What Are the Commonwealth Realms?
What Are the Commonwealth Realms?
These are independent kingdoms where Elizabeth II is Queen and Sovereign. There are 16 of them (see below) and all are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Each Realm, being independent of all the others, titles the Queen differently.
The 16 realms are:
- Antigua and Bermuda
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Solomon Islands
- United Kingdom
The Queen’s title within Australia is:
Elizabeth II by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.
Her title in the UK is very similar:
Elizabeth II, 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.
In many respects the Commonwealth Realms is an amazing grouping as it is unique in the history of constitutional law because of its shared Sovereign, voluntary nature and its geographical spread. Because of the sharing of the person of the monarch countries within the Realms and Commonwealth generally do not have ambassadors but High Commissioners instead. As all the Realms are Commonwealth members the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting often has time set aside for the Realms to discuss common issues. As the Queen is Head of the Commonwealth it is usual for the monarch to attend these meetings wherever they may be held.
The Queen cannot be in 16 places at any one time and so in 15 cases a viceroy, i.e. a Governor-General, is appointed to carry out all the functions which the Queen would perform were she resident. The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen on the advice, in Australia’s case, of the prime minister. (In PNG and the Solomon Islands the Governor-General is elected by parliamentary vote and the name submitted to the Queen for approval.) Whenever the Queen visits one of her Realms (generally at the invitation of that Realm’s government) her absence from the UK is covered by various protocols to ensure that government continues. But the Queen still receives the red boxes of government business wherever she is.
The monarch’s presence in any one of the 16 Realms (or when she is acting in her capacity as Queen of that country even if she is not in residence) is announced by the flying of the Royal Standard of that country - if it has one. This is an ancient practice now used by most heads of state (at least when travelling by car), but in our case the Standard is flown wherever the Queen is at any one time.
The Queen’s standard in Australia (or when she is representing Australia abroad) is:
For comparison her standard in the UK (but not Scotland) is:
(NB. The Queen, in 1954, expressed a preference for the simple Gaelic harp (as shown above) but the winged-female harp is occasionally seen as a number were made before the change was formally introduced.)
In small Realms such as Tuvalu the Queen is most likely to use the standard of the Governor-General.
In the Commonwealth where the Queen is Head she has no part to play in the day to day administration. This is taken care of by a Secretary-General who is elected by the heads of government, but she is without doubt the unifying force behind this 54 nation grouping and she has always taken a strong interest in its development. The Realms are within the Commonwealth and they share the Queen as Sovereign and therefore have a much closer relationship with her. The remaining 33 nations are either republics or have separate royal houses but all acknowledge the Queen as Head.
The office of Head of the Commonwealth is currently not hereditary but it is to be hoped that it might become so as the future King of the Commonwealth Realms would be an ideal unifying force for this burgeoning group of nations which account for nearly a third of the world’s people.
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