Queen Elizabeth II: how will the Commonwealth mark her death, will King Charles become next head of state?

The Queen, who has died at the age of 96, had been a figurehead for the Commonwealth since she first ascended to the throne in 1952

The reign of King Charles III has begun after Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96,

Her Majesty’s death comes months after she marked her Platinum Jubilee. She had reigned for 70 years and was the longest serving British monarch.

Her passing was confirmed on Thursday 8 September, shortly after Buckingham Palace announced that she was under medical supervision at Balmoral as doctors were concerned for her health.

The passing of Queen Elizabeth has led to many questions, including what will happen to the Commonwealth?

The Queen, who was known for her sense of duty and her devotion to a life of service, had been a figurehead for the UK and the Commonwealth since she first ascended to the throne in 1952. This was just one of the many roles at duties she had as Queen.

Here’s everything you need to know about what will happen to the Commonwealth now.

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Prince Charles may become head of state following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. He is pictured speaking at the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Buckingham Palace in London on April 19, 2018

What is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth, sometimes called the Commonwealth of Nations,  is a free association of sovereign states - including the United Kingdom and a number of other countries - who have chosen to maintain ties of friendship and practical cooperation.

Founded in 1931, the Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific, with around 2.6 billion people as members.

What was the Queen’s role in the Commonwealth?

The Queen was head of state in 15 of the member countries as five countries have their own monarch and 34 are republics.

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It was a role that her father King George VI adopted when all countries were under his rule, and although the job was not hereditary upon her coronation, it was a position Her Majesty assumed.

Each Commonwealth country functioned independently from the Queen, with its own elected laws and governors, therefore as head of state Her Majesty played a rather neutral role; although she is recognised as the ceremonial ruler of the association.

The Queen often took trips to many of the Commonwealth countries and retained a neutral position.

Will Prince Charles become the new head of state?

In 2018, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, was appointed the Queen’s designated successor for head of state in the Commonwealth.

The ceremony took place at Windsor Castle, and the decision was made by leaders following the Queen’s wish.

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Since then, he has stood in for his mother at Commonwealth receptions and events, including formally opening the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham earlier this year.

As being head of the Commonwealth is an entirely ceremonial role, it is not an automatic right that the new monarch becomes head of Commonwealth.

King Charles III has, however, become head of the Commonwealth after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II as he was officially designated as Her Majesty’s successor four years ago.

What will happen to the Commonwealth now the Queen has died?

The Commonwealth has known its fair share of crises over the years, including Barbados removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and becoming a republic, and so it is unclear what will happen now.

Member states have expressed dissatisfaction with a ceremonial head at the helm when there is an elected Secretary General responsible for its representation, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC.

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Some may therefore choose to end their union with Britain now that the Queen has passed.

What happens is mainly dependent on who is in power in the relevant nations and what they would prefer to do.

What has King Charles III said about the Commonwealth?

Speaking about the role the Commonwealth has played in his life, Charles said in 2018: “The Commonealth has been a fundamental feature of my life for as long as I can remember, beginning with my first visit to Malta when I was just five years old.”

Earlier this year, Charles III said, however, that Commonwealth countries were free to forge their futures away from the Commonwealth.

He said: “Our Commonwealth family is – and will always remain – a free association of independent self-governing nations.

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“We meet and talk as equals, sharing our knowledge and experience for the betterment of all citizens of the Commonwealth and, indeed, the wider world.

“The Commonwealth contains within it countries that have had constitutional relationships with my family, some that continue to do so, and increasingly those that have had none.’

He added: “I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide.

“The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements such as these can change, calmly and without rancour.”