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Empire & Beyond

I therefore bless this strenuous time which has given South Africa such a real insight into the heart of our Commonwealth system. In the last resort it is a human situation, a living human link which holds this vast system together …

Letter from the Prime Minister of South Africa, Field Marshal Smuts, to King George VI, 1 June 1947

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Britain’s Empire grew rapidly, and by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, she was the ruler of a quarter of the world’s population.

An essential part of the role of the Crown has been to bind together all the disparate countries in the Empire and latterly the Commonwealth.

Britain’s involvement with other nations was not based solely on a colonial relationship – often trade was the impetus for contact to be made with far-flung empires and different cultures.

The Queen retains a strong interest in the business of the Commonwealth today and the Crown still is the ‘living human link which holds … together’ this Commonwealth of Nations.

Click on the thumbnails to see the full transcript and image for each item; page numbers relate to their location in the book:

Letter, dated 1 June 1947, from the Prime Minister of South Africa, Field Marshal Smuts, to King George VI following the Royal Family’s very successful tour of the Dominion

RA PS/PSO/GVI/PS/VISCOM/08100/69/65a

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Letter from the Chinese Emperor, Qianlong, to George III regarding Lord Macartney’s diplomatic mission to China, 1793

RA GEO/ADD/31/21a

Read the translation