Study Guide

Crispin: Cross of Lead Power

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There on the river's low, tree-lined banks, stood our noble's house—Lord Furnival's manor—the grandest house I knew. It was where the steward had lived for many years in the absence of the knight.

With stone walls two levels high and small windows, the manor was to me like a castle, high, mighty, and impenetrable. (4.17-18)

While the manor is a much stronger dwelling than Crispin's cottage—we don't think two guys could just pull it down—it's not exactly as defensible as a castle, either. Why, then, does Crispin refer to it as one?

Everything—from the woods, the cottages, the manor house, the mill, the roads, the growing lands, the commons, even the church itself, to the tiny crofts behind our cottages used for planting herbs and roots—everything belonged to Lord Furnival, who held it in the king's name. (4.26)

Long before Karl Marx expressed the idea that power comes from control over the means of production, feudal lords understood that ownership, particularly of food, a basic human need, grants power.

The moment I did, his free hand shot out, and with a speed that belied his bulk, he grabbed me by the wrist and held me with the strength of stone. (16.44)

Physical strength is yet another type of power this book explores. Because Bear can physically overpower Crispin, he is able to claim his labor and become his master. In the Medieval era, a lot of power came from this very literal physical reality.

"Pay heed, young Saint Crispin," he added, glaring at me with eyes that seemed to glint, "a bear has two natures. Sweet and gentle. If he becomes irritated, he turns into a vicious brute. So I beg you to consider the two sides of my nature." (19.61)

Here Bear emphasizes his power over Crispin: Crispin better not annoy him, or things could go very badly.

"Since you are a wolf's head, you might as well have some fangs. It could prove necessary."

It was hard to know what upset me more: the weapon; the handling of it; the idea that I might need it; or that I was in such danger that I'd have no choice but to use it. (32.9-10)

Crispin may be nervous about learning to handle a weapon, but Bear has a point: Without a weapon, he's dead meat. With one, at least he has a chance against those who are out to get him.

But now the market town of Great Wexly loomed before us, as if it had sprung from the ground. Its brown stone walls were immense, stretching away for as far as I could see.

"Where do those walls go?" I asked, for I had never seen anything so vast.

"They surround the town in a great circle," Bear said.

"Why a circle?"

"To keep all enemies out." Then after a pause he added, "And in." (33.25-29)

Here's another example of power through architecture, a common means of expressing power in the 14th century, and a practical one, too, given the realities of constant warfare. A wall gives the people of a city some means of self-defense.

I followed his look. Soldiers, their chests covered with iron plates, were guarding the entryway. Pointed metal helmets were on their heads. Tall glaives were in their hands, swords at their sides, daggers on their hips. Atop the wall were other guards. What's more, the soldiers were allowing only a few people in at a time. (33.36)

Armor and weapons make people look pretty powerful, especially to those who don't have any, no?

"It now belongs to his widow, the Lady Furnival. Unless some bastard son—with an army at his back—makes a claim. Or until she marries. If she marries. But they say that's unlikely. She's not the type to relinquish her new powers." (35.43)

Part of us says, "Wow, Lady Furnival, way to continue your husband's life's work of being a jerk." But another part of us says, "You go, Lady Furnival," because we're guessing that these new powers are the first significant power Lady Furnival has had in a long time, or maybe even ever.

As she passed, people on the streets hastily made way for her, some doffing their hats, or inclining their heads in reverence. Some even went down upon their knees, so I knew her to be a personage of great power. (37.13)

Yeah, it's a safe bet that anyone getting this kind of treatment has some sway. Good call, Crispin.

Opposite the church, on the other side of the square, was a large stone building some three stories tall. Whereas the church rose high, this building seemed to cling to the earth with a weight and bulk that bespoke earthly power. (38.5)

Like the manor house and the town walls, this fancy-pants residence of the Furnivals tells us the owners don't play.

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