While our pop culture depictions of the Middle Ages feature wealthy knights, lords, and kings, the fact is that most people in Medieval England lived in terrible poverty in order to support that lavish lifestyle for a tiny ruling elite. So in Crispin: The Cross of Lead, what little Crispin and his mother earn is lost in taxes and rent, the kid's only tasted meat, and his mother doesn't even get a coffin when she dies.
Poverty is the force that shapes Crispin's life, at least until he meets Bear, who disregards—at the risk of his life—many of the rules that keep people in poverty. That's the thing to know: The whole system is designed to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Some people do get ahead, but they are exceptions. In this world, for the most part, if you're born poor, you die poor. No rest for the weary, you might say.
Questions About Poverty
- How much does Crispin's experience of growing up in poverty contribute to his view of himself? Work with specific examples, please.
- Is there any evidence that some of Lord Furnival's serfs live better than Crispin and Asta? What does this tell you about poverty in Medieval England?
- Compare poverty in Stromford to poverty in Great Wexly. Is there a difference between urban and rural poverty? If yes, how? And if not, what patterns do you observe?
- Bear is also poor, but he seems to live better than Crispin did in Stromford. Why might this be?
Chew on This
In the novel, poor characters are generally good, while rich characters are generally bad.
Crispin's experience of poverty leads him to believe that he is undeserving of a better life.