 'Elizabeth'. She also has a personal flag as Head of the Commonwealth, which is used for general Commonwealth purposes, or when visiting Commonwealth countries which do not recognise her as Head of State. The Queen formerly had flags for Sierra Leone, Malta, and Trinidad and Tobago, but when these countries became republics, they became obsolete.

Flags of Governors-General

Similarly, the Governor-General has his or her own flag, featuring a lion passant (from the crest which sits atop the Royal Arms for England) and a royal crown, with the name of the country written in capitals on a scroll underneath. The Governor General of Canada has a distinctive design, in which the lion is bearing a maple leaf.

Constitutional implications

Historical development

Before 1926, the monarch of the United Kingdom had nominally ruled the dominions as a single imperial domain, with a governor-general representing the British government. The Balfour Declaration of 1926 declared that the dominions were autonomous and equal in status. Although this was a political statement and did not immediately change the legal status of the British Crown, each of the governments of the dominions established a separate and direct relationship with the monarchy, with the governor-general now acting as a personal representative of the monarch. The first result of the new convention was the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927, which recognized the Irish Free State as separate from the United Kingdom. Full legislative independence for the dominions was enacted by the passage of the Statute of Westminster, 1931.

Historically, proponents of the monarchy were generally supportive of the monarchy as a symbolic link to the United Kingdom. During the late 19th and early 20th century most politicians in the self-governing realms (then called Dominions) enthusiastically supported their economic and military ties with the UK, tended to view British culture and attitudes as favourable, and encouraged their prominence in the newly developing societies. Maintaining allegiance to the British monarch was thus seen as a natural thing for many residents, and membership in the British Empire, even with a secondary constitutional status, was considered more desirable than independence. Self-governance increased in the 1930s with the adoption of the Statute of Westminster and, afterwards, with the emergence of the modern Commonwealth of Nations. The decline in the imperial mentality led to a gradual process of removing legislative and judicial ties and establishing a separate citizenship. Since the 1980s, none of the 15 other Commonwealth Realms has retained any strong constitutional links to the United Kingdom.

Monarch's role in the Realms

Though the Queen's constitutional powers are virtually identical in each Realm, she does not usually act as political Head of State except in the UK, nor does she commonly perform ceremonial duties, except on occasions of significant historical or political importance. This results from the fact that she resides in the UK, even though she usually visits the other major Commonwealth Realms at least once every five or six years. Day to day political and ceremonial duties are instead performed in each Realm by a Governor General who serves as the Queen's permanent representative. Nominally, the Governor General is appointed by the Queen. In reality, he or she is chosen by the nation's Prime Minister, or, in the unique case of Papua New Guinea, by Parliamentary vote.

The concern is sometimes raised that, as head of state of so many different countries, the Queen's neutrality and loyalty could come into question should a conflict ever emerge between two of her realms. Republicans in Commonwealth Realms often argue that ultimately, the Queen will express loyalty to the actions of the British Government above all other realms, since she resides in the UK, and is more involved in the British political process than in any other nation. However, this proposition has never been tested.

Historically, a few situations have arisen in which such a conflict of interest could have occurred.

In 1939, Canada declared war a few days after the UK did, so that George VI, as king of both countries, was simultaneously at war and at peace with Germany. A more extreme example is the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947. George VI, as head of state of both warring nations, was, in a legal sense, at war with himself.

In 1983, during Operation Urgent Fury, Queen Elizabeth was the Queen of Grenada while it was being invaded by many other Caribbean countries of which she was also Queen. Additionally, the invasion was also opposed by several other countries in which she was Queen, notably United Kingdom and Belize. The Queen did not make a statement on the invasion, possibly because no statement she could have made would have adequately represented all the countries involved of which she was Queen.

Sovereignty of the Realms

The Commonwealth realms are sovereign states and the United Kingdom no longer holds any legislative power over them, although some countries continue to use the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as part of their judiciary.

Because they share the same head of state, the Commonwealth realms are in a personal union relationship. This relationship is voluntary and symmetric. In each realm the Queen has a distinct legal personality and acts on the advice only of the government of that country. The monarchy is thus no longer an exclusively British institution, although it may often be called British for historical reasons, for convenience, or for political (usually republican) purposes. Each realm determines its own titles and styles of the monarch and any female consort.

