I honor honest historians and the work they do to bring me stories about the lives and times of monarchs and kings and conquests. What impresses me more than kings and conquests, however gloriously portrayed in the pages of books or on theater screens, are stories of the lives of common people.
History books make it clear the bulk of the people in earlier times were serfs, peons, or peasants. And it looks to me like being a serf, peon, or peasant guaranteed a rough life, one without much hope for a better one.
Despair is the word which comes to mind. Basically, if the harvest failed, or the brigands raided, you starved, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot you could do about it. Enslaved by birth and circumstance, you were.
Stories of lives without hope gives me a tug of sympathy for the brigands and outlaws. At least they were in charge of something. The persistence and the continued popularity of the tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Band of Outlaws is, I think, a case in point: a free roaming band living in defiance of the High Sheriff, the king and the circumstances of life. There must be an echo of “me too” in many hearts. (Early records may also explain the lure the Church held for the devout. At least there was hope for a better life in the next one.)
Putting the romance of Robin Hood aside, the victims were often just as hopeless as the brigands. No matter what poet lived in a peasant heart, a life of drudgery was guaranteed to kill the soul. (I think that might explain the pull Druidism and witchcraft held for my ancestors in Jolly Old England. It must have given them a sense of power over their circumstances.)
In America, we don’t share the same problems. We are protected by a constitution and a bill of rights which guarantee freedom of speech, the right to assembly, the right of citizenship, the right to vote, and so on. And no matter how I bristle over each incursion into my personal freedom by the governing bodies of county, city, state and federal bureaucracies, I still possess the last great freedom: freedom of occupation.
I’ll try to not sound schmaltzy, but I was born a common man, so I can relate to my “common” ancestors. I believe as long we common people can choose the way we earn a living, can choose where we want to work and live, and can choose who we live with, we are free. Freedom equals choice, opportunity, life, liberty and the pursuit happiness. (I think I read that someplace.)