Letter: Who will lead the Commonwealth?

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The Independent Online
Sir: When Prince Charles was installed as Prince of Wales in July, 1969, he took an oath of allegiance to the Queen 'and her heirs and successors, Queens and Kings . . .Heads of the Commonwealth for ever]' At the time, no one questioned this extravagant language, which befitted a flamboyant occasion, but Alec Vans (letters, 26 October) is right to point out that Prince Charles will not automatically succeed as head of the Commonwealth.

The assumption that he will do so is unjustified, irrespective of his marital infidelities.

Until 1949, the British sovereign reigned in all independent Commonwealth countries. India intended to become a republic but wished to retain its membership of the Commonwealth. A meeting of Commonwealth prime ministers that year resolved what then seemed to be a great difficulty by subscribing to a statement that all members recognised George VI as 'the symbol of the free association of independent sovereign countries and, as such, head of the Commonwealth'. No attempt was made then or subsequently to define what was meant by head of the Commonwealth, or to determine how the title should be passed on.

When George VI died only three years later, it was agreed by Commonwealth prime ministers that Queen Elizabeth should be recognised as the new Head of the Commonwealth. The Queen, of course, has been a tireless and splendid champion of the Commonwealth. There will be genuine sadness throughout the Commonwealth when her reign ends. When that unhappy day comes, heads of government will decide who, if anyone, should be the next head of the Commonwealth.

Yours faithfully, PETER SNELSON Cambridge 27 October