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CultureGlobal issues

Are all Commonwealth countries releasing King Charles money?

June 5, 2024

Starting June 5, the king's portrait will appear on bills in the UK. Some Commonwealth countries use his image too, while others say it's time for a change.

A sheet of £10 banknotes featuring the face of King Charles III.
King Charles III now appears on banknotes in the UKImage: Bank of England/AP/picture alliance

On June 5, banknotes featuring a portrait of King Charles III will be released in the UK. But fans of Queen Elizabeth II need not fear — notes bearing the late-monarch's image will not needlessly be taken out of circulation.

The Bank of England said banknotes featuring the king will only be printed to replace those that are worn or damaged. The decision to sparsely print the new notes was in line with the Royal Household's guidance. Ever the environmental champion, King Charles III aims to minimize the environmental impact of printing a large amount of new currency. His face will appear on 5, 10, 20 and 50 pound banknotes.

The 75-year-old Charles, who is currently being treated for cancer, became king after Queen Elizabeth II's 70-year-reign ended with her death in 2022.

The Royal Mint, the official maker of British coins, has already stamped his face on coins that began circulating in December 2023. On them, the king is depicted facing the left, while Queen Elizabeth II faces the right.

Depicting a monarch's profile in the opposite direction of their predecessor is a tradition that dates back to the 17th century.

A £5 note featuring the face of King Charles III.
The new banknotes will only replace worn and tattered bills featuring the queenImage: Yui Mok/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

British royals on currency around the Commonwealth

The queen can be found on the currency of over 15 countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as well as a number of countries in the Caribbean that use the Eastern Caribbean dollar, among others. Such countries are part of the Commonwealth, the voluntary association of 56 independent countries, most of which were formerly under British rule.

Canada also started featuring His Royal Highness on coins in December 2023. Over 350 Canadian artists entered a competition to draw the king's portrait, with Canadian artist Steven Rosati getting the job.

However, according to the Bank of Canada, it won't be until early 2027 that King Charles' face will appear on Canada's new $20 note — the only Canadian banknote that still features a member of the British royal family.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand also confirmed plans to feature King Charles III on its coins, starting with the 10-cent piece, but said they probably would not reach the public until 2027. "The new coins will have the same physical characteristics as those bearing the effigy of the late Queen Elizabeth II. We will not be withdrawing any existing coins in circulation, and these will remain legal tender," the bank said in a statement.

Queen Elizabeth II on an Australian $5 note.
Australia has chosen to redesign its $5 note: Instead of featuring the British king, it will highlight its Indigenous culturesImage: Mark Baker/AP/picture alliance

Australia, however, is dropping the royals from its bills. Last year, the government announced it would not feature an image of the king on its new $5 note. Instead, the bill, which currently features the image of the queen, will be replaced with an image honoring the country's Indigenous peoples, Australia's government announced. The public was invited to submit ideas for a new design honoring the country's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

Australia is however minting coins with the likeness of King Charles III. They were released into circulation in December 2023. The Commonwealth country has featured British monarchs on its coins since the 17th century.

Activists instead of monarchs

Not all Commonwealth countries are involved in the currency change.

India, for example, has not featured a member of the royal family on its currency since gaining independence in 1947.

Similarly, when Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1962, it put portraits of national heroes on its currency, such as political activist Marcus Garvey.

Notes in the Seychelles have long featured wildlife instead of a monarch's portrait.

Queen Elizabeth II did not appear on bills in Britain until 1960, seven years after her coronation, and she was the first monarch to ever be printed on a bill. Effigies of monarchs had been printed on coins, however, for many years prior.

Unlike the photo of his mother during her reign, King Charles is not depicted wearing a crown.

A portrait of King Charles III primarily painted in red.
The portrait of King Charles III by artist Jonathan Yeo was the cause of controversyImage: Aaron Chown/POOL/AFP

The image of him on the bills was based on a photo taken in 2013 and is fairly straightforward. As a result, there's unlikely to be any controversy — unlike the media debate that ensued over the first official portrait of the king shown to the public in May. Artist Jonathan Yeo featured the monarch emerging from a fiery red backdrop with a butterfly painted over his shoulder. Reviews were mixed, causing some critics to question the relevance of official portraits in the present day.

The first of the UK's new banknotes were printed last year, with a long lead-in time being left to ensure that automated cash machines and other technologies could be updated to recognize the new currency.

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier 

Sarah Hucal
Sarah Hucal Freelance Multimedia Journalist