Study Guide

Crispin: Cross of Lead Freedom

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There was little my mother or I could do about our plight. We were not slaves. But neither were we free. The steward, John Aycliffe, never lost an opportunity to remind us of the fact that we were villeins—serfs—bound to Furnival, Lord of Stromford Village. (3.8)

Yeah, so the feudal system worked out a way to take slavery up a notch by saying people weren't technically slaves. Could they leave? No. Could they marry whom they wanted to? No. Could they refuse to work? No. Could they pay taxes? Yes. Could they pay rent? You betcha.

Then they spoke bitterly of the things the steward had done: how he had increased their labors, imposed countless fines, taken many taxes, increased punishments, and, all in all, limited their ancient freedoms by being a tyrant in the name of Lord Furnival. (7.14)

Despite the fact that serfs are, for all practical purposes, slaves, there's still the idea that the lord has responsibilities toward them. Clearly Lord Furnival is not taking care of his, though.

"Dearest boy," the priest said wearily, "I beg you to find your way to some town or city with its own liberties. If you can stay there for a year and a day, you'll gain your freedom." (8.50)

Add another wrinkle to the complexity of the Medieval system. While manors like Stromford belonged to a lord, some towns and cities belonged to themselves. If a serf could live there for a year and a day without being captured, that person would then be free.

Sure enough, his face clouded with anger. "Does it now?" he bellowed, making me jump. "So be it. I hate all tyranny. Is that treason, too?" (16.39)

Well, yeah, if Bear's mouth is open, treasonous talk is probably coming out of it. To be fair, though, it's not that hard to say treasonous things in this environment. Anything short of totally kissing up to the powers that be is considered a major no-no.

"Answer me!" he cried, making me jump. "Do you believe that someday none of us will have masters, or not?" (19.7)

Bear does not mind grilling a kid he just met about his political leanings, we'll say that for him.

Unable to withhold myself I cried out, "I don't know what I was going to do. I wanted to gain my liberty. And with God's help I would have, if not for you." (19.55)

Crispin gets the drop on Bear here, there's no question. Bear's all, "I believe in freedom," and Crispin's like, "Well, you stole mine." And then Bear feels bad. But not bad enough to let Crispin go. Hrm…

At first we didn't speak. I was too down in my spirits. That I, in fleeing from one cruel master, should be bound to another, was almost too much to endure. And to a man who claimed he hated tyranny. (20.3)

Yes, the difficulty of Crispin's situation is not lost on us. What is Bear's deal, anyway? Why does he take Crispin's freedom if he claims to hate tyranny so much? Be sure to swing by the "Characters" section to dig a little deeper into this.

"To feed us I've put both our lives in jeopardy," he said. "That's the kind of freedom that exists in this kingdom." (22.16)

In most cases, hunting wasn't allowed because some lord or other had rights over all the land. And if there was any land left over, the king had rights over it. Hunting became poaching and was punishable by death—just like most other crimes at the time.

I remembered the word—freedom—as one which Father Quinel used. (24.17)

Freedom. Crispin literally does not know the meaning of the word. Oh man…

"Crispin, I merely wish to bring some of that freedom you seek." He studied the sky as if some answer might be there. "But I fear the time isn't ready." (29.30)

Figuring out if the kingdom is ready for the revolt that will bring greater freedom is pretty much Bear's life's work. But why might the time not be right? Why wouldn't people want freedom?

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