Governor Bellingham is the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and is based on the historical figure of Richard Bellingham, who lived from 1592-1672. Bellingham represents law and order, tradition, and connections to the old world. He first appears in the scene where Hester is questioned about the identity of her lover, where he is described “with hard experience written in his wrinkles.” Governor Bellingham is harsh and uncompromising, siding with the Revered Mr. Wilson in demanding that Hester reveal the father of her child. He also shows his authority by ordering Dimmesdale to encourage Hester to reveal her secret. Later in the novel, Governor Bellingham will play a similar role when Hester and Dimmesdale meet at his mansion. In this scene, the Governor functions as a representation of the forces of social control and discipline that threaten Hester and Pearl. Hester goes to Bellingham’s mansion because “it had reached her ears, that there was a design… to deprive her of her child.” Hester hopes that by directly interceding with the Governor she can defend her right to raise her own child.
In this second scene, Governor Bellingham functions even more explicitly as a character who sees it as his duty to enforce both legal and moral rules. The description of his mansion shows that he is a man who is very concerned with traditions. He has recreated “the whole being of the Elizabethan age, or perhaps earlier” and proudly displays many portraits of his ancestors. As soon as he sees Hester and Pearl, he takes advantage of the opportunity to explain why he thinks Hester is an unfit mother, stating that “It is because of the stain which that letter indicates, that we would transfer thy child to other hands.” He is also horrified when he thinks that Pearl has not been getting proper religious instruction. However, Governor Bellingham also shows that he can be a reasonable and fair man, because he listens carefully to the arguments Dimmesdale and Hester make for why Pearl should be allowed to remain with her mother. He ultimately decides that the mother and child can stay together.