The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The book begins with Ellen cursing the killers (Prior James, Percy Hamleigh, and Bishop Waleran Bigod) of Jack's Father, then disappearing into the woods, as the years go by we see how the curse played out.
Tom is building a house for William and Aliena but when Aliena refuses to marry William Tom is thrown out of work. He and his family are forced to tramp from town to town looking for work. Near starvation Tom's wife, Agnes, gives birth on the side of the road and dies. Having no way to feed the newborn baby Tom leaves it on his wife's grave and takes his two remaining children Alfred and Martha to continue tramping the roads looking for work. Regretting his decision he goes back for the baby only to discover it missing. Ellen tells him that a priest (Francis) found the baby and took it to a nearby monastery. Later she leads Tom to the monastery so he can see his baby (Jonathan) being cared for by the priest. Francis came to tell his brother (Philip) about a conspiracy to unseat King Stephen. Philip sets out for Kingsbridge to tell his superior, Prior James. He meets Tom, his children, Ellen and Jack (Ellen's son) on the way and tells Tom about the baby his monastery has taken in. When Philip arrives in Kingsbridge he discovers Prior James is dead (Prior James dies wracked with regret about lying about an innocent man and sending him to the gallows.)and winds up being elected Prior of Kingsbridge. Tom finds work with Earl Bartholomew but because of Philips meddling Bartholomew is attacked by William and is taken prisoner. Tom and his family (Tom has taken Ellen as his lover) flee to Kingsbridge. They are given shelter and food but Prior Philip says they can't hire him to repair the Cathedral because there is no money. Jack realizing his family will starve if they are forced to tramp the roads again sneaks into the Cathedral and sets it on fire. Tom agrees to rebuild the Cathedral in exchange for food and shelter until Prior Philip can pay him. All is going well until Remigius accuses Tom of adultery, and reveals to Prior Philip that Tom and Ellen aren't married. Ellen leaves Kingsbridge with Jack but as she is leaving she sings the song her lover sang on the gallows in Bishop Waleran Bigod's hearing, greatly frightening him.
Waleran approaches Prior Philip with a way to get money to rebuild the Cathedral by getting Bartholomew's earldom for the church. Percy Hamleigh and his family want it for themselves. They reveal to Prior Philip that Waleran plans to double cross him and take the earldom to build a castle for himself. Philip works with the Hamleigh's to divide the earldom between them. After King Stephen agrees to their division the Hamleigh's doublecross Philip and attempt to keep him from getting stones from the quarry. Before throwing Aliena and Richard out of the castle William rapes Aliena and cuts off Richard's ear. Ellen returns to Tom and they are married. With Prior Philip's help Aliena has become a successful wool merchant in Kingsbridge. Aliena falls in love with Jack but denies her feeling for him due to the rape. Jack and Alfred fight and Jack is forced to join the monastery in order to stay in Kingsbridge. William burns Kingsbridge and destroys all of Aliena's wool, broke she has no money to outfit Richard as a knight. Richard forces her to marry Alfred who agrees to give him the money he needs. Tom dies in the attack. Jack escapes from the monastery and makes love to Aliena before he leaves for The Holy Land. Ellen curses Alfred's wedding to Aliena and makes him impotent. When Aliena gives birth to Jack's son (Tommy) he throws her out of his house. Aliena leaves for The Holy Land in search of Jack.
Aliena and Jack return to Kingsbridge with the Weeping Madona and Jack is appointed Master Builder of the Cathedral but Prior Philip forces him to live apart from Aliena until she can get an annulment. Due to the malice of William and Waleran she is unable to get an annulment.
King Stephen and King Henry (Richard was fighting for Henry) reach an agreement and Aliena finds a way for Richard to reclaim the castle and the earldom. Earl Richard prevents Alfred from raping Aliena but William and Waleran accuse him of murder and Richard is forced to flee to The Holy Land. Aliena marries Jack and assumes the earldom in Richard's absence, when he dies Tommy becomes Earl. William is part of a group of knights that killed Thomas Beckett and as a result is hanged.
Waleran reveals that Jack's Father was killed because he survived the shipwreck that killed the first Henry's heir and allowed the Earl's to become more powerful. Philip becomes Bishop of Kingsbridge and Jonathan becomes Prior of Kingsbridge.
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