- Morgan Freeman
One of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today, is believed to have been first 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 those with 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.
If you want to find out more about your relatives connected with the Freedom of the City, or simply learn more about your past, contact the London Metropolitan Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org
Murray Craig reveals 'the secret of an ancient City tradition: The Freedom of the City'