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Date updated: 5/04/2023

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 Freedom in the City today is still closely associated with membership of the Livery Companies.

There are several ways to apply for the Freedom: by servitude, by patrimony, 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.

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 Councillors of the City of London, Aldermen or Liverymen.

Applications are made online, and the Freedom Fee, known as the ‘fine’ is paid by BACs transfer. The fine is £170.

The application is then presented to the Court of Common Council 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 (the Lord Mayor, Sheriff, Aldermen, Common Councillors 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.

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 Corporation initiatives or to consult you about its services, but only if you have given your consent for us to do so.

For general information, details of how to apply and application forms please contact the Court Assistant.

For more complex enquiries please contact the Clerk of the Chamberlain's Court.

Please be aware that we are a busy office, and we may not be able to answer your enquiry immediately.

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, they 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 Lord King Charles the Third; 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 King's Peace in my own person; that I will know no Gatherings nor Conspiracies made against the King'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 Lord” with “His Majesty”.

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 Guildhall or the Mansion House before the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Common Councillors and invited guests.

The presentation on these occasions is made by the Chamberlain of London who makes a speech as does the recipient.

Famous Honorary Freemen include

  • Pitt the Younger
  • Lord Nelson
  • The Duke of Wellington
  • Edward Jenner
  • David Livingston
  • William Gladstone
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Winston Churchill
  • Montgomery of Alamein
  • Queen Elizabeth II
  • Tim Berners-Lee
  • Stephen Hawking

Freedom by Special Nomination

The City of London Corporation 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. Such Freemen receive a partially illuminated copy of freedom, the ceremony is conducted by the Chamberlain and is followed by a toast and a lunch. This category includes diplomats, clergy, actors, musicians, sporting figures and public figures. People admitted by this unique category include Bryn Terfel, Corporal Joshua Leakey VC, Lord Foster of Thamesbank, Major Tim Peake, Baroness Lawrence, Baroness Hale and Captain Sir Tom Moore.

Freedom by Invitation

A third category whereby the Freedom can be regarded as an honour or mark of respect is Freedom by Invitation whereby individuals are invited to receive the freedom with no requirement to pay the fee. The invitation is often extended by the Lord Mayor or the Chair of Policy and Resources, the ceremony is conducted by the Chamberlain or Remembrancer and hospitality may be offered after the ceremony. This category includes for example figures from diplomacy, clergy, the law, the military, actors, musicians, sporting figures and business leaders.

History and origins

"One of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today, is believed to have been first presented in 1237"

Murray Craig, former Clerk of the Chamberlain's Court, reveals the secret of this ancient City tradition: watch the short video on YouTube.

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.

Family history

If you want to find out more about your ancestors connected with the Freedom of the City, or simply learn more about your family's past, email the London Metropolitan Archives at LMA Enquiries.