On the death of King Henry I, there is a schism in the succession leading eventually to civil war during a period now known as the Anarchy. Before his death, the King had sought the support of the noblemen and the clergy in favor of his newborn grandson, the future Henry II and requested that they all recognize his daughter Maude as the rightful ruler until his grandson comes of age. Henry's nephew Stephen has his eye on the throne and with the support of the Church, is soon crowned King. Maude has her supporters however, including Bartholomew, the Earl of Shiring, whose nemesis Percy Hamleigh would like nothing better than to find an excuse to take his lands and his title. Meanwhile a monk, Philip, returns to Kingsbridge Priory when his mentor falls gravely ill and receives an interesting offer from Father Waleran - in return for the Priory's support in making him Bishop, Philip will be made Prior. Meanwhile, Tom Builder, a stone mason, travels the countryside with his wife, daughter and son looking for any work that will feed them in these hard times. When his wife dies in childbirth he decides to leave the newborn on her grave but returns to retrieve him only to find that the infant has been taken. Ellen and her near-mute son Jack join Tom and his family in his travels.