Dominions were autonomous polities that were nominally under British sovereignty, constituting the British Empire and British Commonwealth, beginning in the later part of the 19th century. They have included (at varying times) Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, the Union of South Africa, and the Irish Free State. Over the decades after 1930, the British dominions each became independent of the United Kingdom. Those that became sovereign constitutional monarchies within the Commonwealth of Nations and maintained as their own the same royal house and royal succession from before independence became known as Commonwealth realms; others soon became republics, ending their status as dominions.
The term "dominion" was also used in the names of certain Commonwealth realms; these included (at varying times) India, Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Kenya, and others.
In English common law the Dominions of the British Crown were all the realms and territories under the sovereignty of the Crown. For example, the Order in Council that annexed the island of Cyprus in 1914 provided that:
Use of the word Dominion, to refer to a particular territory, dates back to the 16th century, and was used to describe Wales from 1535 to around 1800. Dominion, as an official title, was first conferred on Virginia, circa 1660, and the Dominion of New England, in 1686. These dominions never had semi-autonomous or self-governing status. Indeed, creation of the short-lived Dominion of New England was designed – contrary to that of later dominions – to increase royal control and reduce the colonies' self-government.
On the other hand, under the British North America Act 1867, eastern Canada received the status of "Dominion" upon the Confederation in 1867 of several British possessions in North America.