William Hamleigh is a POV character in The Pillars of the Earth. He acts as possibly the main antagonist, against Philip, Aliena and Jack. As the son of a minor Lord, Percy Hamleigh, he was pleased to find that he would be married to the daughter of an Earl. When this falls through however, he becomes determined to try and destroy the Shiring family in any way possible. William builds up an intense rivalry with Richard of Kingsbridge, as they fight for control of the Shiring Earldom. Later in life he becomes Sheriff and is hanged after his involvment in the murder of Thomas Becket.
William was born as the only son of Percy and Regan Hamleigh. He grew up in the small town of Hamleigh, after his Father was raised up to the status of a Lord. He grew up to become cruel and sadistic, and he later grew to hate what Hamleigh, the town, stood for. He was obviously instilled with a very strong sense of family pride; strong enough to make him want to punish whoever disrespects him and his family. He was to marry Aliena, daughter of Lord Bartholomew, for whom he has a twisted obsession for.
The Pillars of the EarthEdit
William Hamleigh is first seen when he arrives at Tom Builder's building site and ends the commission for a house that was being built as a home for him and Aliena of Shiring, who he was to marry until the willful girl refused. He nearly runs over Tom's daughter, Martha, and is forced to pay them the proper sums in the case of a commission being ended early. Although he originally gets angry, and threatens to have Tom hanged, he is startled by a comment the Builder makes about William going to Hell, whist he goes to Heaven, thus revealing his fear of the underworld, and he pays him before riding off.
He is later seen in his own POV in Kingsbridge cathedral, attending with his father and mother for a service. His main interest there is Aliena, who he watches intently, but is embarrassed when she regards him with scorn. After they leave the service, Waleran approaches his father and tells him about Bartholomew's suspected treachery. The family debate the accuracy of the knowledge, and William comes up with an idea to find out, much to his Mother's approval.
As a result he heads out for Earls Castle, to find out information. He does this under the impression that he is visiting Aliena again, much to William's delight, as he wants another chance to win her affections. However, on arriving he comes across Richard and Aliena playing a game. Richard cheats and tries to run off, but William catches him and reprimands him, leaving the boy in tears. Aliena is suspicious of his motives and after trying to have a civilised conversation, during which William instead spends the time figuring out how to expose Bartholomew's plots, she becomes angry with him ignoring her and shouts at him. William flees the hall, humiliated, but with the information he needs to set a trap to capture one of Bartholomew's men. William and Walter manage to capture one of Batholomew's messengers and William successfully tortures him for information. They find out about Batholomew's plan to join Maud. Using the evidence as justification for their actions, the Hamleighs plot to overthrow Bartholomew.
Lady Regan sends William and Walter to sneak into Earlcastle and cause a distraction, allowing their main force to succesfully invade the castle. William lights a fire, causing everyone to rush to the courtyard to light it- meanwhile Percy leads a huge force of armed soldiers, and with deceit and some trickery, manages to take the castle. Barholomew is dragged to Winchester to await the king's judgement. Aliena, Richard and the castellan Matthew hide in the castle, William, however, still obsessed with Aliena remains to watch them.
With Bartholomew successfully defeated, the Hamleigh family hope that they will be granted Earlcastle by King Stephen as a reward for revealing his treason. While his parents court with the king, William watches Aliena for months, hoping to have revenge on her for humiliating him so openly and wounding his pride once his father is appointed new earl.
William is present as his parents bargain in court with Bishop Waleran and Prior Phillip of Kingsbridge about the amount of power and land they shall be granted in the earldom, and they eventually end up owning Earlcastle with most of it's land and the quarry- with the rule that Phillip can take stone from the quarry whenever he wants to. William and his parents realise that Phillip and his dreams of building a cathedral are a great danger to them- if Kingsbridge expands and a new cathedral is built their, all the power and influence of Shiring and Earlcastle will decrease quickly. Waleran becomes an ally because he sees Phillip as a danger, too- although William quickly grows to despise him, as he despises all people of the church because of his great fear of Hell, a superstition he doesn't really want to admit to himself.
As Lord Percy becomes earl, the first thing William does is ride to Earlcastle to have his revenge on Aliena. He and Walter trap the siblings and Matthew in their room and tell them that they have been disbanded of all their titles. After that, William forces himself on Aliena. When Matthew tries to help her, he is killed by Walter. William threatens to have Walter torture Richard if Aliena dosen't let him proceed. When she is reluctant to do so, Walter slices off Richard's ear. Frightened for their lives, Aliena consents to the terrible act, and William rapes her.
William and his family settle into Earlcastle, but are troubled by Phillip's ambitious plans. William is present when Waleran confronts his parents with his idea of inviting Bishop Henry to inspect the Kingsbridge construction site. He also travels to Kingsbridge, where he is thunderstruck to see Aliena. William also witnesses Lord and Lady Hamleigh discover Ellen, the woman who cursed their family, as Tom Builder's wife.
