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Freedom of the City is an honour bestowed by some municipalities in Australia, Canada, Ireland, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe to esteemed members of its community or to organisations that have given the community heroic service; the term applies to two separate honors, one civilian and one military. Key to the City is a similar award made in several other countries, and is more prevalent in the United States.

Forms of freedom of the city

As a military privilege

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".

This honour dates back to the laws of ancient Rome that made it a capital offence for Roman legions to enter the city in formation or with weapons without permission. This was meant to ensure that ambitious generals did not mount a military coup against the Senate. (It was the law that Julius Caesar broke when crossing the Rubicon.) Similar laws were passed by cities throughout the Medieval era, also to protect civic security and rights, even against their own king's troops.

However, legions, regiments, or other martial groups that had given heroic service or whose honour was beyond question, might be granted Freedom of the City: the group would not have to disarm or break ranks before the city gates were opened to them. Given the serious risk the city would be running, this was a rare honour.

Today, martial freedom of the city is an entirely ceremonial honour, but remains the oldest and one of the highest civic honours in the Commonwealth of Nations.

As freedom from serfdom

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. 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 the boroughs. These two Acts together curtailed the power of the freemen and extended the franchise to all 'householders' (i.e., local rate payers). The private property belonging to the freemen collectively was retained. 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.

In contemporary 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 (see Local Government Act 1972). It requires a special meeting of the council which passes the resolution by a two thirds majority.

The key to the city award is used in many places, in a manner similar to freedom of the city (see below).

In practice

Borough Freedom of the City of London

In England, the most extensive 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 an onerous sum but now a donation to the Freemen's School.

New Freemen are enrolled in a ceremony in Guildhall, when they receive a guide to conducting their lives in an honourable fashion and an impressive sealed certificate. Freemen's children get admission preference at the City of London Freemen's Schoolmarker. There are a number of rights traditionally but apocryphally associated with Freemen—the right to drive sheep and cattle over London Bridgemarker; 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.

The belief that freemen have droving rights over the bridges appears to be a misinterpretation of freemen's historic freedom from bridge tolls when bringing animals into the City for sale. Nevertheless, this "invented" right has been exercised periodically in modern times:

  • On June 17, 2006, a flock of about thirty sheep was driven across the Millennium Bridgemarker to mark the start of London Architecture Week.
  • On August 31, 2008, Amanda Cottrell, a former High Sheriff of the City, marched six rams across London Bridge to promote fundraising for the restoration of Canterbury Cathedralmarker and "a scheme backing local food production"
  • On September 17, 2008, the Lord Mayor and some 500 Freemen drove a flock of Romney ewes in relay across the bridge to raise funds for the Lord Mayor's charities (Orbis and Wellbeing of Women).

Today the Freedom of the City of London 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' but who are now also called Freemen.

Although the Freedom is not an honour 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.

Borough freedom of the city in other cities

In other British cities, towns and boroughs, the qualifications for borough freedom differ, yet fall into two categories, 'patrimony' (inheritance) and 'servitude' (apprenticeship). For example, in Chestermarker and Yorkmarker, only the children or grandchildren (or great grandchildren in York) (male or female) of freemen may apply for admission (In York, apprenticeship to a freeman of the city will also allow admission; though now rare, it has been used as recently as 2000. 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 Tynemarker and Coventrymarker, in the last named freedom is qualified by having served an apprenticeship. Durhammarker and Northamptonmarker have extended their admission criteria to those who have served an apprenticeship without being 'bound' (trained by) by a Freeman directly. The Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885 is a law passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker. However the Freedom is still thriving in many cities and the above should only be seen as a guide. Each city where the admission of Freemen is carried out has its own regulations and customs for admission. Full information is available at the local authority of each city where Freemen are created.

In the Republic of Irelandmarker borough freedom of the city is generally given to noted foreign and national dignitaries and the list rarely exceeds a few dozen. The cities of the Republic of Ireland generally give various privileges, for instance Dublinmarker allows 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 Greenmarker and St. Stephen's Greenmarker.

