1. In the novel, civil war has decimated the economy and morale of the country. How has history repeated itself since the 1100s? People like Aliena and Prior Philip fight to bring about a change. What other figures in history can you think of who have fought to repair the destruction of war?

  2. For a man so terrified of hell, why do you think William did not think to call for a priest during his mother's last moments? Was it out of self-centeredness? A lack of faith? Why, of all places, would William choose to visit Kingsbridge Cathedral in the days after his mother's death?

  3. When Aliena sees Elizabeth, she sees the life she escaped by refusing to marry William when she was a girl. Have you ever made a decision that completely changed the path of your life? Have you ever been in the position to help someone else avoid an undesirable fate?

  4. Why does Philip take the builders' strike so personally? How does his reaction make the situation worse? If you were a mason in the situation, would you have stayed at Kingsbridge or left for Shiring?

  5. Ellen appears quite a bit in Part Five. In which ways does she function as both an outlaw and a member of the Kingsbridge community? What attracts her to this dual existence? Does she truly fit in either world?

  6. When Jonathan asks Philip about his parents, he asks why God drives people to desperate acts like abandoning a child. Philip replies: "Once you start asking that question, you can end up in confusion. But in this case I think the answer is clear. God wanted you for himself" (p. 825). Do you think it was God, or Philip, who wanted Jonathan?

  7. Describe the relationship between Philip and Francis. Do they act like true brothers, or more like political conspirators? Is Francis more loyal to the church, or to the ruler he is working for at the time? How does each brother use his role in the church to further his own interests?

  8. After Richard is made Earl of Shiring, Aliena tells her father she must now go live in peace. What keeps her from finding the peace she seeks? How does she react when things stand in her way now, as opposed to before her promise to her father was fulfilled?

  9. Why does Philip forgive Remigius? Is allowing this traitor back in the monastery a dangerous move?

  10.  From ruling a kingdom to overseeing the building of a cathedral to running a monastery, the question of who will lead is asked constantly throughout The Pillars of the Earth. Which of the characters do you think are the strongest leaders? The weakest?

Part 5 plot points

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6

More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.

Part 5: 1152–1155
Years of civil war have created a great famine in England, and a desperate Alfred returns to Kingsbridge for work. Reluctantly, Jack hires Alfred for Tom's sake. Aliena, already frustrated about having been denied an annulment, is furious when Jack tells her the news.

William Hamleigh takes advantage of the famine to evict penniless farmers and repossess land. As his tenants suffer, William marries the woman of his mother's choosing, 14-year-old Elizabeth.

Days after the wedding, William's mother is dying. She tries to say something before her death, but he cannot understand her. Stunned, William heads to Kingsbridge, where Bishop Waleran is performing a service. There, William realizes his mother had been asking for a priest. He fears she is now burning in hell. Waleran says the only thing William can do to save his mother's soul is build a cathedral in Shiring.

While traveling for business, Aliena sees William's wife, Elizabeth, and guard watering their horses. A fierce storm approaches and Aliena helps Elizabeth find shelter. Throughout the night, Aliena tells Elizabeth, who hates her husband, about her past with William and counsels her on how to command her servants.

A month later, Philip tells Jack he must lay off some workers for financial reasons. When Jack informs his crew, they all go on strike. In the meantime, Alfred is made master builder at the Shiring cathedral and tells William he can bring the entire striking workforce of Kingsbridge with him.

Usually a peacemaker, Philip is enraged by the strike and refuses to discuss it with Jack. They eventually work out a compromise, but the workers refuse it without higher pay. Philip refuses, and most men leave to work with Alfred.

One Sunday in the forest, Jack and Aliena see hundreds of hungry and homeless outlaws approaching Kingsbridge. They make it back to town to find Ellen has already warned Richard, who is Head of the Watch, about the raid. As the townspeople fend off the disorganized outlaws, Aliena realizes they are an army with no leader—and Richard is a leader with no army. With Ellen's help, Richard finds the outlaws, trains them and raises an army to attack William's property and take control of Shiring.

In the meantime, Philip is summoned to St.-John-in-the-Forest by his brother. Francis—who now works for Empress Maud's son, Duke Henry—tells Philip that Henry will soon fight for England's throne. More plot points...

Part 5 reading questions

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6

More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.

Meanwhile, Richard's outlaw army succeeds in humiliating William. It is not until the army stops William from raping a miller's wife that he realizes Richard is their leader. Determined to kill Richard, William asks Waleran to use his connection at Kingsbridge to find Richard's hiding place. That connection, Remigius, baits Jack's daughter Sally to find out where her uncle Richard is hiding. Remigius, who wants to become prior of Shiring's new cathedral, leaves Kingsbridge and intends to never return.

When William arrives to attack Richard, he finds only Ellen, who informs him the army has left to fight for Henry.

King Stephen starts peace talks with Duke Henry. They agree to return all lands to those who owned them under the first King Henry. That means Richard would rule Shiring, but the compromise might not take effect until after Stephen's death.

Aliena then devises a plan to seize Shiring while William is at court. Using her relationship with William's wife, Aliena sneaks into the castle. She makes her way to the countess, who welcomes her immediately and agrees to her plan. Elizabeth surrenders, and Richard rides in to reclaim the castle. Aliena is finally free from her father's promise.

Not everyone is happy with Richard's new position. Richard no longer allows Philip rights to the quarry because that was not the way things were done in the first King Henry's time. Jack tries to talk to Aliena about it, but she has other things on her mind. Now free from her father's shadow, she decides she must be free of Jack's. Because they cannot marry, she reluctantly decides to leave him.

After the coup, William retires to Hamleigh. He is haunted by nightmares of his mother after he is forced to stop work on the church. Waleran then arrives with news that the sheriff is dead and says he can ask Stephen to appoint William the new sheriff. As sheriff, he could move back to Shiring and have enough money for the church.

Philip and Jonathan travel to appeal the quarry issue to the sheriff but leave when they find out the new sheriff is William. On their way home, they stumble upon Remigius, whom William left in the cold after Richard's takeover. Philip gives him food and says he can return to Kingsbridge as a monk.

On a visit to Kingsbridge, Aliena lights into Richard about the quarry. Angry and wanting to be alone, she leaves the children with Jack in the village and heads to his house. She finds the door open and Alfred inside. With building halted in Shiring, Alfred is broke. Aliena refuses to give him money, and he attacks her. As Alfred tries to force himself on her, Richard bursts in and kills him.

At the funeral, William lays a trap to jail Richard for murder, and Richard seeks sanctuary at the monastery. Philip refuses to give Richard to William and creates a compromise the king accepts—Richard will do penance by fighting a crusades in the Holy Land. Aliena rules Shiring in his absence.

Despite the drama, Part 5has a happy ending—the marriage of Jack and Aliena.

Finished with Part 5? Take our quiz!

Part 5 reading questions

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6

More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.


Next Story