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THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH
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King Henry I
England's ruling king at the beginning of our story. The fourth and youngest son of William the Conqueror, Henry was originally intended to become a bishop, and often suspected of having had his older brothers murdered. The loss of Henry's only legitimate son William in the sinking of the White Ship led to the Anarchy, the terrible civil war of succession that tears England apart for much of the story.
King Henry I's daughter and only surviving legitimate child. Even as the little girl we first meet, she's single-minded about the succession. Maud later marries France's Geoffrey of Anjou and bears a son, Henry II. With her illegitimate brother Gloucester, she eventually succeeds in taking back Lincoln from Stephen. Maud becomes Queen, rechristening herself Empress. During her exile in France, Maud focuses on bolstering Henry II's claim to the throne.
Upon King Henry's death, Stephen is crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. An oath to the Archbishop in return for his coronation causes Stephen trouble right from the start: Gloucester and other nobles believe Stephen will be a front for the Pope, carrying out his wishes to the detriment of the English people. This perception lies at the root of the rebellion incited by Gloucester and Bartholomew of Shiring.
Robert of Gloucester
King Henry I's beloved, yet illegitimate, son is intelligent and surprisingly loyal to the father who could never make him King, Robert supports Henry's preferred heir, his half-sister the Empress Maud. Infuriated by the crowing of Stephen of Blois and his collusion with the Church, Robert becomes prominent in the battles against King Stephen that rage across England during the middle of the story, especially the battle of Lincoln.
Maud's son and direct heir to the throne is well educated as a child, befitting of a future king. Maud, intent on having him acquire the throne she could not keep, campaigns relentlessly on Henry's behalf. At 15, Henry II declares to his mother that he'll return to England to reclaim the throne. However, his rash nature and unwillingness to listen to his advisers, or even to his mother, complicates his desires.
Stephen's son, he's positioned to fight Henry II for the throne. Eustace never fully moves out of his father's shadow, remaining the indecisive child of his father. Always looking to Stephen for approval and guidance, Eustace becomes a weak and unpopular figure among the English.
Archbishop of Canterbury
An austere man, the head of the church in England is a friend and supporter of Stephen. He's politically astute enough to recognize the power he suddenly wields on the Church's behalf when Stephen turns up on his doorstep looking for legitimacy (and also in possession of the English royal treasury). He maneuvers Stephen into taking an oath to support the Church in all ways in exchange for being crowned King.
Archdeacon of Shiring, and later Bishop, Waleran believes it's God's will for him to gain power within the Church. Therefore, he feels justified in using every possible means to that end. Unhampered by any pangs of conscience, Waleran is a most dangerous adversary — and an equally dangerous ally, one who will change sides in the blink of an eye.
Priest and secretary to Gloucester, Francis sets in motion the story's main events by informing his brother Philip about Earl Bartholomew of Shiring's plot against King Stephen. Though he normally sees little of his brother, Francis is close to Philip — probably because their great childhood tragedy, the murder of their parents, brought them close together in the monastery where they grew up.
Earl of Shiring at the beginning of our story, Bartholomew is a supporter of Maud's right to the throne. He believes he must rebel against Stephen, who has gone against the joint will of the English nobility by having himself crowned King by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bartholomew's conspiracy against Stephen is the cause of his downfall and his children's (Aliena and Richard) dire suffering.
Bartholomew's beautiful and intelligent daughter, Aliena is the object of William's obsession. Her courage and tenacity contrasts markedly with her brother Richard's tendency to be easily discouraged and frightened. After her family's fall from grace, Aliena uses her resourcefulness to survive and to help Richard win back his rightful place as Earl.
Bartholomew's son, Richard is the heir to the Earl of Shiring title. With his sister Aliena's help, he becomes a knight in Stephen's army and finds the inner courage to fight for what was wrongfully taken from them. Richard's loyalty, once given, is not easily shifted.
After the White Ship sank, this gentleman farmer was awarded valuable lands in the Earldom of Shiring. Percy is more cunning than intelligent, a dangerous combination with wealth and power. However, he has had little peace, as his ruthless and calculating wife Regan constantly pushes him to search for greater wealth and influence.
Percy's ambitious wife will stop at nothing, readily partnering with Waleran to achieve her goals. Her disfigured face — scarred with a birthmark — is a mirror into her soul, which is eaten up by envy and resentment. Regan feels cursed with a husband too dim to understand how to make anything of himself. But her son, William, is a willing pawn in her plans and entirely too much like her.
Percy and Regan's handsome yet brutish son, William aspires to become the Earl of Shiring. He's a pawn in his mother's plan to gain power and wealth. William's upbringing primes him for nothing less than pure evil. His obsession with Aliena, the Earl of Shiring's daughter, becomes the driving force in his life, spurring him to a series of vengeances.
