Until 1949, the member states of today’s Commonwealth were united through common allegiance to the British Crown.
With a few exceptions (such as Myanmar, formerly known as Burma), the newly independent countries joined the Commonwealth and recognised King George VI and, following his death, Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth.
As The Queen declared in a Silver Jubilee speech in 1977, it symbolises “the transformation of the Crown from an emblem of dominion into a symbol of free and voluntary association. In all history this has no precedent.”
During her reign, The Queen has visited every country in the Commonwealth (with the exception of Cameroon, which joined in 1995 and Rwanda which joined in 2009) and made many repeat visits. One third of The Queen’s total overseas visits are to Commonwealth countries.
Based in London, it co-ordinates many Commonwealth activities. Her Majesty also has regular meetings with Heads of Government from Commonwealth countries.
The Queen attends an inter-denominational service held in Westminster Abbey, followed by a reception hosted by the Commonwealth Secretary General.
The Queen is normally present in the host country, during which she has a series of private meetings with the Commonwealth countries’ leaders.
The Queen often attends the Commonwealth Games to open or close them – most recently, the 2013 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
She has a personal flag – an initial E and crown within a chaplet of roses – for use at Commonwealth meetings.
In realms such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, The Queen uses a different standard for each individual country.