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  • Barbara Windsor
    Barbara Windsor hoding her Freedom of the City

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.

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.

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.

Modern Freedom

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 Ceremony

Freedom ceremonies take place in the Chamberlain’s Court at Guildhall and are usually conducted by the Clerk of the Court or his Assistant. Freemen, their nominators and guests are escorted to the Court by the Beadle, who wears a top hat and frockcoat. The Clerk of the Court wears a silk gown, and if the Chamberlain performs the ceremony, he wears the traditional ermine-trimmed gown.

The prospective Freeman is invited to read the ‘Declaration of a Freeman’ and to sign the Freeman’s Declaration Book. The Copy of the Freedom – a parchment document with the name of the recipient beautifully inscribed by a calligrapher – is presented by the Clerk, together with a copy of the ‘Rules for the Conduct of Life’ which date from the mid-18th century.

The Clerk or Chamberlain extends the right hand of fellowship to the recipient and greets them as ‘a Citizen of London’.

After the ceremony, there is time for informal questions, the opportunity to view interesting items, photographs and artefacts in the Court Room such as a letter from Nelson and Florence Nightingale’s Freedom casket.

The Declaration

"I do solemnly swear that I will be good and true to our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second; that I will be obedient to the Mayor of this City; that I will maintain the Franchises and Customs thereof, and will keep this City harmless, in that which in me is; that I will also keep the Queen's Peace in my own person; that I will know no Gatherings nor Conspiracies made against the Queen's Peace, but I will warn the Mayor thereof, or hinder it to my power; and that all these points and articles I will well and truly keep, according to the Laws and Customs of this City, to my power."

Non British and British Commonwealth Citizens have the option to substitute “our Sovereign Lady” with “Her Majesty”.

How to apply

There are several ways to apply for the Freedom: by servitude (for apprentices who have served a full apprenticeship to a Freeman), by patrimony (for children of Freemen – provided one parent was a Freeman prior to the applicant’s birth), by nomination or by presentation via a Livery Company.

New members of the City Livery Companies are generally encouraged by the Company to apply for the Freedom. The process of becoming a Freeman through a Livery Company is explained in full by the Clerk of the Company.

Finally, persons who have been on the City of London Electoral Roll for a minimum of one year may obtain the Freedom without the need for an application visit or Common Council approval. There is no fee in such cases and applicants should advise that they are on the Ward List.

Freedom by Nomination – Persons of any nationality may apply for the Freedom by nomination. Forms are available from the Chamberlain’s Court and the applicant must be nominated by two sponsors who will be Common Councilmen of the City of London, Aldermen or Liverymen.

The applicant then makes an appointment to attend the Chamberlain’s Court for an ‘application visit’. He or she would bring a number of documents supporting the application - to include a full birth certificate, the completed nomination form and the Freedom Fee which is known as the ‘fine’. The current fine is £30. This no longer swells the coffers of the City of London but goes to the Freemen’s School in Ashtead for the Foundation Scholars.

The application is then presented to the Court of Common Council (the City of London’s governing body) for approval, after which the applicant is advised in writing to contact the Court to arrange a date for the Freedom Ceremony.

In addition, there is another specialised category open to those people who wish to stand for election for the Court of Common Council and who do not have ready access to the Nominators outlined (ie the Lord Mayor, Sheriff, Aldermen, Common Councilmen of the City of London or Liverymen). In such a case, an applicant can be supported by any two electors registered in the City or by two persons eligible to sign an application for a passport.

For further information on the Freedom of the City email chamberlains.court@cityoflondon.gov.uk or call the Chamberlain’s Court on 020 7332 3055.

Fair processing notice

The information you provide when applying for the Freedom of the City of London, or other information provided in support of your application, will be held by the City of London Corporation in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. It will be used for the purpose of processing your request to receive admission to the Freedom of the City of London.

The fact and means (redemption, patrimony or servitude) of your admission may be made public in the records of the Court of Common Council and Court of Aldermen, consisting of name, occupation and address, published as part of any required application to either of these Courts for admission. Your personal data will otherwise not be disclosed to third parties.

The City of London Corporation may use your contact details in order to contact you about City of London Corporation initiatives or to consult you about its services, but only if you have given your consent for us to do so.

The Honorary Freedom

Honorary Freedom is the highest honour the City of London can bestow. Honorary Freemen do not apply for but are invited by the Court of Common Council to take the Freedom. The presentation ceremony usually takes place in the Great Hall of the Guildhall before the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Common Councilmen and invited guests.

The presentation on these occasions is made by the Chamberlain of London and is usually followed by a Guildhall or Mansion House banquet.

Famous Honorary Freemen include:

  • Pitt the Younger
  • Nelson
  • Wellington
  • David Livingstone
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Baden Powell
  • Winston Churchill
  • Princess Diana
  • Nelson Mandela.

The City of London from time to time invites individuals who have made a significant impact in their field to take up the Freedom to acknowledge their particular contribution. This category includes diplomats, clergy, actors, musicians and sportsmen. Recent recipients have included:

  • Ambassadors
  • Alastair Cook the England batsman
  • Dame Judi Dench
  • Annie Lennox
  • Archbishop of Westminster
  • Stephen Fry

Further information and merchandise

The history and origins of 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.

Merchandise

The Chamberlain’s Court Offices have a range of books and accessories for sale. These include cufflinks, ties, brooches etc. Items can be purchased from our online shop or in person either at the Freedom ceremony or during normal office hours.

Payments can be made online by credit or debit card.

For postal requests, please send details of the item you wish to purchase and your cheque, including £1.50 for post and packaging, to:

The Chamberlain’s Court
Guildhall
London EC2P 2EJ
020 7332 1353

Cheques should be made payable to ‘The Chamberlain of London’


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