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The institution of freemen or burgesses dates from the early beginnings of municipal corporations in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Freemen or burgesses enjoyed considerable political privileges, being entitled to elect the officers of the corporation and its representatives in Parliament, although they were not necessarily resident in the borough of which they were burgesses or freemen.
In choosing freemen or burgesses, boroughs found it convenient to admit men of national importance who might be able to secure greater economic or political privileges for the area. Prominent local landowners with interests in a borough would reward their supporters by securing their admission as freemen or burgesses – between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries a very high proportion of the known burgesses in Portsmouth were not resident in the borough.
This system of political power being exercised by freemen and burgesses was swept away by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which introduced town councils generally more representative of the inhabitants. A small number of towns have continued to admit freemen and burgesses as they did before 1835, but the political powers attached to the office have been removed, and admission is usually on a hereditary basis – most towns, including Portsmouth, simply abandoned the practice altogether.
In 1885 Parliament passed an Act to enable municipal corporations to confer honorary freedoms on men of distinction with the consent of two-thirds of the council, providing that such freedoms should not give the holders any financial or political advantages. These provisions were re-enacted under Section 249 of the Local Government Act, 1972.
Many boroughs have made use of these provisions to admit honorary freemen, some more frequently than others. In Portsmouth relatively few honorary freemen have been admitted. About half of them have been men prominent locally in public life who have been judged to have rendered outstanding services to the community. The other half have been well-known national politicians, military or naval figures, or members of the royal family, whose service to the nation has been honoured by the local community.
The following is a complete list of freemen since the passing of the Freedom of Boroughs Act in 1885:
2002 – Honorary Alderman Ian G Gibson, OBE
2003 – Milan Mandaric
2003 – Sir Alfred Blake, KCVO MC LLB DL
2003 – Brian Kidd
2008 – Harry Redknapp and Portsmouth Football Club’s 2008 FA Cup winning Squad
2016 – Honorary Alderman Syd Rapson BEM ISM
1966 – Alderman Albert Johnson
1966 – Alderman J P D Lacey, OBE JP
1968 – Sir Alec Rose
1976 – Admiral of the Fleet The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG PC GCB OM GCS, GCIE GCVO DSO FRS
1979 – His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, KG KT PC GCB
1991 – The Rt Hon Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, KG PC
1992 – Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales
1995 – The Lord Judd of Portsea
1996 – Lady Daley, MBE
1997 – Herr Josef Krings, OBE
1895 – The Rt Hon The Baron Macnaughten, PC
1898 – Field Marshal The Rt Hon The Earl Roberts, VC KP GCB GCSI GCIE PC
1901 – Alderman Sir John Baker, MP JP
1901 – General Sir Frederick Wellington John Fitzwygram, Baronet, MP
1905 – Alderman Sir William Pink, KLH JP
1906 – Alderman Sir T Scott Foster, JP
1921 – Field Marshal HRH The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, KG
1924 – Alderman F G Foster, JP
1924 – The Rt Hon David Lloyd George, OM PC MP
1926 – HRH The Prince of Wales, KG
1927 – Major-General The Rt Hon J E B Seely, CB CMG DSO PC (Lord Mottistone)
1927 – The Rt Hon Sir William Joynson-Hicks Baronet, PC MP (Viscount Brentford)
1928 – Councillor Frank J Privett, JP
1928 – Alderman Sir Harold R Pink, JP FTCI
1942 – Admiral Sir William Janes, GCB
1946 – Field Marshal The Rt Hon The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG PC GCB DSO
1950 – The Rt Hon Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, KG OM CH MP
In addition, the Freedom of the City has been conferred on the following:
1950 – The Royal Hampshire Regiment
1959 – The Corps of Royal Marines
1965 – The Portsmouth Command of the Royal Navy
1992 – The Freedom bestowed on The Royal Hampshire Regiment transferred to The Princess of Wales’s Regiment (Queen’s and Royal Hampshires)
2003 – Portsmouth Football Club
2003 – HMS King Alfred Royal Naval Reserve
2007 – HMS Endurance
Returning the keys of the Fortress of Portsmouth to the safe keeping of the city is a traditional part of the Mayor-making ceremony. This is in accordance with the wishes of Her Majesty The Queen, on the understanding that, should Her Majesty visit Portsmouth the keys are to be returned to the Senior Army Commander for presentation to the Sovereign – and on other occasions, as required by tradition.
The keys of the city of Portsmouth are held by the Senior Royal Engineer Officer at The Defence Diving School.