late 14c., "free choice, freedom to do as one chooses," also "freedom from the bondage of sin," from Old French liberte "freedom, liberty, free will" (14c., Modern French liberté), from Latin libertatem (nominative libertas) "civil or political freedom, condition of a free man; absence of restraint; permission," from liber "free" (see liberal (adj.)). At first of persons; of communities, "state of being free from arbitrary, despotic, or autocratic rule or control" is by late 15c.
The French notion of liberty is political equality; the English notion is personal independence. [William R. Greg, "France in January 1852" in "Miscellaneous Essays"]
Nautical sense of "leave of absence" is from 1758. The meaning "unrestrained action, conduct, or expression" (1550s) led to take liberties "go beyond the bounds of propriety" (1620s). The sense of "privileges by grant" (14c.) led to the sense of "a person's private land" (mid-15c.), within which certain special privileges may be exercised, which yielded in 18c. in both England and America a sense of "a district within a county but having its own justice of the peace," and also "a district adjacent to a city and in some degree under its municipal jurisdiction" (as in Northern Liberties of Philadelphia). Also compare Old French libertés "local rights, laws, taxes."
Liberty-cap is from 1803; the American Revolutionary liberty-pole, "tall flagstaff set up in honor of liberty and often surmounted by a liberty-cap" is from 1775. Liberty-cabbage was a World War I U.S. jingoistic euphemism for sauerkraut.
late 14c., "formal authorization, official permission, permit, privilege," from Old French licence "freedom, liberty, power, possibility; permission," (12c.), from Latin licentia "freedom, liberty; unrestrained liberty, wantonness, presumption," from licentem (nominative licens), present participle of licere "to be allowed, be lawful," from PIE root *leik- "to offer, bargain, make a bid" (possibly source also of Lettish likstu "I come to terms").
Meaning "formal (usually written) permission from authority to do something" (marry, hunt, drive, etc.) is first attested early 15c. Meaning "excessive liberty, disregard of propriety" in English is from mid-15c. In Middle English spelled licence, licens, lisence, lissens, licance. There have been attempts to confine license to verbal use and licence to noun use (compare advise/advice, devise/device, and see note in OED); in the U.S., license tends to serve as both verb and noun.
Poetic licence "intentional deviation from recognized form or rule" is from 1733, earlier as lycence poetycall (1530). The licence-plate is from 1870 (of dogs and wagons before automobiles); licence-number is by 1903.
"a variety produced in cultivation," 1923, a contraction of cultivated variety; coined by U.S. horticulturalist Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) in "Gentes Herbarum."
"to imprison, shut up in a prison, restrain from liberty," literally or figuratively, early 14c., from prison (n.) or Old French prisoner (v.). Related: Prisoned; prisoning.
"morally unrestrained," 1530s, from Medieval Latin licentiosus "full of licence, unrestrained," from Latin licentia "freedom, liberty," in both a good and bad sense (see licence (n.)). Related: Licentiously; licentiousness.
mid-15c., "a keeping, a guarding, safe-keeping, protection, defense," from Latin custodia "guarding, watching, keeping," also "prison," from custos (genitive custodis) "guardian, keeper, protector," from PIE root *(s)keu- "to cover, conceal." Meaning "restraint of liberty, confinement" is from 1580s.