FREEMAN, primarily one who is free, as opposed to a slave or serf (see Feudalism; Slavery). The term is more specifically applied to one who possesses the freedom of a city, borough or company. Before the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, each English borough admitted freemen according to its own peculiar custom and by-laws. The rights and privileges of a freeman, though varying in different boroughs, generally included the right to vote at a parliamentary election of the borough, and exemption from all tolls and dues. The act of 1835 respected existing usages, and every person who was then an admitted freeman remained one, retaining at the same time all his former rights and privileges. The admission of freemen is now regulated by the Municipal Corporations Act 1882. By section 201 of that act the term "freeman" includes any person of the class whose rights and interests were reserved by the act of 1835 under the name either of freemen or of burgesses. By section 202 no person can be admitted a freeman by gift or by purchase; that is, only birth, servitude or marriage are qualifications. The Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885, however, makes an exception, as by that act the council of every borough may from time to time admit persons of distinction to be honorary freemen of the borough. The town clerk of every borough keeps a list, which is called "the freeman's roll," and when any person claims to be admitted a freeman in respect of birth, servitude or marriage, the mayor examines the claim, and if it is established the claimant's name is enrolled by the town clerk.
A person may become a freeman or freewoman of one of the London livery companies by (1) apprenticeship or servitude; (2) patrimony; (3) redemption; (4) gift. This last is purely honorary. The most usual form of acquiring freedom was by serving apprenticeship to a freeman, free both of a company and of the city of London. By an act of common council of 1836 apprenticeship was permitted to freemen of the city who had not taken up the freedom of a company. By an act of common council of 1889 the term of service was reduced from seven years to four years. Freedom by patrimony is always granted to children of a person who has been duly admitted to the freedom. Freedom by redemption or purchase requires the payment of certain entrance fees, which vary with the standing of the company. In the Grocers' Company freedom by redemption does not exist, and in such companies as still have a trade, e.g. the Apothecaries and Stationers, it is limited to members of the trade.
See W. C. Hazlitt, The Livery Companies of the City of London (1892).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)