Key to the City

The Key to the City is a similar award that is descended from Freedom of the City. It is used in several countries, but is especially popular in the United States.

An ornamental key is presented to esteemed visitors, residents, or others the city wishes to honor. Evoking medieval walled cities whose gates were guarded during the day and locked at night, the key symbolizes the freedom of the recipient to enter and leave the city at will as a trusted friend of city residents.

In the Netherlands and some cities in Belgium and Germany, the key to the city is given to the so-called "Prince carnival", which leads the carnivals which take place the week prior to Septuagesima. The tradition is that the mayor steps down for the days, and so the power is transferred to the prince carnival, which 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.

Military freedom of the city


Sydney, New South Walesmarker
Maitland, New South Walesmarker
  • HMAS Maitland: 2006


Airdrie, Albertamarker

Calgarymarker, Albertamarker

Courtenay, British Columbiamarker
  • : 2008

Edmontonmarker, Albertamarker

Hamiltonmarker, Ontariomarker

Kelownamarker, British Columbiamarker

Kingston, Ontariomarker

London, Ontariomarker

Ottawa, Ontariomarker

Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker

Quebec Citymarker, Quebecmarker

Torontomarker, Ontariomarker

Uxbridge, Ontariomarker
Waterloo, Ontariomarker
Vancouver, British Columbia
Vegreville, Albertamarker
Victoria, British Columbiamarker
Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker

United Kingdom

Bristol, Englandmarker
  • 266 (Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery) Battery, Royal Artillery (Volunteers)
  • 57 (City and County of Bristol) Squadron, Royal Corps of Signals (Volunteers)

Notable non-military awards of 'freedom of the city' and 'key to the city'


Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

'Freedom of the City' or 'Key to the City' has been granted twice in recent history.


Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The city bestows the "Key to the City" upon individuals that it wishes to honour in such a manner, usually at the discretion of the Mayor. Recipients include:
  • 2000: Barenaked Ladies, a Canadian pop band.
  • October 23, 2000: J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of books.
  • 2001: Blue Rodeo, a Canadian alt-country band.
  • November 18, 2001: Jackie Chan, an action movie star, was awarded the Key to the City in recognition of filming a movie there.

Windsormarker, Ontario, Canada

Republic of Ireland

Dublin, Ireland
See also Freedom of Dublin City

United Kingdom

Aberdeenmarker, Scotlandmarker
Aberdeen has a long history of bestowing the honour. See Freedom of the City of Aberdeen for details.

Bradfordmarker, England

Bury St Edmundsmarker, England
  • Actor Ian McShane was given freedom of the borough in 1996 after he played the title role in the television series Lovejoy, filmed in and around Bury.

Derbymarker, England

Douglas, Isle of Manmarker
  • Musicians The Bee Gees given freedom of the city in June 2009.

Durhammarker, England

Ipswichmarker, England

Kingston upon Hullmarker, England
  • Recipients of Freedom of the City of Hullmarker include:
    • 1999: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when he was invited to give the annual Wilberforce Lecture in Kingston upon Hull, commemorating the life and achievements of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. Tutu used the occasion to praise the people of the city for their traditional support of freedom and for standing with the people of South Africa in their fight against apartheid.

Leedsmarker, England

Liverpoolmarker, England
  • Recipients of Freedom of the City of Liverpool include:

London, England
Lindbergh's key

Manchestermarker, England
  • October 6, 1899: Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands
  • June 15, 1906: Businessman and Liberal Member of Parliament Sir William John Crossley was presented with a key on the 15th of June in honour of the Stamford Park County School. He was made a baronet later the same year. He, with his brother Francis, founded the pioneering locomotive company Crossley and the (now defunct) car manufacturer Crossley Motors and was a Director of the Manchester Ship Canal.
    Sir William Crossley's Key
  • 1907: James W. Southern, another director of the Manchester Ship Canal, was presented with the Freedom of the City in the form of a silver casket and scroll.
  • 1974: Nellie Beer
  • October 31, 1977: Astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell was presented with the Freedom of the City in the form of a simple salver.
  • 1984: Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw
  • March 2, 2009: Sir Bobby Charlton was awarded the Freedom for promoting the city of Manchester.
  • November 2, 2009: UK Olympic Cycling Team in recognition of their achievements


Prestonmarker, England

Portsmouthmarker, England
  • October 28, 2008: Former Portsmouth F.C. manager Harry Redknapp was made a freeman of the city for his achievements in leading Portsmouth to the FA Cup in 2007-8. Ironically he had left Portsmouth FC for Tottenham Hotspur days earlier and he was booed by fans at the presentation.

Romseymarker, England

Sheffieldmarker, England


Kingston, Jamaica
  • This award is given by the Kingston and St. Andrew Cooperation (KSAC) in collaboration with the Mayor of Kingston and St. Andrew. It is given to outstanding individuals, who did or continue to make a mark in the city of Kingstonmarker. This person or group must meet certain criteria, and display outstanding ability and commitment to building the city and nation. This award is the highest award given by a city/parish.
    • April 23, 2006: Bishop, Hon. Dr. Carmen L. Stewart, OD, JP, Custos Rotorulum of St. Andrew, Jamaica.


The key presented to Dr Albert M.
Schwartz's by the city of Tokyo
  • Recipients of the Key to the Metropolis of Tokyo include:

United States

Buffalo, New York, United States
  • May 19, 2009: Terell Owens received the key to the city of Buffalomarker with the provisions that he catch a minimum of 10 touchdown passes for the Bills and lead the team into the playoffs.

Danville, California, United States

Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Miami, Florida, United States
  • 2004: The mayors of Miami-Dade County and the city officially welcomed Shaquille O'Neal and presented him with the keys to the city before a press conference was held in the American Airlines Arena.
  • August 19, 2009: Miami Commissioner Thomas Regalado presented Armando Perez (aka Pitbull) with the key to the city during a morning ceremony.

Franklin Springs, Georgia, United States
  • 2007: Georgiamarker Governor Sonny Perdue received the key to the city of Franklin Springsmarker, Georgia, after visiting the city and cutting the ribbon to the city's new Public Safety and City Hall buildings; the original buildings were destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan.

Milton, Georgia, United States
  • 2007: The original Governor's Commission for the City of Miltonmarker (Ron Wallace, Brandon Beach, Gregory Mishkin, Dan Phalan and Cecil Pruitt) was awarded the key to the city of Milton in recognition of their work in the creation of the city. They were also presented a proclamation that officially declares December 1 as "Commissioning Day" in honor of their achievements.

Chicago, Illinois, United States

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
  • November 21, 2006: Kentucky-New Orleans Architecture Studio, for its work on restoration and re-design efforts of Mickey Markey Park in Bywater.
  • April 26, 2007: The Harris County Hospital District, in recognition of its efforts to provide health care to Hurricane Katrina evacuees at its Astrodome Clinic in September 2005.

Portland, Maine, United States
  • July 13, 2008: moe., a band from upstate New York, was presented the key to the city in recognition of a two day fundraising concert they organized for the Prebble Street Resource Center[43848].

Albion, Michigan, United States
  • Recipients include:
    • January 25, 1964: Aunt Jemima, a frequent visitor, present at the time to raise money for the March of Dimes.
    • 1960s: Ann Landers, upon her visit to Starr Commonwealth for Boys.

Detroit, Michigan, United States

Flint, Michigan, United States

New York, New York, United States

Mount Vernon, Washington, United States

  • On September 26, Bud Norris, the mayor of Mount Vernon, Washingtonmarker, gave the "Key to the City" to the popular Conservative talk show and radio show host Glenn Beck.


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