Freedom of the City

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Award to Robert Hadfield by the City of Sheffield Hadfield Freedom of the City of Sheffield.jpg
Award to Robert Hadfield by the City of Sheffield
Gold New York City 'Freedom of the City Box' presented to Commodore Daniel Patterson, made by Jonathan Wilmarth, John L. Moffat, and Joseph Curtis, 1832 Gold 'Freedom of the City Box' for Daniel T. Patterson, made by Jonathan Wilmarth, John L. Moffat, and Joseph Curtis, New York City, 1832, gold - Winterthur Museum - DSC01333.JPG
Gold New York City 'Freedom of the City Box' presented to Commodore Daniel Patterson, made by Jonathan Wilmarth, John L. Moffat, and Joseph Curtis, 1832
"Ferdinand Receives the Keys of the City from the Virgin of Ghent", print after a painting made by Antoon van den Heuvel for the Joyous Entry by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand into Ghent in 1635 Antoon van den Heuvel - Ferdinand Receives the Keys of the City from the Virgin of Ghent.jpg
"Ferdinand Receives the Keys of the City from the Virgin of Ghent", print after a painting made by Antoon van den Heuvel for the Joyous Entry by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand into Ghent in 1635

The Freedom of the City is an honour bestowed by a municipality upon a valued member of the community, or upon a visiting celebrity or dignitary. Arising from the medieval practice of granting respected citizens freedom from serfdom, the tradition still lives on in countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand – although today the title of "freeman" confers no special privileges. The Freedom of the City can also be granted by municipal authorities to military units which have earned the city's trust; in this context, it is sometimes called the Freedom of Entry. This allows them the freedom to parade through the city, and is an affirmation of the bond between the regiment and the citizenry.

Serfdom status of peasants under feudalism

Serfdom is the status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism, and similar systems. It was a condition of debt bondage, which developed during the Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.

Contents

The honour was sometimes accompanied by a "freedom box", a small gold box inscribed to record the occasion; these are not usual today. In some countries, such as the United States, esteemed residents and visitors may instead be presented with the Key to the City, a similarly symbolic honour. Other US cities award Honorary Citizenship, with just a certificate.

Military privilege

Members of No. 28 Squadron RAAF marching through the centre of Canberra during the unit's Freedom of the City parade in August 2013 No 28 Squadron RAAF Freedom of the City Parade passing Civic Square August 2013.jpg
Members of No. 28 Squadron RAAF marching through the centre of Canberra during the unit's Freedom of the City parade in August 2013

Freedom of the City is an ancient honour granted to martial organisations, allowing them the privilege to march into the city "with drums beating, colours flying, and bayonets fixed". [1]

Bayonet bladed weapon designed for attachment to a firearm

A bayonet is a knife, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit on the end of a rifle's muzzle, allowing it to be used as a spear. From the 17th century to World War I, it was considered the primary weapon for infantry attacks. Today, it is considered an ancillary weapon or a weapon of last resort.

This honour dates back to ancient Rome which regarded the "pomerium", the boundary of the city, as sacred. Promagistrates and generals were forbidden from entering it, and resigned their imperium immediately upon crossing it. An exception was made for victory celebrations (called triumphs), during which the victorious general would be permitted to enter for one day only. Under the Republic, soldiers also lost their status when entering, becoming citizens: thus soldiers at their general's triumph wore civilian dress. Weapons were also banned inside the pomerium for religious and traditional reasons. (The assassination of Julius Caesar occurred outside this boundary.)

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian Peninsula, conventionally founded in 753 BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.

The pomerium or pomoerium was a religious boundary around the city of Rome and cities controlled by Rome. In legal terms, Rome existed only within its pomerium; everything beyond it was simply territory (ager) belonging to Rome.


In ancient Rome, Imperium was a form of authority held by a citizen to control a military or governmental entity. It is distinct from auctoritas and potestas, different and generally inferior types of power in the Roman Republic and Empire. One's imperium could be over a specific military unit, or it could be over a province or territory. Individuals given such power were referred to as curule magistrates or promagistrates. These included the curule aedile, the praetor, the consul, the magister equitum, and the dictator. In a general sense, imperium was the scope of someone's power, and could include anything, such as public office, commerce, political influence, or wealth.

Similar laws were passed by other European cities throughout the Medieval era, to protect public security and civic rights, even against their own king's troops. As a result, soldiers would be forced to camp outside the walls of the city during the winter months. The Freedom of the City was an honour granted only to troops which had earned the trust of the local populace, either through some valiant action or simply by being a familiar presence. [1]

Today, martial freedom of the city is an entirely ceremonial honour, usually bestowed upon a unit with historic ties to the area, as a token of appreciation for their long and dedicated service. The awarding of the Freedom is often accompanied by a celebratory parade through the city.

