Crispin: The Cross of Lead – Literature – Characters

Crispin (known as Asta’s son)

Crispin is a 13 year old boy and the protagonist of the story. He has been living with his mother until her untimely death in the village of Stromford. He is extremely poor and doesn’t know how to survive on his own. He knows nothing about his father; later he discovers his true identity: he is of noble blood as the illegitmate son of Lord Furnival, the ruling noble of the area. Not only does he not know his identity, but he doesn’t even know his real name until Father Quinel, the village priest, confesses some secrets to him about his mother and tells him his real name. Crispin is forced to flee when he is declared a “wolf’s head”, which means that he can be hunted down just as one would a wild animal. This brings him into great danger, but also offers wonderful opportunities to discover a true sense of self and to make a real friend, who helps him to grow and develop (McDonald 2010). Crispin finds a good friend in Bear, who becomes like the father ne never had.

At the beginning of the story, Crispin is an anxious and ignorant. Over the course of the story, he not only discovers so much about the world around him and himself, but also develops a strength of character that allows him to stand up for himself and those he cares about. In short, he matures into a man.

Bear (Orson Hrothgar)

Bear is a huge and red-bearded wandering juggler. As such, he is a masterless man: he owes allegiance to no one and earns his own income where and how he wants – very unusual for the time.

Bear, while on a mysterious journey to Great Wexly, happens upon the fleeing Crispin in an abandoned village and forces Crispin to become his servant. At first, he is a strange master and seems very frightening to Crispin, but he also encourages Crispin to think for himself and supports the growing maturity of the young man.

Crispin describes Bear as a monstrous man with massive hands, but Bear is not only physically large. He is also a man of very big ideas – particularly for the time. Bear dreams of a better world and an end to the feudal system and uses his freedom of movement to help orchestrate that change.

He often asks Crispin to reflect upon his life and his way of seeing the world. He helps Crispin discover new talents and an inner strength he didn’t know he had. Bear is a fierce and loyal companion who risks his life to protect his young friend.

John Aycliffe (Steward of the Manor)

John Aycliffe is the brother of Lady Furnival and the main antagonist of the story. When Lord Furnival is not in residence in Stromford, it is Aycliffe’s job to act on his behalf: collecting rent, meting out justice – in short, acting as the ruler of Stromford.

In the novel, his primary goal is to find and kill Crispin in order to protect Lady Furnival from any claims of her husband’s illegitimate son on her estate. To achieve his, he accuses Crispin of theft and the murder of Father Quinel in order to make him a “wolf’s head” and, thus, a wanted man. But none of his intrigues are successful. Finally, he captures Bear and tortures him in the hopes of finding Crispin.

However, in the end John Aycliffe pays for his unscrupulous ambition and murderous intentions with his life.

John Ball (historical figure)

John Ball was a priest and one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt whose purpose was to end serfdom and crippling taxation on the common people. He helped lead approximately 30,000 men in this revolt. As a result of his actions, he was excommunicated from the Catholic church. The Revolt ultimately failed and John Ball was caught, hanged, drawn and quartered (Everett Myrik 2002).

In this novel, Bear is part of Ball’s revolt. He meets with John Ball to find strategies to dismantle the feudal system. But Bear doesn’t want to endanger Crispin and so he turns away from the Brotherhood. Nevertheless, this Brotherhood helps Crispin to rescue Bear, so that they can escape Great Wexly.