As a consequence of this relationship, any alterations to the line of succession to the throne must be approved by the parliaments of all the realms in order to guarantee continuity of a single monarch. For example, there have been suggestions of removing the religious requirements from the Act of Settlement, which currently defines the succession. In practice, since each realm is a sovereign state, this requires the voluntary cooperation of all 16 of the realms. Alternatively, a realm could choose to end its participation in the shared monarchy.

One Crown or several?

It is commonly held that there is now a separate Crown in each of the Commonwealth Realms, united only in the person of the monarch and matters directly related to the person of the monarch such as the laws affecting succession.

The Crown has become an institution that operates separately in each Commonwealth Realm, with the Queen in right of each realm being a distinct legal person. The institution of the monarchy, the succession, and obviously the Queen herself, are shared by all the Realms in a symmetrical fashion. Thus, the Crown has both a separate and a shared character, and, in different contexts, "Crown" may mean the crown as shared or the crown in each realm considered separately.

Normally, in realms other than the United Kingdom, the Queen personally only exercises those powers related to her appointment of a Governor-General (and even this is done on the advice of the prime minister of the realm concerned), but her name and image continue to play a prominent role in political institutions and symbols. For example, the Queen's image usually appears on coins and banknotes, and an oath of allegiance to her is usually required from politicians, judges, and new citizens.

From a cultural standpoint, how the Crown is shared is not as clear. Some argue that the Crown within their particular country remains essentially British and primarily of the United Kingdom, whereas others emphasise the larger body of the Crown as a shared link between the Commonwealth Realms, and the Crown in right of their nation as having specific domestic characteristics.

Former Commonwealth Realms

Following their independence from the United Kingdom, most Commonwealth countries retained the Queen as head of state, changing the title of the monarch to indicate sovereignty of their own respective nations (ie: "Queen of Barbados", rather than "Queen of the United Kingdom"). The Union of South Africa and Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) were the first to do this. When Papua New Guinea became independent of Australia in 1975, Queen Elizabeth was styled "Queen of Papua New Guinea", the first time she became Queen of a nation that had never been a British colony in its entirety.

With time, some Commonwealth Realms moved to become republics, passing constitutional amendments removing the monarch as their head of state, and replacing the Governor-General with an elected or appointed president. This was especially true in post-colonial Africa, whose leaders often did not want to "share" the office of Head of State with the Queen. Most African Realms became republics within a few years of independence. However, they remained within the Commonwealth, following the 1950 London Declaration, which allowed India to recognise the British monarch as 'Head of the Commonwealth', but not as Head of State.

In some former Commonwealth Realms, including Malta, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mauritius, the new office of President was a ceremonial post, but in others, such as Ghana, Malawi and Gambia, the Presidency was an executive post, usually first held by the last Prime Minister. In the latter cases not only was the monarchy abolished, but so was the entire Westminster system of parliamentary government as well.

When the white minority government of Rhodesia issued its Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, it affirmed its loyalty to the Queen as 'Queen of Rhodesia', a title to which she had not consented, which she did not accept, and which was not recognised internationally. Her representative in the colony, the Governor Sir Humphrey Gibbs immediately dismissed Prime Minister Ian Smith from office, but this was ignored and an 'Officer Administering the Government' was appointed to perform the Governor's constitutional duties. In 1970, Smith's government declared Rhodesia a republic.

The Queen's position as Queen of Grenada remained unaffected by the overthrow of Prime Minister Eric Gairy by the left-wing Maurice Bishop in 1979, and the Governor General remained in office. Following the United States-led Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in October 1983, in the wake of Bishop's violent overthrow, the Governor General oversaw the holding of new elections and the restoration of parliamentary democracy.

In Fiji, the change to a republic in 1987 came as a result of a military coup, rather than out of any republican sentiment, as Fiji's indigenous chiefs had voluntarily ceded their country to the Crown. Even when Fiji was not a member of the Commonwealth, symbols of the monarchy remained, including the Queen's portrait on banknotes and coins, and, unlike in the United Kingdom, the Queen's Official Birthday is a public holiday. When Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth, the issue of reinstating the Queen as Head of State was raised, but not pursued, although the country's Great Council of Chiefs reaffirmed that the Queen was still the country's 'Paramount Chief'.

The former Commonwealth realms, and the intervals in which they were realms, are as follows:

1. Presidency is executive post.
2. Presidency originally ceremonial, now executive.
3. Presidency is ceremonial post.
4. Monarch removed from constitution and office of Governor-General abolished in 1936, Presidency created in 1937 by constitution adopted by plebiscite, but monarch retained external role until republic declared in 1949 by ordinary legislation. See Irish head of state from 1936-1949.