Entitlement to civil privileges

A slightly more common freedom of the city is connected to the medieval concept of "free status", when city and town charters drew a distinction between freemen and vassals of a feudal lord. As such, freemen actually pre-date 'boroughs'. Early freedom of the boroughs ceremonies had great importance in affirming that the recipient enjoyed privileges such as the right to trade and own property, and protection within the town.

Feudalism combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe

Feudalism was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. Although derived from the Latin word feodum or feudum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Middle Ages. In its classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof (1944), feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs.

In modern society, the award of honorary freedom of the city or borough tends to be entirely ceremonial, given by the local government in many towns and cities on those who have served in some exceptional capacity, or upon any whom the city wishes to bestow an honour.

Borough An administrative division in some English-speaking countries

A borough is an administrative division in various English-speaking countries. In principle, the term borough designates a self-governing walled town, although in practice, official use of the term varies widely.

United Kingdom

A recipient of Freedom of the City of London, Nigel Cumberland, after his ceremony A recipient of Freedom of the City of London.jpg
A recipient of Freedom of the City of London, Nigel Cumberland, after his ceremony

Before parliamentary reform in 1832, freedom of the city or town conferred the right to vote in the 'parliamentary boroughs' for the MPs. Until the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 the freemen were the exclusive electorate for some of the boroughs. These two acts together curtailed the power of the freemen and extended the franchise to all 'householders' (defined as local rate payers; in fact therefore property owners). The private property belonging to the freemen collectively was retained. The freemen of York, Oxford and Newcastle upon Tyne still own considerable areas within their towns, although the income is effectively given to support charitable objects. The Local Government Act 1972 specifically preserved freemen's rights. [2] The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 removed any restrictions entitling only men to be freemen. [3]

Today, the grant of honorary freedom in the United Kingdom is governed by the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009). The 1972 Act enabled the councils of cities, royal boroughs, boroughs, and parishes (or, in Wales, communities) with the status of a royal town to confer the status of honorary freeman on "persons of distinction and persons who have, in the opinion of the council, rendered eminent services" to the local area. [4] The 2009 Act extends the ability to grant the status of honorary freeman to any county, city, district, borough, town, parish or community council (so removing the requirement for the town to have 'royal' status, and also enabling county councils to confer the honour). [5] A special meeting of the council can grant the honour by passing a resolution with a two-thirds majority at a specially convened meeting.

The exact qualifications for borough freedom differ between each city or town, but generally fall into two categories, 'patrimony' (inheritance) and 'servitude' (apprenticeship). For example, in Chester, only the children or grandchildren of freemen may apply for admission. In York, this extends to great- and great-great-grandchildren, and apprenticeship to a freeman of the city will also allow admission. [6] In Great Grimsby, the widow of a freeman passes his rights to her second husband, who retains the privilege after either divorce from or death of the widow. The borough freedom is strongest in York, Chester, Newcastle upon Tyne and Coventry; in Coventry, freedom is qualified by having served an apprenticeship. Durham and Northampton have extended their admission criteria to those who have served an apprenticeship without being 'bound' (trained) by a freeman directly. Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne are bestowed the right to graze cattle on the town moor. [7]

Freedom of the City of Belfast

Recipients of this honour have included actor Kenneth Brannagh, diplomat John Jordan, industrialist Andrew Carnegie and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Freedom of the City of London

Lord Nelson's certificate given him after becoming a Freeman of the City of London showing that he has Freedom Lord Nelson's certificate given him after becoming a Freeman of the City of London.jpg
Lord Nelson's certificate given him after becoming a Freeman of the City of London showing that he has Freedom
Ari Norman's Certificate of Freedom of the City of London Certificate of Freedom of the City of London for Ari Norman.jpg
Ari Norman's Certificate of Freedom of the City of London
Sir Tim Berners-Lee receiving the freedom of the City of London in 2014 Tim Berners-Lee Freedom of the City - 06.jpg
Sir Tim Berners-Lee receiving the freedom of the City of London in 2014

In England, the most established borough freedom is that conferred by the Freedom of the City of London, first recorded in 1237. This is closely tied to the role and status of the livery companies. From 1835, the freedom "without the intervention of a Livery Company" has been bestowed by a general resolution of Common Council, by "redemption" (purchase), at one time for an onerous sum. Now the Freedom can be obtained by servitude, by patrimony, by nomination, or by presentation via a Livery Company. Freedom through nomination by two sponsors is available for a fee (known as a "fine") of £100, but is free to those on the electoral roll of the City. [8]

New freemen are enrolled in a ceremony in Guildhall, when they receive a guide to conducting their lives in an honourable fashion and a sealed certificate. Freemen's children get admission preference at the City of London Freemen's School. There are a number of rights traditionally but apocryphally associated with freemen—the right to drive sheep and cattle over London Bridge; to a silken rope, if hanged; to carry a naked sword in public; or that if the City of London Police finds a freeman drunk and incapable, they will bundle him or her into a taxi and send them home rather than throw them into a cell. While sheep have occasionally been driven over London Bridge by Freemen on special occasions, these "privileges" are now effectively symbolic.

