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Essay Competition, 1922 - 2009

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/ARCS/20

Scope and Contents

The Royal Commonwealth Society Essay Competition was originally established in 1883, when prizes were first offered to school children in the United Kingdom for the best essays submitted on a set imperial topic. In 1913 the competition was opened to schools overseas. It rapidly expanded to become the world’s oldest and largest international schools’ writing contest, reflecting the society’s enduring aim to foster the creative talent of young people throughout the Commonwealth by encouraging literacy, self-expression and imagination. In 2015 it was renamed the Queens’s Essay Competition to celebrate Elizabeth II’s role as both Head of the Commonwealth and Patron of the Royal Commonwealth Society.
The competition regulations have changed over time, but for most of the period covered by the archive, essays were submitted by school children and young adults in three categories according to their age. Category A for those aged sixteen and over, category B for those aged fourteen to sixteen, and category C for those aged less than fourteen years old. New essay topics were assigned for each year, with themes ranging from the light-hearted to serious contemporary social, political and cultural issues, and creative writing was often encouraged. Many essay topics were inspired by the annual Commonwealth Day theme, which for the main later years covered by the archive were:
2002 Celebrating Diversity
2003 Partners in Development
2004 Building a Commonwealth of Freedom
2005 Education - Creating Opportunity, Realising Potential
2006 Health and Vitality - the Commonwealth Challenge
2007 The Commonwealth - Respecting Difference, Promoting Understanding
2008 The Environment- Our Future
2009 Commonwealth @ 60. Serving a New Generation.

Prize-winning essays from the years 1922-1937, 1939, 1941-1960, 1977-1980, 1983 and 1985 have been digitised and are accessible via the university’s Apollo digital repository. These include winners of the Margaret Best Memorial Prize, the Sir Alwyn Ezra Prize and any special prizes. In all, 336 essays have been digitised and may be read in pdf format. Copyright in the essays resides with the Royal Commonwealth Society. Anybody wishing to re-publish the essays in any format should seek permission from the society.
Authors of essays for the years 1991-2009 have been listed electronically. There are further lists recording contestants’ school, country, gender and essay topic. Researchers wishing to view these essays and the additional lists must first seek permission from staff in the Royal Commonwealth Society Department.


  • 1922 - 2009

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


1.43 cubic metre(s) (143 archive boxes) : paper

Language of Materials


Existence and Location of Originals

To access the digitised essays please follow this link:

Finding aid date

2013-04-11 15:41:47+00:00


Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom