The Armchair Anglophile’s three years old now. First off, thanks to everyone who’s been reading, commenting, and visiting the site—it’s been great hearing from you and I hope you’ve enjoyed the recaps etc as much as I’ve enjoyed writing (most of) them. Second, in celebration of the birthday, I thought it only fitting to go back to where this all started: Kingsbridge! Yes, I’m finally getting around to recapping World Without End, the sort-of sequel to Pillars of the Earth. Just so you know, while I did read PotE, I haven’t gotten around to WWE yet, so you’ll get fewer ‘but it was different in the book!’ comments from me this time around. Since this is a celebration of sorts, I think it’s only appropriate to have a little game—feel free to adapt this into Ken Follett Bingo or a drinking game. Using PotE as a guide, I think we can expect the following:
A creepy mother overly involved in her son’s life
A jerkass nobleman bumping a more benevolent one out of the way
A fiery main female character
A horrifying, rape-happy member of the upper class
Some overarching political story
A horrible accident that kills many people in the town
At least one witchcraft accusation levelled at the most intelligent woman anyone can find
One horrible, scheming member of the clergy
One intelligent, thoughtful member of the clergy (typically one in charge)
At least one character unexpectedly connected to a major historical event
Shall we get started?
It’s about 200 years post PotE, which puts us right in the 14th century. England is once again embroiled in a civil war, this time between King Edward II and his queen, Isabella of France. Edward has lost, and we see him hand over his crown on the battlefield. Isabella immediately hands it to their son, Edward III, who’s played by the same actor who played Prince George in Upstairs Downstairs. Edward II is then hauled off to prison.
Jaunty music takes us off to Kingsbridge, which still has its very nice cathedral. A pretty young woman, Caris, travels through the marketplace and one woman asks if it’s true the king’s been murdered. Caris claims not to know. She continues on her way to the home of Mattie, a woman who’s apparently very skilled in the arts of herbalism. Caris needs something for her mother’s headaches, which Mattie serves up right away. For those fans of Rome, Mattie’s played by the actress who played Lucius Vorenus’s wife, Niobe. Mattie, too, asks if the old king’s dead, and Caris admits that her father heard he was murdered in prison.
Outside of town, a knight rides hard, pursued by two more knights unloading crossbows in his direction. One of the bolts catches him in the arm, he’s unhorsed and runs off into the woods. The other men dismount and pursue.
In the woods, two young men, Ralph and Merthin, are practicing swordfighting. Merthin kind of sucks. He gets beaten, and they get ready to start again, but the wounded knight comes barreling into the clearing and they quickly hide and watch the show as the wounded man manages to overcome and kill the two knights, one rather gruesomely by stabbing him in the eye with the arrow sticking out of his arm. That’s pretty badass, I have to say. He spots the two boys and asks who they are, but Merthin quickly tells him they have no quarrel with him, and that they’re the sons of the Earl of Shiring. The man calms down and asks for their help getting to Kingsbridge Priory.
The Priory has apparently expanded to include a nunnery, run by one Mother Cecilia, (played by Miranda Richardson, so bonus awesome points, show) who comes into a room and finds one of the monks, Godwyn, admiring himself in a goblet. ‘Is it love or a passing fancy?’ she asks him. Heh. She sits and is soon joined by the prior, whom we soon learn is Godwyn’s uncle. Prior Anthony announces that it’s Godwyn’s birthday, and he’s planning to send him to Oxford to study, if the nunnery will pay for it. Apparently the widows of the town are more generous than the men. Cecila’s disinclined, but further discussion is put on hold by another monk coming in to announce that there’s a knight in the kitchen with an arrow through his arm.
The knight, Sir Thomas, is being attended to by Brother Joseph, the priory’s completely incompetent medic, who’s played by David Bradley, because it’s just not a British film or miniseries until David Bradley’s made an appearance. He yanks the arrow out as Sir Thomas howls in pain, and then recommends a poultice of dung. Thankfully, Mattie and Caris come in and take over, setting about stopping the bleeding. Joseph objects, but Cecilia says she sent for them. When? Did she have some sort of premonition that there’d be a man at the priory who would need medical attention, or does Mattie live right next door? Mattie directs Caris on how to stop the bleeding and gets Merthin to help, giving the two youngsters a chance to exchange some significant looks. Mattie calls for wine to wash the wound, while all the men object and tell her she’s wrong and Thomas looks really, really bad. Cecilia sees Godwyn looking peaky and asks him which is the best treatment here: dung or wine? The correct answer will get him to Oxford. Because he’s an idiot, he goes for dung. Godwyn, access your brain. This woman sent for Mattie, so obviously she trusts her treatments. So, obviously, she’d side with the treatment Mattie suggested, not the one Joseph the idiot wants.
Now that the bleeding’s under control, Merthin takes a moment to introduce himself to Caris, who already knows who he is, of course. Thomas rouses and asks the prior for a word: he wants to join the monastery. Anthony claims the priory is too poor to take on another member, but that’s fine, because Thomas has a sponsor.