When the civil war between Stephen and Maud breaks out, William fights for Stephen as a knight. He is troubled by Aliena still, however- he becomes partly impotent with other women. William becomes a real and merciless soldier, though, murdering and raping across the country with his men, including Walter, beside him.
In 1140, in a brothel somewhere in the countryside, William is informed that his father, Lord Percy is dead. William immediately rides back to Earlcastle, where Lady Regan tells him that he must become Stephen's champion in order to insure his place as the new earl. Before riding off to war again, though, William "makes order" amongst his peasants. Due to the war, some people have failed to pay the taxes, and a miller has built a mill without his permission. In order to punish them and make people fear him, William kills the miller and tortures the peasants who haven't paid the taxes. He also rapes the wife of a man, stating that he was denied the right of the first night. These actions, and several others he commits while travelling across the earldom's villages, make him a hated and despised person amongst the common people of the earldom.
William also travels to Kingsbridge, and is devastated to see that the cathedral is growing and growing, while the city becomes ever more large and prosperous. More so, he meets Aliena again, but this time he doesn't see fear, only contempt in her eyes. Prior Phillip confronts him then and scolds him for the terrible crimes he committed against the villagers, and says that if he doesn't show remorse, he will burn in Hell.
William is terrified by Phillip's promise, and rides to Bishop Waleran (who he normally despises), and confesses his crimes. After the confession, William's fear melts away, and he starts plotting with Waleran. They discuss that Kingsbridge has way too much power, much more than Waleran or the Hamleighs, so they plan to start acting physically against Phillip. Waleran advises William to kill the quarrymen working in the quarry for Kingsbridge, and deny Phillip the right to work in the quarry again. The justification for this is that Phillip runs a market in Kingsbridge on Sundays, unauthorized by the king, even though Kingsbridge is more then 20 miles from Shiring, so it would be legal. More so, in wartime, justice is unlikely to be given to Phillip. When William tells Waleran that this would involve killing, which is a mortal sin, Waleran promises to forgive William. Satisfied with this, and feeling no remorse whatsoever, William and his knights ride to the Shiring quarry and mercilessly kill the quarrymen working there.
After his revenge on Kingsbridge, William leads a force of a hundred men to Lincoln, where an important battle between Stephen and Maud is about to break out. In Lincoln, he is surprised to meet Phillip and Richard, Aliena's brother. Phillip is there to demand justice for William's crimes against Kingsbridge, Richard is there to fight for Stephen, hoping to be appointed the new earl of Shiring, a title that hasn't been confirmed yet. William realises that Richard and Aliena are plotting to regain their lost title, and have become his nemesis. In the ensuing battle, Richard fights bravely, while William is forced to retreat. However, Stephen loses the battle and is captured, so Maud temporarily becomes queen of England. William immediately turns sides to Maud.
Maud holds court a few weeks later, where Phillip informs her of William's crimes. Maud doesn't punish William for his crime, stating that he is her ally, and gives him the quarry- but she allows Kingsbridge to hold a Sunday market. The new earl isn't confirmed, either. William and Phillip both leave court as equals.
As the war goes on, William fights for Maud, continuing to compete with Richard, although none of them is granted the earldom. In spite of this, William continues to rule over Shiring as a tyrant. As Kingsbridge Cathedral grows, Prior Phillip uses his right to host a market to open a fleece market using Aliena's fleece, making Kingsbridge even more richer. Furious, William decides to put an end to it.
One Sunday, William and several of his knights and men, knowing that they can do whatever they want in war time, attack Kingsbridge. The attack comes totally unexpected, and William's men burn and murder their way across the city, destroying goods and houses, killing people. William personally confronts Aliena and burns her fleece stocks to ashes, then attempts to kill her himself in his mad rage. However, she is saved by Jack Jackson, and survives. Hundreds of people are murdered, but as William rides away triumphantly, Phillip shouts at him, promising that he will go to Hell for this. William is, of course, terrified by his words, but in his madness shouts back "THIS is hell, friar!" His attack leaves Kingsbridge in ruins, and amongst the dead is the main architect, Tom the Builder.
After leaving Kingsbridge in ruins, William comes to his senses and realises in terror that mortal sins burden his soul. He rides to Bishop Waleran and confesses his sins to him. Waleran, however, although he approves of the Kingsbridge's destruction, has different plans- he refuses to forgive William's sins if William doesn't turn over to Stephen's side, who is becoming dominant again, and is supported by Waleran and Bishop Henry, Waleran's great ally. Terrified by the idea of going to Hell, William turns sides in order to save his soul, turns sides to Stephen once again. He later realises that this might have been a good idea, since Stephen is more likely to give him the earldom permanently.
