- Morgan Freeman
- Fiona Bruce
One of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today is the granting of the Freedom of the City of London. It is believed that the first Freedom was presented in 1237.
History and origins
The medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land. Town dwellers who were protected by the charter of their town or city were often free – hence the term ‘freedom of the City.
From the Middle Ages and the Victorian era, the Freedom was the right to trade, enabling members of a Guild or Livery to carry out their trade or craft in the square mile.
A fee or fine would be charged and in return the Livery Companies would ensure that the goods and services provided would be of the highest possible standards. In 1835, the Freedom was widened to incorporate not just members of Livery Companies but also people living or working in the City or there was a strong London connection.
Today most of the practical reasons for obtaining the Freedom of the City have disappeared. It nevertheless remains as a unique part of London’s history to which many people who have lived or worked in the City have been proud to be admitted.
Prior to 1996, the Freedom was only open to British or Commonwealth Citizens. Now, however, it has been extended globally and persons of any nationality may be admitted either through nomination or by being presented by a Livery Company. There is a long standing tradition of admitting women.
The City of London is keen to maintain the Freedom as a living tradition. The Freedom is open to all who are genuinely interested and invited or born to it. The City Freemen are a very broad cross-section of the population.
The Freedom in the City today is still closely associated with membership of the City Livery Companies.
Visit the Livery page for an insight into the fascinating history and modern role of the Livery.
The Freedom of the City is a fascinating subject and for anyone wishing to read about it more widely, there are a number of publications available from the Chamberlain’s Court including ‘The Freedom of the City of London’ - Caroline Arnold and ‘Discovering London’s Guilds and Liveries’ - by John Kennedy-Melling.
The Guild of Freemen of the City of London was founded in 1908 and its purpose is to bring together Freemen of the City of London for charitable, benevolent, educational and social activities. Every year the Guild lays on a programme of events for its members to meet socially and learn more about the City.
The Society of Young Freemen was established by the City of London in 1976. Membership is available to all Freemen of the City under the age of 40. The Society of Young Freemen offers a wonderful introduction to the City of London, and its pageantry, colour and vibrancy.
Murray Craig reveals 'the secret of an ancient City tradition: The Freedom of the City'