Mark Stephens with a sheep on London Bridge in 2009 Mark Stephens freeman.jpg
Mark Stephens with a sheep on London Bridge in 2009

The right to herd sheep and cattle across London's four bridges technically no longer applies, as there are no livestock markets in the city. [9] Nevertheless, this right has been exercised, or the city has granted permission, on several occasions in modern times:

  • On 19 August 1999, Jef Smith, a freeman of London walked two sheep over Tower Bridge to bring attention to the rights of older citizens. [9]
  • On 17 June 2006, a flock of about thirty sheep was driven across the Millennium Bridge to mark the start of London Architecture Week. [10]
  • On 31 August 2008, Amanda Cottrell, former High Sheriff of Kent, marched six rams across London Bridge to promote fundraising for the restoration of Canterbury Cathedral and "a scheme backing local food production". [11]
  • On 17 September 2008, the Lord Mayor of London, David Lewis, and some 500 freemen drove a flock of Romney ewes in relay across London Bridge to raise funds for the Lord Mayor's charities (Orbis and Wellbeing of Women). [12]
  • On 7 April 2013, actor and presenter Stephen Fry drove Grace, a year-old lamb, over London Bridge for a documentary about becoming a freeman, Stephen Fry's Key To The City. [13] [14]
  • On 27 April 2019, freeman of the city Simone Lakmaker drove Mark, a ram from Spitalfields City Farm, over London Bridge as part of her 80th birthday celebrations and to raise awareness for her charity the Speaking Out Forum.

By 2015, the driving of sheep across the bridge had become an annual event, organised by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen livery company, typically to raise funds for the Lord Mayor's Appeal and the Worshipful Company of Woolmen. [15] [16]

Freedom of the City of York

York has a long history of freemen dating back to the Anglo-Saxon period, with records dating back to 1272. [17] Freemen may claim their rights through patronage (as far back as their great-great-grandparent, there are records of women being admitted in York in medieval times, a right forgotten for a time until the late 1970s when the gild carried out research and rediscovered it) or apprenticeship. Once 'sworn in', freemen can join the Gild (archaic spelling used) of Freemen who continue to take an interest in the affairs of the city. New admissions are made every year (usually October) following an admission ceremony with the Lord Mayor at the Guildhall.

Ireland

In Ireland, borough freedom of the city is generally given to noted foreign and national dignitaries and the list rarely exceeds a few dozen. As in the United Kingdom, the title generally comes with various ancient privileges – for instance, freemen of Dublin are allowed the right to vote in certain elections, bring goods for sale in the city without customs and the right to pasture sheep on common ground such as College Green and St. Stephen's Green.

Key to the city

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev received the Golden Key to the City of Madrid during his state visit to Spain in March 2009. Dmitry Medvedev in Spain 2 March 2009-8.jpg
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev received the Golden Key to the City of Madrid during his state visit to Spain in March 2009.

In some countries, such as the United States, an ornamental key – the "key to the city" – is presented to esteemed visitors, residents, or others whom the city wishes to honour. This practice is a variation on the freedom of the city tradition, and has a similar symbolic meaning; evoking medieval walled cities, the gates of which would be guarded during the day and locked at night, the key symbolises the freedom of the recipient to enter and leave the city at will, as a trusted friend of city residents. [18]

In some cities in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, the key to the city is given to the so-called "prince carnival  [ nl ]" who leads the carnivals which take place the week prior to Septuagesima. The tradition is that the mayor steps down for this period and power is transferred to the prince carnival, who then returns the key at the end of Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Today, the handing over of the key is mostly symbolic and marks the start and end of the carnival.

In Canada, major cities including Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal may award a 'Key to the City' to influential business leaders, musicians, and political leaders. In 2016, the Canadian recording artist Drake received a key to the city, presented by the mayor John Tory. In a local tradition, Calgary has opted to award esteemed visitors a symbolic cowboy hat instead of a key; this is usually followed by reciting one of two oaths (one formal, the other more silly) to become honorary Calgarians. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Livery company ancient trade association in the City of London

The livery companies of the City of London, currently 110 in number, comprise London's ancient and modern trade associations and guilds, almost all of which are styled the 'Worshipful Company of...' their respective craft, trade or profession. London's livery companies play a significant part in City life, not least by providing charitable-giving and networking opportunities. Liverymen retain voting rights for the senior civic offices, such as the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and City of London Corporation, its ancient municipal authority with extensive local government powers.