Kingsbridge resumes building the cathedral in spite of the destruction caused by William. In time, it reaches a stage that the roof is near perfection. William confronts Waleran and demands that he helps him gain his earldom at last- if not, he turn over to Maud again. Waleran agrees to talk with Bishop Henry and the king about William's matter- and he plans to announce William's appointment as earl in the Kingsbridge Cathedral in order to humiliate Phillip.
Therefore, William is finally granted the earldom, thanks to Waleran's manipulation. William triumphantly attends the pentacost mass where Waleran announces his new title, a grave insult to everyone in Kingsbridge. However, his happiness is disturbed by an unexpected event- the roof suddenly falls down onto the people attending mass, killing a great number of people. William, however, survives the catastrophe, and rides away unharmed. His happiness is now full- he is earl, and Kingsbridge is finally ruined.
For a year or two, William's life is perfect. By ruling over his earldom with an iron fist, he is rich while Kingsbridge is ruined- along with Aliena and Richard. However, a year later Kingsbridge starts building again, unexpectedly, and a great number of people start visiting the city- thanks to Jack Jackson, who has returned from Spain carrying a statue called the "Weeping Madonna" which is considered a holy relic and brings a lot of people to Kingsbridge. Immediately, the dice turns- William realises Kingsbridge is a threat to his power again. Worse, one day Jack Jackson visits Bishop Waleran when William and Lady Regan are at the bishop palace again, and accuses him of killing his father. Realising that Jack is a threat to his family, and especially when he learns that he is the hated-loved Aliena's lover, William brews a plot- to attack Kingsbridge again, destroy everything Phillip and Jack have built so far, and kill Jack in the process. Since the war is still ongoing, and Waleran assures William that he will forgive his sins, all three of the conspirators agree on this plan.
William starts gathering his strength immediately, and a few days later he marches for Kingsbridge, planning to rampage and destroy across the city quickly as he did before. However, William is confronted by an unexpected hinderance- his old nemesis Richard of Kingsbridge had learned of his plan, and told Prior Phillip. Intent on defeating the hated William, the people of Kingsbridge have built a wall around the city to stop him. After a quick attack, William is forced to retreat- even in wartime, the king would realise and punish a long siege on a city. Humiliated and defeated, William retreats.
Furious, William brews up a small revenge on Jack and Aliena- he asks Waleran not to let Aliena break up her marriage with Alfred Builder, thus forcing Aliena to part with her lover. Seeking for vengeance, Waleran agrees to do so.
As the years pass, the war is starting to end. Stephen seems victorious, defeating Maud in battle after battle. At the age of thirty seven, William weds a girl called Elizabeth, found for him by Lady Regan. As he has become almost impotent due to his unfulfilled "love" for Aliena, and only being able to sexually awaken if his partner is afraid and suffering, he hurts poor Elizabeth several times, making her hate him as well.
However, not long after William's wedding, Lady Regan unexpectedly dies in a sickness. After her burial, William remembers, horrified that his mother never confessed before passing away, so it is possible that she went to hell. Terrified by the notion, he consults with Waleran about the matter. The bishop advises him to build a cathedral in Shiring in order to save his mother's soul, thus drawing stonemasons and money away from Kingsbridge. A frightened William agrees and with the help of Remigius, Waleran's man in Kingsbridge, they appoint Alfred, the late Tom Builder's son to lead the building, who manipulates a lot of workers to leave Kingsbridge for Shiring.
Appearance and PersonalityEditWilliam is described as being well built and tall, with yellowy hair and good features. He is at first seen as fairly handsome, but later in life, as he ages, he becomes fat and loses the 'handsomeness of youth'. He later gets gout in his legs which leaves him in an irritable mood all the time.
William is sadistic and evil, with little sympathy for anything save perhaps his family. He treats woman cruelly. He is especially cruel to his wife, Elizabeth, because she reminds him of Aliena.
Surprisingly, William is brave to an extent, when confronted with a problem. Though he will often try and avoid dangerous situations, he acts fairly admirably in battle, and is a good fighter, as seen in several situations throughout the book. That said, he lacks the selfless bravery of Richard, and will run when things are looking bad. That said, William has a fighter's nature. He will often prefer to use his sword and leave the politics or intricate schemes to others. And even though he is probably intelligent enough to figure out a plan for himself, he would rather let someone else lead him, most commonly Waleran.
One of William's defining traits is his fear of Hell. This can let people control him easily, if he believes that they are serious or have the power to do so.
- William does not have yellow hair, as is often cited, in the TV Series. It is red, instead.
- William's surname 'Hamleigh' comes from the village of Hamleigh, where his family lived/live. This hints at the historical origin of most surnames.