In London, the funeral of Edward II is held at Westminster Cathedral. Isabella glances at her son, who looks pretty wrecked. He notes her subtly reaching out to take the hand of the nobleman standing next to her. That’s her lover, Mortimer.
The queen herself is apparently the sponsor claimed by Thomas. Anthony is over the moon about that, but Cecilia is less so, because there are rumours the king was murdered in prison, and she’s not sure they should be getting tangled up with Isabella. Anthony doesn’t think it matters how the man died, as it was clearly God’s judgment. For…what, exactly?
Westminster Palace, London. Time for the post-funeral party! There’s music and dancing and Isabella flirting, which is pretty awful. A middle-aged man, Sir Roland, approaches Isabella and sucks up a bit before reminding her that he helped her secure her victory, and that he’s the only man from Kingsbridge who fought in her favour. He also reminds her that the Earl of Shiring didn’t show up on the battlefield, though he did sign the oath of allegiance. He suggests that Kingsbridge is a hotbed of anti-Isabella conspirators, but luckily, he’s totally willing to go purge the place on her behalf. After he leaves, Mortimer calls him a toad, but Isabella thinks toads can sometimes be useful.
Kingsbridge priory. Thomas stumbles out to the courtyard late at night and manages to bury something before briefly flashing back to his time in prison, where he appears to have witnessed the king’s murder.
Godwyn’s gone to visit his mummy, Petranilla, played by Cynthia Nixon. Like me, she asks him what the hell he was thinking with Mother Cecilia and tells him he needs to learn not to show his weaknesses in public. He’ll still need an Oxford education, and it’ll now be up to her to secure it. She offers to sell her house and move in with her brother, who’s Caris’s father. Godwyn says that his uncle, Edmund, has no room for her, so she cocks her head and says the good lord must provide. Creeeepy.
Later, she holds up a mushroom, asks God for strength, and starts chopping it up.
Caris returns home, where her father asks her opinion on two lengths of wool. She picks one, saying it’s softer, and he says he was afraid she’d say that. Apparently the inferior wool is Kingsbridge wool, whereas the other type is from Penzance by way of Shiring. He worries that Kingsbridge will have to improve its wool or see the trade drop off. Caris merrily says it’ll be fine and goes upstairs to see her mother.
Sir Thomas seals a letter to the queen while Prior Anthony worries that the queen won’t accept the offer. Thomas promises she will, and when Anthony asks where the man’s home is, he says he has no home other than the priory. And then Joseph comes in with a fresh dung poultice, ‘still hot from the privy.’ Gotta get that fresh!
Caris gives her bedridden mother one of Mattie’s remedies and they chatter a bit about Caris getting married, which she’s not at all interested in. Petranilla comes in and urges her niece to get married while she can. Caris gets out of there and Petranilla unwraps a cake that contains dirt from the grave of St Adolphus. Mmmm, grave cake! Caris’s mother tells her sister-in-law how nice that is and digs right in.
Downstairs, Caris viciously pokes the fire and tells her father that her mother and aunt want her to get married. He asks what she’d do instead and she admits she wants to do what Mattie does. Upstairs, Petranilla starts screaming for Edmund, and he and Caris come running. Caris’s mother is having convulsions. Caris goes to send for Mattie, but Petranilla insists she go for Brother Joseph instead. And for some bizarre reason, Caris obeys her. He bleeds the woman nearly dry and then says there’s nothing more he can do. He begins to pray as the woman convulses again and Caris screams for him to do something. Her mother dies and Petranilla glances over like she’s making sure the woman’s really dead.
Petranilla wastes no time offering to move in with her niece and brother, and Edmund, shell-shocked, seems to agree.
Roland arrives at Shiring Castle, where he interrupts a family dinner and puts Gerald, the earl, under arrest for plotting against Isabella. Gerald objects, but Roland claims Isabella has evidence he was plotting against her. Roland’s the earl now.
Caris’s mother is buried. Just after the funeral, Petranilla tells Caris she’ll be moving into their home. Caris is not on board with that, but it’s too late, Petranilla’s sold her house and everything. She moves fast, this one.
And along comes Roland to put Edmund under arrest, because this guy hasn’t had a rough enough day. Caris freaks out, but Petranilla tells her to relax, they’ll get this sorted.
At Roland’s first hearing of the court of petitioners, Petranilla and Caris present themselves and ask for Edmund to be released. He refuses to do so, claiming that Edmund gave money and wool to the enemy. Petranilla steps forward and cunningly recalls that he used to love her fig pie. She shows him a basket, which contains no pie but quite a lot of silver. Roland tells her she understands his appetite very well, and then sends her and Caris away.
Next up is the former countess, Lady Maude, who appears with her two sons and demands her husband’s release. He refuses to spare her husband’s life, so instead she asks if her sons can be safe. He agrees to that. Maude pushes a little further and begs him to take them on as his squires. He agrees to take one and asks who there needs an apprentice. Elfric Builder needs one. But first they need to decide who becomes the squire and who becomes a builder. So, it’s time for a little trial by combat! Since we’ve already seen these two boys fight, it’s no mystery who ends up winning. Ralph gets to be a squire; Merthin will go with the abusive builder, who already hates him and thinks he’s pathetic. Petranilla smiles and applauds, looking oddly pleased.