William's loyal right-hand man, Walter is a crude and violent thug who takes sadistic delight in inflicting pain on others. He survives in William's service as long as he learns not to talk when his master is angry or scared... which is most of the time. Walter stays with William and defends him to the very end, misguided but steadfast in his nasty loyalty.
For political leverage, Regan Hamleigh arranges for her son William, then 24, to marry the very young Elizabeth, the daughter of an earl in Maud's court. She is then brutalized by her cruel husband and reduced nearly to the status of a servant in her own house. It is only when she meets Aliena that Elizabeth starts becoming more courageous.
Newly appointed Prior of Kingsbridge and brother of Francis, Philip quickly learns the game of politics at the hands of Waleran. He does not consider himself a brave man; however, his courage flashes out in unconventional ways and touches the lives of those around him with sometimes very unexpected results. Philip is, in a way, the anchor on whom many of the other characters depend, and his drives and goals affect them all.
A sub-prior and spy for Bishop Waleran, Remigius is resentful that Philip was chosen as the new Prior of Kingsbridge following James' passing. His pettiness — and readiness to betray those he believes have earned his enmity — is directed at both Philip and Jack.
A friend and confidant, Cuthbert serves as a sounding board for some of Philip's early plans for Kingsbridge. He's also instrumental in helping Philip achieve (and later keep) the position of Prior. His insights into the politics of the religious life later prove valuable to Philip when he has to match wits with the Hamleighs in front of kings and other noblemen for the sake of Kingsbridge.
One of the outlaws who attacks Tom's family on the road, Johnny seems to have had a change of heart by the time Tom's search for work leads him to Kingsbridge. Life among the monks seems to have had a stabilizing effect on Johnny. Although he's seen as being a little soft in the head, Johnny has a way with small, frail creatures.
A foundling brought to Kingsbridge by Johnny Eightpence, Brother Jonathan is raised by the monks at the priory. His closest relationship is with Prior Philip, whom he looks to for advice like a father... a fact not missed by Tom Builder as he works on Kingsbridge Cathedral and the boy begins to grow up in its shadow.
The late prior who helped raise Philip and Francis is one of the conspirators involved in covering up the truth behind the sinking of the White Ship. Prior James is among those cursed by Ellen for the death of Jack Shareburg. A well-intentioned man, Prior James is morally weak and a poor manager. The rest of his life is overshadowed by guilt over his wrongdoing.
Relentlessly driven by the desire to build great buildings, Tom must learn the art of politics as he manages the masons working under him and deals with the clerical and secular forces above him. His hands execute Philip's dream of a cathedral for Kingsbridge and bring many of the other characters' plans and desires to fruition... or, in some cases, to ruin.
Tom Builder's long-suffering wife, Agnes wants nothing more than a house to settle down and a steady job for her husband. She continues to follow Tom even through the hard times, including his dismissal from the job building William's bridal home, which forces them to set off in midwinter in search of more work.
Tom and Agnes' eldest child, Alfred grows to despise Ellen and Jack for, as he believes, taking first his mother and then his father from him. Alfred vies with Jack for Aliena's affection, and to follow in Tom Builder's footsteps as the master builder of Kingsbridge Cathedral. While shrewd, Alfred often fails to think his plans through and is liable to be used by others.
(Skye Bennett/Emily Holt)
Tom and Agnes' daughter, and Alfred's sister, Martha is an intelligent and sympathetic young girl. She quickly becomes friends with Aliena and develops a crush on Jack. Realizing her feelings for Jack will never be requited, Martha becomes reconciled to the situation and is instrumental in clearing Jack Shareburg's name.
As a novice nun, Ellen finds Shareburg on the beach and falls in love with him; later she leaves the Church and bears his son. When Shareburg is executed, Ellen curses his accusers. A healer, Ellen relies on her instincts and education to help others, as well as her son Jack. From their first meeting, there's a spark between Ellen and Tom Builder.
Ellen's first love, Shareburg was the sole, mysterious survivor of the White Ship's sinking. His name comes from his hometown in France, Cherbourg. The jongleur (poet and singer of songs) and entertainer is kept prisoner and them framed for stealing a precious chalice from Kingsbridge Priory. His hanging is the reason Ellen places a curse on Waleran Bigod, Percy Hamleigh, and Prior James.
An artist, architect, and dreamer, Jack learns the building trade from Tom as they work on the Kingsbridge Cathedral, but his artistic talents burgeon, making him a vital part of the cathedral's future. A rivalry develops with his "stepbrother" Alfred over their work on the cathedral and intensifies when they both fall in love with Aliena.
Unlike her brother who joins the Kingsbridge Prior, Kate has chosen the less godly life of a prostitute. Saving Kate's soul is one of the primary drivers of Brother Cuthbert's life.