The Gild of Freemen of the City of York


Today there are estimated to be approximately 5,000 Freemen of York of whom only a small proportion are resident within the City. (In 1835 there were 2,400 in the City and 1,350 non-resident). Year by year, and with proper formality, new Freemen swear the following oath before the Lord Mayor in the Guildhall:

"This hear you my Lord Mayor and goodmen that I from henceforth shall be true and trusty to our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, and to this City of York; and the same City shall save and maintain to our said Sovereign Lady and Queen and her successors; and all the Franchises and Freedoms of this said City maintain and uphold with the best of my powers and cunning and with my body and goods, so often as it shall need my Help. So help me God."

Freemen are anxious that those eligible by birth, and those indentured to and who have served apprenticeships with Freemen, should take up their Freedom without delay otherwise their rights may be lost. Those who can claim the privilege are proud to do so.

One of two surviving alternative conditions must be fulfilled. The first, known as servitude, requires, in York, an indentured apprenticeship of not less than five years to a master craftsman who is himself a Freeman of the City. From ancient times in York and other cities, women apprentices were admitted to the Freedom but none have been admitted by this route for many years. Patrimony, the second condition, is a claim by birth-right of all children of a Freeman.

Furthermore, a claim may be made through either a child's parent, grandparent, great-grandparent or great great grandparent whether they be living or dead.

Application can be made in writing to the Town Clerk on or after attaining age 21. If the application is found to be valid, the applicant will receive an invitation to attend a Freedom Court, presided over by the Lord Mayor, normally in robes, and held in the Guildhall.

Having been “identified” by an elder blood relation according to ancient custom, he stands with other candidates before the Lord Mayor, holding the Testament and reciting the Freeman's Declaration followed by the ancient Oath of Obedience.

The Lord Mayor, on presenting certificates may say in accordance with custom, "I beg to tender to you the righthand of fellowship as a citizen of York and present to you the copy of your Freedom".

The Pasture Masters for each stray are elected by Ward Freemen. There are four (including the Warden) in Bootham Ward, five in Monk Ward and six (including a Senior and Junior Warden) in Walmgate Ward. Formerly the pasture masters were elected annually at Easter in the Wardmote Courts by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen. Freemen and their widows living in York now receive charitable bequests under the York (Micklegate Strays) Act 1907 in the case of Micklegate Ward, but the small sums of money which were issued by the Pasture Masters in other Wards have now ceased as the City Council have refused to make further payments to the Freemen for their (the Council's) use of the Strays.

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