Other former British colonies, protectorates, mandates and trust territories followed different paths. Burma, Sudan, Cyprus, Zambia, Singapore, Botswana, South Yemen, Bangladesh, Nauru, the Seychelles, Dominica, Kiribati, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Vanuatu became republics on independence and were thus never Commonwealth Realms. Nor were Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Malaya, Zanzibar, the Maldives, Brunei, Tonga, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the Trucial States, Swaziland, or Lesotho, all of which had their own monarchies, many of them having been British protectorates. British Somaliland and Cameroons were absorbed into the larger entities of Somalia and Cameroon. Sarawak and North Borneo joined Malaya to form Malaysia, which has its own monarchy. The mandate of Palestine was divided between the new state of Israel and Jordan and Egypt in 1948. Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China in 1997. The United States had become an independent republic over a century before the Commonwealth of Nations was established.

Public perceptions

The evolving crown

Modern proponents of the monarchy outside the United Kingdom downplay the historical "British" aspect of the monarchy, and instead focus on the Queen as Head of State of an independent nation. There has thus been a fundamental shift between the "family" aspect of the days of the British Empire, in which all dominions rallied around a common monarch, and today, in which each Commonwealth realm is encouraged to think of the Queen as "their own", and serving a role independent of any other obligations in other countries.

Debate on the monarchy

In recent years, there has been some debate about the continuing practice of sharing a monarch. While many seem to view the Queen's current role as Head of State with passive indifference, some see the Monarch as an apolitical unifying body, whether within their own nation, throughout the Commonwealth Realms, or both. Others still view the Queen as an obstacle to true "independence" from the United Kingdom, or to their country's status as a sovereign state. Opponents to the monarchy argue that the symbolism of the monarchy makes an independent nation look "subsidiary" to the United Kingdom, and can be confusing and anachronistic. They also point out that the Queen's role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England conflicts with the secular principles commonly espoused in their constitutions and human rights legislation, though strictly this has no relevance outside England. Proponents argue that their respective realm is already an independent kingdom where the sovereign depicted on the currency, and to whom oaths are given, is sovereign specifically of said nation. They assert that any confusion about this can be eliminated with education and argue that monarchy with its history and traditions are the basis for their national identity.


Contemporary Commonwealth Realm republican sentiment tends to be quite different in nature from the sentiment in countries which abolished the monarchy at or shortly after independence. The remaining realms have shared the Crown for much longer, in some cases over a hundred years. The debate in such countries is thus more complicated, in terms of both the political and cultural ramifications that a change to the status quo could bring. There are varying arguments by republicans in each modern Realm for the abolition of their monarchy.

  • In Australia, Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating made clear his intention to make the country a republic by 2001. A referendum held in 1999 was defeated. However, many attribute this defeat to lack of support for the proposed method of electing a president by Parliament, not to strength of support for the monarchy. The current Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, has called for another referendum, but no action has been taken.
  • In neighbouring New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark and her predecessor Jim Bolger have also voiced their support for republicanism, and a Republican Movement has been established.
  • There have also been doubts expressed about the future role of the monarchy in Canada with some members of the governing Liberal Party showing support for a republic, but there has been little sign of change in the immediate future. An organised republican movement, Citizens for a Canadian Republic, was established in 2002.
  • In the Caribbean, P.J. Patterson, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, and Owen Arthur, the Prime Minister of Barbados, had tentative plans to make their countries republics, but have met resistance from opposition parties over the role and selection of a new head of state.
  • Tuvalu's prime minister announced his government's intention to hold a referendum by June 2005 on whether or not that country should become a republic[1], but none was held.

Today most Realms have both a Republican Movement and a Monarchist League that serve as self-proclaimed outlets of debate in the media.

In April 2005, four republican organizations within the Commonwealth launched "Common Cause", an alliance of Commonwealth republican movements. The four member organizations include the Australian Republican Movement, Citizens for a Canadian Republic, the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand and Republic in the United Kingdom.

See also

External links


  • Common Cause A Commonwealth Alliance of Republican Movements



New Zealand

Commonwealth Realms
Antigua and Barbuda | Australia | Bahamas | Barbados | Belize | Canada | Grenada | Jamaica | New Zealand | Papua New Guinea | Saint Kitts and Nevis | Saint Lucia | Saint Vincent and the Grenadines | Solomon Islands | Tuvalu | United Kingdom
Personal tools