In Depth

Prince Andrew: what ‘freedom of the city of York’ title means

York councillors strip Duke of York of honour awarded in 1987

Prince Andrew has been stripped of his honorary freedom of the city of York title following a vote by local councillors. 

The motion was carried “unanimously” at a full council meeting, at which councillors also called for him to relinquish his royal title in the wake of his out-of-court settlement with Virginia Giuffre, said the BBC.

The freedom of York was given to Prince Andrew in 1987 and was “essentially a wedding gift after his marriage the previous year to Sarah Ferguson”, said The Guardian

At the time there was a “huge, joyful civic ceremony, which attracted crowds of more than 200,000 people”, the paper said, a stark contrast to its “ignominious” removal in a meeting that “barely lasted 25 minutes” some 35 years later.

Darryl Smalley, the Lib Dem executive member for culture, leisure and communities at York Council, who proposed the motion, said that the move “sends the right message that we as a city stand with victims of abuse”. He added: “The next logical step is now for Prince Andrew to relinquish his Duke of York title.”

Ahead of the planned vote, the duke was contacted by local council officers to inform him of the motion. He has so far declined to comment. 

What is freedom of the city?

Freedom of the city is the highest honour a city can bestow upon a person and is often awarded “to recognise notable service by distinguished citizens, or to important and honoured visitors and royalty”, said the i news site. 

It is thought to come from a medieval practice in which “citizens who had earned respect were granted freedom from serfdom”, explained the paper. Since the Local Government Act of 1972, councils have been able to award the honour of freeman or freewoman to “persons of distinction and persons who have, in the opinion of the council, rendered eminent services”. 

In times gone by, anyone awarded the title of freeman was “given control of city trade, city strays and rights of pasture” as well as “given roles in running the city”, said the Daily Mail

But in modern times, freeman is simply an honorary title, that bestows no special privileges on the holder. Occasionally, recipients are presented with a key in symbolic recognition of the honour.

Why has it been withdrawn?

The move to strip Prince Andrew of the honour comes after he reached an out-of-court settlement with Virginia Giuffre in February. This meant he would no longer face a jury trial on allegations he sexually abused Giuffre when she was a minor. The duke has always denied the claims. 

The settlement is thought to “exceed £12 million” and includes a £2m contribution to Giuffre’s anti-sex-trafficking charity “thought to have been paid by the Queen”, said The Telegraph

The removal of the honorific title follows a slew of other institutions that have sought to distance themselves from the duke in the wake of the settlement. The Queen has also stripped the duke of his military roles and royal patronages, including the use of the style “His Royal Highness”.

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