Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Monday, 12 April 2010 12:03 UK

Common ground for all Freemen

Neil Prior
BBC News website

Nelson Mandela in Cardiff
Nelson Mandela received the freedom of Cardiff

Nelson Mandela has one in Cardiff, while the Prince of Wales was given one in Swansea.

Legendary comic Tommy Cooper was given his posthumously in his home town Caerphilly, while Hollywood actor Sir Anthony Hopkins flew home to Port Talbot to be given his.

Whole regiments receive them in certain places - The Royal Welsh fusiliers in Newport and 1st Queen's Dragoon Guards in Swansea.

Wales has even claimed English territory, with Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs being given his in Salford.

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams is to be given his - the Freedom of Swansea later this year.

So what does it mean?

Swansea council said: "The granting of honorary freedom confers no benefits on the person admitted.

"The grant is merely an honour bestowed personally on the recipient and it cannot be transmitted to his heirs.

"In recent years there has been a tendency to admit bodies such as army regiments which have a connection with Swansea.

Boy being bounced
Llantrisant's Beating the Bounds includes boys being 'bounced' on stones to remember where the edge of town lies

"This happened, for example, to the 1st Queen's Dragoon Guards in July 2009 after serving in Afghanistan."

Dr Williams was born in Swansea and attended the old Dynevor Grammar School in the city.

The council says he "remains a great supporter of the area".

But others given freedoms can benefit from good deeds of their forebears, centuries old.

Antony Raines has an ancestral claim to the Freedom of Llantrisant, thanks to the efforts of his ancestors during the 1346 Battle of Crecy, during which the Welsh won the banner of the three feathers.

He is one of 2,000 descendants who can claim the freedom of Llantrisant.

"This tiny little hamlet somehow provided the skilled longbow men to change the course of a battle," he said.

Anthony Raines
Probably the scariest part of accepting the freedom of Llantrisant is that I'm honour-bound to take up arms against the French in times of war
Antony Raines

"The range of their longbows was greater than the French crossbow, and better tactics meant that they were able to defeat a French army which was three times the size of the English and Welsh."

The Battle of Crecy changed the entire face of warfare, as fire power replaced mounted knights as the dominant force on the battlefield.

It was a victory which ensured that the British retained the upper hand for the remainder of the Hundred Years war.

Heir to the throne, Edward the Black Prince, was so impressed that he ordered that each of the Llantrisant longbow men, along with all of their descendants, be awarded an acre of land on which to graze their sheep and cattle, tax free.

Today the freemen's land is held collectively as Llantrisant Common, and every three years the freemen are required to march around its perimeter to prevent it falling back into the ownership of the Crown, in a ceremony known as 'Beating the Boundary'.

"Of course nowadays it's all ceremonial" said Mr Raines.

"Anyone who can prove their ancestry back to the Llantrisant Longbow men of the Black Prince is eligible for a commemorative medal, to take part in Beating the Boundary and to attend the annual banquet.

"But reading through the ancient papers makes you wonder what it would be like if people started taking it too seriously."

In theory at least, Mr Rains retains the right to, not only graze his animals on the Common free from taxation, but also to defend his pasture from squatters, by force if necessary.

Yet having the run of the common isn't all clover.

"Probably the scariest part of accepting the freedom of Llantrisant is that I'm honour-bound to take up arms against the French in times of war," said Mr Raines.

"That's probably a term they could do with looking at, because now France is a nuclear power, I'm not sure how much use my longbow is going to be if it came down to a scrap."

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