Freedom of the City is an award made by some British towns and cities, to esteemed members of its community; such people may then be termed Freemen or Freewomen of the City. Key to the City is a similar award made in several other countries. 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 England, the award is thought to have originated with the Freedom of the City of London, first made in 1237.
The key to the city is a similar award used in several countries, including the United States to honor esteemed visitors, local residents, and organizations. This honor involves the ceremonial presentation of an ornamental key but carries no formal privileges or distinctions.
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