Academy award-winning actor Colin Firth was presented with the Freedom of the City of London honor for his services to acting. This is one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today.
Colin Firth accepted the Freedom of the City of London honor at the Guildhall and prior to the ceremony he said, “London is my home and I’m hugely touched and honored by this gesture.”
Freedom ceremonies take place in the Chamberlain’s Court at Guildhall and are usually conducted by the Clerk of the Court of his Assistant. Freemen, their nominators and guests are escorted to the Court by the Beadle, who wears the traditional top hat and tails. The Clerk of Court wears a silk gown and if the Chamberlain performs the ceremony, he wears the traditional ermine-trimmed gown.
To accept the honor, Firth read the Declaration of a Freeman, which allows him to carry out his trade.
As one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today, it is believed that the first Freedom was presented in 1237. 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. It is also believed that they received privileges like driving sheep over London Bridge, being drunk and disorderly without fear or arrest, or if sentenced to death, being hanged with a silken rope – though these no longer exist. Town dwellers who were protected by the charter of their town or city were often free – hence the term “Freedom of the City.”
All freemen receive the book of “Rules for the Conduct of Life,” written by the Lord Mayor, 1737-8.
Other recipients of the Freedom of the City include author Rudyard Kipling and former prime ministers Benjamin Disraeli and Robert Peel.