Why Queen Elizabeth II was the queen of 15 countries

The Commonwealth, explained.

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After centuries of colonizing much of the world, the British Empire began its fast descent in the 1960s amid a global wave of independence movements. But when Queen Elizabeth II died in 2022, she was not only still queen of 14 countries besides the United Kingdom, she was also still the leader of an organization that on a map looks a lot like the British Empire.

The British Empire created the first iteration of the Commonwealth to appease white settler colonies looking for more autonomy. It granted them more independence to govern themselves but kept them under the crown. As British leaders realized their power might be at risk throughout their colonies worldwide, the monarchy made a play to keep ties and preserve their global influence by allowing newly independent republics to join the Commonwealth too. The only catch: They had to accept the queen as the leader of the organization. With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, this vestige of the British Empire is now under the leadership of King Charles III. So, what exactly is the Commonwealth? Why is it still here? And will it survive?



Read about Barbados shedding the queen and becoming a republic:

To learn more about the sugar plantations under the British Empire check out this project:

Enslaved People’s work on sugar plantations

To understand 20th-century Britain and the rise of independence movements, check out “The Impact of the Second World War on the Decolonization of Africa”:

To take a deeper look at how the monarchy started using its image and the media to stay relevant and survive in a changing world, check out Ed Owens’ book:

To understand the role of the Commonwealth today, check out this op-ed by Philip Murray, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies:

For a deeper look at royalty in general and the British Royal family in particular, watch our episode of Royalty, Explained on Netflix:


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