The Empire’s New Clothes

The Myth of the Commonwealth

Philip Murphy

Murphy strips away the gilded self-image of the Commonwealth to reveal an irrelevant institution wallowing in imperial nostalgia.

Bibliographic Details
The Empire’s New Clothes Hardback
May 2018£20.00

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In the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the Commonwealth has been identified as an important element of the mooted realignment in British trade and diplomacy. Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, offers a surprising personal perspective on this complex and poorly understood institution.

The Empire’s New Clothes considers the relevance of the modern Commonwealth, both to the UK and to the other fifty-one member states. How is it organised and what has held it together for so long? How successful has it been in escaping from the shadow of the British Empire to become an organisation based on shared values, rather than a shared history? How important is the Queen’s role as Head of the Commonwealth? Most importantly, why has it had such a troubled recent past, and is it realistic to imagine that its fortunes might be reversed?

The Commonwealth has defied many predictions of its imminent demise. But despite periodic attempts at reinvention, this book argues that the Commonwealth, now more than ever, is little more than a mirage—as lacking in substance as the emperor’s new clothes.


Philip Murphy is Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Professor of British and Commonwealth History at the University of London. He has published extensively on the history of British decolonisation and, recently, on the Commonwealth-wide role of the British monarchy. Since 2007, he has been co-editor of the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History.

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‘Mercurial, maverick and mischievous, Murphy writes as an outsider-insider, having been head of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies for a number of years. This is going to shake the tree. And about time.’ — Joanna Lewis, Associate Professor of International History, London School of Economics. Times Higher Education Books of the Year.