The Worshipful Company of Scriveners is one of the 110 livery companies of the City of London. The Scriveners Company was originally known as the Mysterie of the Writers of the Court Letter and, since its incorporation, as Master Wardens and Assistants of the Company of Scrivenors of the Cittie of London [sic]. It is one of the few livery companies that from its foundation to the present day has been influential in setting the standards for a living profession, namely that of scrivener notary. The company's first ordinances were granted in 1373. Its Royal Charter was granted by King James I on 28 January 1617.

The Worshipful Company of Mercers is the premier Livery Company of the City of London and ranks first in the order of precedence of the Companies. It is the first of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies. Although of even older origin, the Company was incorporated under a Royal Charter in 1394, the Company's earliest extant Charter. The Company's aim was to act as a trade association for general merchants, and especially for exporters of wool and importers of velvet, silk and other luxurious fabrics (mercers). By the 16th century many members of the Company had lost any connection with the original trade. Today, the Company exists primarily as a charitable institution, supporting a variety of causes. The Company's motto is Honor Deo, Latin for "Honour to God".

City of London Freemens School school in Surrey, England

City of London Freemen's School (CLFS) is a co-educational private school for day and boarding pupils, located at Ashtead Park in Surrey, England. It is the sister school of the City of London School and the City of London School for Girls, which are both independent single-sex schools located within the City of London itself. All three schools receive funding from the City's Cash. The school is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

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Ancient borough historic unit of lower-tier local government in England and Wales

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The Freedom of the City of Aberdeen is an honour bestowed by the city of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885

The Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that gave the councils of municipal boroughs in England and Wales the power to award the title of honorary freeman to "persons of distinction and any persons who have rendered emininent services to the borough".

Honorary citizenship

Honorary citizenship is a status bestowed by a country on a foreign or native individual whom it considers to be especially admirable or otherwise worthy of the distinction.

The Freeman (Admission) Act 1763 is an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. The Act withheld the right to vote in Parliamentary elections, in those boroughs where honorary freemen could vote, from any freemen admitted to the freedom within twelve months of the first day of the election; it did not affect the rights of ordinary freemen, admitted by the custom of the borough in question.

In Northern Ireland, if a local government district has borough status then the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the borough council may be styled Mayor and Deputy Mayor respectively. These provisions date from the Local Government Act 1972; some towns already had borough status which was carried over to their post-1972 district, while other districts later petitioned for a charter granting borough status. The head of Belfast City Council has been styled Lord Mayor of Belfast since 1892.

The Royal Commission on the Corporation of the City of London was a Royal Commission, established in 1853, which considered the local government arrangements of the City of London and the surrounding metropolitan area.

The Freedom of the City of Dublin is awarded by Dublin City Council after approving a person nominated by the Lord Mayor. Eighty-two people have been honoured under the current process introduced in 1876. Most honourees have made a contribution to the life of the city or of Ireland in general, including politicians, public servants, humanitarians, artists and entertainers; others were distinguished members of the Irish diaspora and foreign leaders, honoured visiting Dublin. Honourees sign the roll of freedmen in a ceremony at City Hall or the Mansion House and are presented with an illuminated scroll by the Lord Mayor.

Oldham Council Local government body in England

Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council is the local authority of the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham in Greater Manchester, England. It is a metropolitan district council, one of ten in Greater Manchester and one of 36 in the metropolitan counties of England, and provides the majority of local government services in Oldham. It is composed of 60 councillors, three for each of the 20 electoral wards of the borough. It is also branded and known simply as Oldham Council.

References

  1. 1 2 "1985 – 75th Anniversary Naval Service of Canada". Royal Canadian Navy. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  2. Section 248 of Text of the Local Government Act 1972 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk .
  3. Sections 27 and 28 of the Text of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk .
  4. Text of the Section 249 of the Local Government Act 1972 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk .
  5. Text of the Section 249 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk .
  6. "The Gild of Freemen of the City of York" . Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  7. "The Moor". The Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne. Archived from the original on 8 October 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  8. "How to apply for the Freedom". City of London. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  9. 1 2 "Protest Freeman herds sheep over Tower Bridge". BBC News. 19 August 1999. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
  10. "Sheep flock driven through city". BBC News. 17 June 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  11. "Sheep marched over London Bridge". BBC News. 31 August 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  12. "Sheep march over bridge for money". BBC News. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  13. "Stephen Fry on Twitter". Twitter. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  14. "Stephen Fry's Key To The City". ITV. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  15. "Why are there sheep being herded across London Bridge?". ITV News.
  16. 30 September 2018. "Alan Titchmarsh herds sheep over London Bridge". BBC News. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  17. "Register of the Freemen of the City of York - British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk.
  18. "Key to the City of New York". New York City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol. Archived from the original on 14 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  19. "White Hat Ceremony". Visit Calgary. Archived from the original on 22 November 2012.