Freedom of the City

From Academic Kids

Freedom of the City is an award made by towns and cities, to esteemed members of its community; such people may then be termed Freemen or Freewomen of the City. The Free status dates back to medieval times when city and town charters drew a distinction between free men, and vassals of a feudal Lord. Early Freedom of the City ceremonies had great importance in affirming that the awardee enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land, and protection within the town.

In contemporary society, the award of Freedom of a 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.


Freedom of the City of London

In England, the award is thought to have originated with the Freedom of the City of London, first made in 1237.

There are still Freemen of the City of London. New Freemen receive a scroll that lists the various privileges they are entitled to. Freemen's children get preference in finding places for their children at the City of London School, the City of London School for Girls, and the City of London Freemen's School. Also, apocryphally, a Freeman has the right to drive sheep and cattle over London Bridge; and if officers of the City of London Police find a freeman drunk and incapable, they will bundle him into a taxi and send him home rather than throw him in a cell and later charge him!

Today the Freedom of the City is still taken up by some 1,800 people every year. Prior to 1996, the Freedom was only open to British or Commonwealth Citizens over 21 years of age and of good character. Now however, it has been extended globally, and persons of any nationality may apply either by nomination, by patrimony or by being presented by a Livery Company. There is a long standing tradition of admitting women, who used to be called 'free sisters'.

Although the Freedom is not an honour or award except in the case of Honorary Freedom, many people who have lived or worked in the City are proud to become part of the City's history by becoming Freemen. The Freedom is open to all who are genuinely interested and meet the criteria set down.

Freedom of the City in other cities

In other English cities, towns and boroughs, the qualifications for Freedom differ. For example, in Ipswich, only the children or grandchildren of Freemen may apply although Honorary Freedoms may be bestowed to whomever the Borough Council chooses.

In the Republic of Ireland Freedom of the City is generally given to noted foreign and national dignatories and list often never exceed a few dozen. The cities of the Republic of Ireland generally give various privileges, for instance Dublin allows 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.

Elsewhere in the world, notably in Australia and Canada, Freedom of the City has a narrower definition: it is an award to local and foreign military units, giving them the right to march into the city "with drums beating, colours flying, and bayonets fixed".A special parade is held whenever a military unit exercises its Freedom of the City: the troops march on a major thoroughfare towards the city, where their right of entry is challenged by a single police officer. A member of the troops presents the scroll, which is then examined by the police officer. When the police officer acknowledges the troop's right of entry, they march towards the city hall, where they are received by the mayor.

Key to the City

A key to the city is a similar award used in several countries to honor esteemed visitors, local residents, and organizations. This honor involves the presentation of an ornamental key but carries no formal weight.

The Key To the City of New York

The City of New York bestows the "Key to the City" upon individuals that it wishes to honour.

On August 4 2004, Nelson Sulpico, a Filipino taxi driver was awarded the key to the city in recognition of his honesty after returning a bag containing black pearls worth 70,000 US dollars that had been left in his cab by its owner.


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