What does Freedom of the City mean? The Lionesses new honour explained

The Lionesses will be awarded Freedom of the City after winning the Euros, but what does it mean?

Sarina Wiegman holding up the Euros trophy with the Lionesses cheering behind her
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After a historic win against Germany, the Lionesses are due to receive another award to go along with their Euros trophy. But what does Freedom of the City mean?

Before the 2022 Euros kicked off, you might have been asking yourself who are the Lionesses? (opens in new tab) But after the England team made history with their win at the Euros, the likes of Chloe Kelly, Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead (opens in new tab) are household names.

The ladies who brought it home have a lot to celebrate - and so they did, singing Sweet Caroline (opens in new tab) all the way - but alongside the trophy, the medals and Beth Mead's Golden Boot, the team and their coach have been awarded Freedom of the City of London. But what does the honour mean?

What does Freedom of the City mean?

Freedom of the City is an honour awarded to valued members of the community in recognition of exceptional service. The honour can be gievn to an individual, group or military unit - and is handed out by the city council.

England's Lionesses are to be awarded Freedom of the City of London, while captain Leah Williamson will also receive Freedom of the City of Milton Keynes. The City of London said on Twitter "We are delighted to announce that the entire Lionesses team and Head Coach Sarina Wiegman will receive the Freedom of the City of London, following their triumphant 2-1 win against Germany at Wembley Stadium last night."

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Any city in the UK can award Freedom of the City - for example, Glasgow awarded comedian Billy Connolly the honour in 2010 - but only the City of London can award Freedom of the City of London.

When and why have the Lionesses been given Freedom of the City?

The Lionesses are being awarded Freedom of the City after they won the 2022 Euros. The historic achievement ended England's 56-year wait for a major football trophy and has been hailed as a new beginning for the women's game.

Lord Mayor of the City of London, Vincent Keaveny, and chair of the City of London Corporation’s civic affairs sub-committee, Edward Lord, nominated the team and their coach for the award, and the announcement was made on August 1.

Keaveny said: “The rise and rise of the Lionesses has been an incredible success story and it gives me great pleasure to nominate the team for the Freedom of the City of London. Last night’s triumphant win against Germany has cemented the team’s place in sporting history and as a nation, we couldn’t be prouder of them.”

It is not yet known the exact date the Lionesses will receive the award, but they and their head coach Sarina Wiegman will be invited to attend a Freedom ceremony later this year.

Freedom of the City of London

Freedom of the City of London is a tradition that dates back to 1237, and is one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence. 

The honour has originally bestowed individuals to give them the right to trade, but these days it is more ceremonial, and previous recipients include singer Ed Sheeran and former England cricketer, Sajid Mahmood.

Recipients are awarded at a Freedom ceremony, which takes place in the Chamberlain’s Court at Guildhall and is conducted by the Clerk of the Court or his Assistant.

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Leah Williamson and Milton Keynes

The Lionesses captain Leah Williamson will be the first person to be awarded Freedom of the City in her home town, Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes was awarded official city status in May this year, as part of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee (opens in new tab) celebrations.

Milton Keynes Council leader, Pete Marland, said "We are immensely proud that Leah is from Milton Keynes and I think it would be totally appropriate that the very first person to be given the Freedom of the new city of Milton Keynes is the first woman to lead a national side to international honours and is from MK."

He added "The Lionesses are an inspiration to everyone and have shown that through teamwork, ability and hard work, anything is possible."

It was in Milton Keynes that Williamson first fell in love with football, joining Scot Youth - a boys’ team in Bletchley - at just six years old.

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Freedom of the City benefits

These days, the status of Freedom of the City is ceremonial. However, in the past the honour granted recipients special status, allowing them privileges including rights of pasture and control of trade.

For military units and regiments awarded Freedom of the City, the honour traditionally allowed them to march into the city “with drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed”. Today, this freedom is carried out through Freedom Parades.

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Ellie Hutchings
Ellie Hutchings

Ellie joined Goodto as a Junior Features Writer in 2022 after finishing her Master’s in Magazine Journalism at Nottingham Trent University. Previously, she completed successful work experience placements with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue and the Nottingham Post, and freelanced as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. In 2021, Ellie graduated from Cardiff University with a first-class degree in Journalism.