At Westminster Palace, Edward goes to his mother’s room late at night, only to hear the unmistakeable sound of two people getting it on inside.
The whole town’s gathered for the hangings, by the look of it, and they’re crowded onto a bridge that also has all the gibbets. A dirty-looking trio—two men and a young woman—operate in the crowd, picking pockets. Edmund is still being strung up with everyone else, despite Roland having taken the bribe.
At the convent, Cecilia finds Thomas looking pretty awful, watching the crowds gathering outside. She asks if this is what they have to look forward to, with Isabella in charge.
Roland steps forward and says that Isabella is a merciful woman, so one of the men will be pardoned. He picks Edmund, of course, to Caris and Petranilla’s relief. Poor Edmund’s legs are still going to be broken, though. So, she’s not all that merciful after all. Everyone else, including Earl Gerald, is hanged. Edmund is held down on a table while a man-at-arms takes a sledgehammer to his legs. Jesus! He said broken, not crushed!
That night, the pickpockets get ready to rob the bodies of the dead. The oldest man tells the woman, Gwenda, to take one of the men’s shoes. She refuses, claiming it’s bad luck. Only for the man who wears them, though, right? He snaps that he came all the way from Saxony to fight for Isabella and she paid him nothing, so he’s getting some damn shoes! She still refuses, so he slaps her, and she finally grabs the shoes.
The next morning, the younger male pickpocket wakes to find the Saxon trying to rape Gwenda. He puts a knife to the man’s throat and tells him to leave her alone.
Later, he practices archery and Gwenda tells him he should really take off and try and find a real profession. He worries about leaving her, but she promises she’ll be fine. Plus, she’s thinking of settling down somewhere, because she’s tired of moving from place to place all the time.
The court in London has become oh so very French. Music and bright colours and people throwing rose petals about and everything. Isabella gets a message and immediately calls for a parlay with Mortimer. Inside, she yells at him for failing to silence Sir Thomas, whose letter has just reached her. Mortimer says this is no big deal, because monks can be silenced as easily as kings. But Thomas has threatened to reveal all he knows if he dies. Not sure how he’d manage that if he were dead, but ok. They stomp out, with Mortimer tossing the letter into a brazier, and as soon as they’re gone, Edward emerges from a hiding spot and snatches the letter from the flames. All he can make out is the name of Sir Thomas Langley.
Mattie attends to Edmund, providing poultices and a tea to help him sleep. Caris asks Mattie to teach her what she knows. Before Mattie can respond, one of the monks arrives and asks for Mattie to come quickly, because Thomas’s arm has taken gangrene and Joseph’s about to amputate.
Make that ‘Joseph’s amputating’. It takes two blows to get the arm off. Yeesh. Mattie shows up, calls Joseph a butcher, and starts attending to Thomas. Joseph objects, but Cecila backs Mattie and tells him to shut up and back off already. Caris helps Mattie, and together they manage to save Thomas’s life.
Caris’s lessons begin in earnest and include anatomy lessons delivered by a dead rabbit. While she learns, Merthin discovers the hell of manual labour. Caris tends to her father and Petranilla looks a little jealous of their close relationship.
Gwenda sees off her buddy, who hands her a knife and tells her to go ahead and kill the Saxon if she has to. He also thanks her for encouraging him to go, and hugs her tightly. And it appears that these two are brother and sister, for those who are curious.
Edward stares at the bit of burnt letter, which also has Langley’s location on it, and then marches off to his mother’s bedroom to have Mortimer arrested for murdering his father. Isabella insists that her husband died from an accident. Edward shouts that that’s a lie and that Mortimer wants to seize power for himself. Isabella refuses to stand by her man and instead claims she knew nothing of his treachery. Edward gives her a brief, ‘wow, that’s cold, mother,’ look before sending Mortimer away. Isabella immediately tries to play the ‘don’t forget I’m your mother’ card, but Edward cuts her off and tells her she needs to pick a side, and pick carefully.
Mortimer is taken out and hanged from the nearest balcony. Wow. Afterwards, Isabella vows to make Kingsbridge pay for this.
Caris returns home at night to find Merthin outside her house, holding Elfric’s horse. She observes that he’s suffered a lot since his father died, and he says they have that in common. He offers to be a shoulder for her to cry on and asks for her to be the same for him, and she agrees.
She goes inside and receives the not-at-all welcome news that she’s been betrothed to Elfric. He’ll finance her father’s business and make Caris a rich woman. Caris is shell-shocked. Her father calls her over and quietly thanks her for saving them. I think he also says that Edmund’s ransom came from Elfric, which explains how Petranilla was able to lay her hands on so much silver so quickly. Elfric holds out a hand to her, but Caris childishly runs upstairs to sulk. Petranilla says that Caris is young and just needs taming. He sulkily says he wants a wife, not a horse. Oh, I think you kind of want both, Elfric.
Upstairs, Caris looks out her window and sees Merthin. She closes the shutter and he looks sad.