Tom Builder is a poor but honourable stonemason who lost his job as a builder because the cruel, sadistic lord William Hamleigh was turned down by young Lady Aliena when he proposed marriage, as Tom Builder was building their new home. Starving and destitute, Tom's wife Agnes dies in the... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Tom Builder is a poor but honourable stonemason who lost his job as a builder because the cruel, sadistic lord William Hamleigh was turned down by young Lady Aliena when he proposed marriage, as Tom Builder was building their new home. Starving and destitute, Tom's wife Agnes dies in the forest while giving birth to their third child; Tom cannot feed the baby boy, and in his grief he leaves the child on Agnes's grave, takes his remaining two children, shy Martha and cruel Alfred, and becomes companion of Ellen and her odd, red-haired son Jack, whom Tom meets accidentally when he thinks that he is going to die away in the forest himself. Alfred immediately despises Jack, a hatred which takes on a grave form later on. After many hardships the family settles down in Kingsbridge, where Prior Philip wants to build a cathedral. Jack also meets Aliena and falls in love with her.
Then William Hamleigh discovers that Aliena's father, Earl Bartholomew, has taken the side of the Empress Maud and is therefore disloyal to King Stephen. He takes Bartholomew's castle by force, arrests the earl, and rapes Aliena while her younger brother Richard is forced to watch. Before he dies in prison, Earl Bartholomew asks Aliena to swear that she will never rest until her brother Richard is Earl. Fleeing the castle penniless and alone except for Richard, Aliena sees her father, takes an oath to make him earl again and takes up buying and selling wool, and in a twist of fate meets Prior Philip, who agrees to buy her wool for a fair price. In the process they invent the wool futures market. Both go to live in Kingsbridge, where all fight against Waleran Bigod, a selfish, power-driven priest, but eventually the Crown approves the building of a cathedral. Ellen and Tom marry, and Jack is thrilled to see Aliena again.
In the following parts of the book Prior Philip is working hard to turn Kingsbridge into a successful, respectable town, but it is difficult to do so with the civil war raging through England and the battles between Queen Maud and King Stephen, who are fighting over the throne. Jack and Aliena fall in love, but when William burns Kingsbridge (and her fortune in wool), killing Tom in the process, Aliena marries now-wealthy Alfred in an attempt to fulfill her oath to her father. Alfred promises to pay Richard's expenses as he fights against the Hamleighs to regain the Earldom. Aliena makes love with Jack once just before her wedding with Alfred, and Jack leaves England heartbroken. Alfred is cold and abusive (he is impotent). Alfred then persuades Philip to let him replace the cathedral's wooden roof with a stone vault. The walls were not designed for the enormous weight of a stone vault and the church collapses, killing 79 people on the day of its consecration. In the rubble Aliena gives birth to a baby with bright red hair like Jack, and Alfred throws her out. Ellen arrives from the forest to see her grandson and advises Aliena to seek out Jack, who was heading for Compostela to look for work. During his pilgrimage Jack meets Moorish scholars and mathematicians in Toledo and helps build Saint Denis Basilica in Paris, thus learning how to build rib vaulting and pointed arches. He is reunited with Aliena in St. Denis. Passing through Cherbourg, Jack learns that his father comes from there (the name "Jack Shareburg" had been anglicised from "Jacques Cherbourg"), and meets his grandmother, cousins, and other family members. But when he comes back to Kingsbridge, Prior Philip denies Jack and Aliena a proper marriage, stating that Alfred and Aliena are still married.
Years later a new cathedral is being built and Alfred suddenly returns to Kingsbridge. Bishop Waleran Bigod and the Hamleighs have teamed up, aiming for the downfall of Kingsbridge, Philip and Aliena. (They had attempted to build a cathedral at Shiring, but they ran out of money.) Aliena befriends William Hamleigh's miserable young wife and takes the castle of Shiring from within, securing the earldom for her brother Richard and fulfilling her oath to her father. Later Alfred succumbs to his envy for his stepbrother and lust for his own wife; he attempts to rape Aliena and is killed by Richard. William Hamleigh, now Sheriff of Shiring, attempts to arrest Richard for murder. Prior Philip decides that the best thing to do is for Richard to go to fight in the Holy Wars, the Crusades. Richard escapes William Hamleigh and leaves the earldom to be run by Aliena, who can finally, at long last, marry Jack.
Many years pass. Kingsbridge cathedral is finally completed, in the "French Style", and becomes famous around England for its beauty: it is the first Gothic cathedral in England. Jack has solved a vexing problem — transverse stresses from wind, which causes hairline cracks in the clerestory — by independently inventing the flying buttress. In a sudden plan of attack, the bitter Bishop Waleran Bigod publicly accuses Prior Philip of breaking the clerical law of chastity; Waleran claims that the monk Jonathan (Tom Builder's son, now grown, whom he had raised in the monastery) was really Philip's secret child. Jack connects Jonathan with Tom Builder's lost baby, and Ellen swears in court that Jonathan is indeed Tom Builder's son. When Bishop Waleran accuses her of lying under oath, she accuses Waleran of perjury, resulting in a fight and the death of her lover, Jack's father. It is revealed that Percy Hamleigh (William's father), Waleran Bigod, and the former Kingsbridge Prior James conspired to kill the only survivor of the White Ship — namely, Jack Shareburg — to cover up the fact that the sinking of the White Ship was an assassination by powerful barons who wanted to throw the succession into confusion so they could get a monarch they could better control. Bigod is ruined by this scandal, and lives out the rest of his days as a humble monk.
Meanwhile William Hamleigh has gone on leading a miserable, wasteful life, weaving in and out of the political web. His ultimate downfall occurs when he joins a group, under the flag of King Henry II, who plot to assassinate the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. Prior Philip happens to be with Becket when the assassination occurs, witnessing everything, and he uses the rage and injustice felt by the people to lead a protest against Hamleigh and the King, claiming Becket as a saint and a martyr. Hamleigh is arrested by Aliena's son, charged with sacrilege; he is convicted, and hanged. The Pope lays an Interdict on Henry's Norman possessions until King Henry repents and is symbolically whipped by Prior Philip and other leading clergymen. At the end the author concludes that royal authority is no longer absolute.
“A king is a creature of the moment”Brother Timothy
excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility.”Highlighted by 13 Kindle customers
That was not the end of the problems, but it was the beginning of solutions.Highlighted by 4 Kindle customers
He was the worst kind of Christian, Philip realized: he embraced all of the negatives, enforced every proscription, insisted on all forms of denial, and demanded strict punishment for every offense; yet he ignored all the compassion of Christianity, denied its mercy, flagrantly disobeyed its ethic of love, and openly flouted the gentle laws of Jesus. That’s what the Pharisees were like, Philip thought; no wonder the Lord preferred to eat with publicans and sinners.Highlighted by 4 Kindle customers
There were not many people who said what they meant and did what they said.Highlighted by 3 Kindle customers
But he seemed to have a compelling need to feel special and be noticed by others all the time;Highlighted by 3 Kindle customers
A thin layer of fresh snow covered the little town like a new coat of paint, and theirs were the first footprints to blemish its perfect surface.Highlighted by 3 Kindle customers
Followed by World Without End.
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