|This biographical article relies on references to primary sources. (February 2014)|
23 February 1944 |
Bernard Cornwell, OBE (born 23 February 1944) is an English author of historical novels. He is best known for his novels about Napoleonic Wars rifleman Richard Sharpe which were adapted into a series of Sharpe television films.
Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother was English, a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Thundersley, Essex, by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict sect who were pacifists, banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his mother's maiden name, Cornwell.
Cornwell was sent to Monkton Combe School. He attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher. He attempted to enlist in the British armed services at least three times, but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.
Following his work as teacher, Cornwell joined the BBC's Nationwide and was later promoted to head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland. He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News. He relocated to the United States in 1979 after marrying an American. Unable to get a United States Permanent Resident Card (green card), he started writing novels, as this did not require a work permit. He later became a U.S. citizen. He currently resides on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and in Charleston, South Carolina.
As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C. S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find that there were no such novels following Lord Wellington's campaign on land. Motivated by the need to support himself in the U.S. through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series. He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most of the major battles of the Peninsular War. Cornwell took the name from rugby player Richard Sharp.
Cornwell wanted to start the series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of "warm-up" novels. These were Sharpe's Eagle and Sharpe's Gold, both published in 1981. Sharpe's Eagle was picked up by a publisher, and Cornwell got a three-book deal. He went on to tell the story of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel, Sharpe's Company published in 1982.
Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym "Susannah Kells". These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms (aka The Aristocrats) in 1986. (Cornwell's strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War.) He also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British, in 1987.
After publishing eight books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series. They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain. The result was Sharpe’s Rifles, published in 1987, and a series of Sharpe television films starring Sean Bean.
A series of modern thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord (aka Killer's Wake) in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and a political thriller called Scoundrel in 1992.
Azincourt was released in the UK in October 2008. The protagonist is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, a devastating defeat suffered by the French during the Hundred Years War. In 2009, he released The Burning Land, another of the six Saxon Stories centered on the protagonist Uhtred of Bebbanburg. The sixth installment of the series, Death Of Kings was released in September 2011.
Another of Cornwell's standalone novels, The Fort, was published in 2010. It tells of the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 during the American Revolutionary War, in which a small British force, sent to what is now Castine in the State of Maine, were assaulted by an army with a huge fleet sent by the State of Massachusetts.
The Sharpe stories
Cornwell's best known books feature the adventures of Richard Sharpe, an English soldier during the Napoleonic Wars.
The first 11 books of the Sharpe series (beginning in chronological order with Sharpe's Rifles and ending with Sharpe's Waterloo, published in the US as Waterloo) detail Sharpe's adventures in various Peninsular War campaigns over the course of 6–7 years. Subsequently, Cornwell wrote a prequel quintet – Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe's Triumph, Sharpe's Fortress, Sharpe's Trafalgar and Sharpe's Prey – depicting Sharpe's adventures under Wellington's command in India, including his hard-won promotion to the officer corps, his return to Britain and his arrival in the 95th Rifles, and a sequel, Sharpe's Devil, set six years after the end of the wars.
He also wrote Sharpe's Battle, a novel "inserted" into his previous continuity, taking place during the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro. Cornwell mentioned in notes at the end of the books in the Sharpe series that he was initially dubious about the casting of Sean Bean for the television adaptations, but that the doubts did not last and he was subsequently so delighted that he dedicated Sharpe's Battle to him, and has admitted that he subtly changed the writing of the character to align with Bean's portrayal as now he "could not imagine Sharpe as anyone else". One of Cornwell's initial misgivings about Bean was that he did not physically resemble the black-haired Sharpe he described in the early books, but as mentioned above, thought Bean understood and acted the part perfectly. From then on, he refrained from mentioning Sharpe's hair color. Since 2003, he has written further "missing adventures" set during the "classic" Peninsular War era.
The Warlord Chronicles
A trilogy depicting Cornwell's historical re-creation of Arthurian Britain. The series posits that Post-Roman Britain was a difficult time for the native Britons, being threatened by invasion from the Anglo-Saxons in the East and raids from the Irish in the West. At the same time, they suffered internal power struggles between their petty kingdoms and friction between the old Druidic religion and newly arrived Christianity. The author has often said that these are his own favourite stories.
The Grail Quest novels
This series deals with a mid-14th Century search for the Holy Grail during the Hundred Years' War. An English archer, Thomas of Hookton, becomes drawn into the quest by the actions of a mercenary soldier called "The Harlequin", who murders Thomas' family in his own obsessive search for the Grail. Cornwell was planning at one point to write more books about the main character Thomas of Hookton and said that shortly after finishing Heretic he had "... started another Thomas of Hookton book, then stopped it – mainly because I felt that his story ended in Heretic and I was just trying to get too much from him. Which doesn't mean I won't pick the idea up again sometime in the future." He returned to the character in 1356 (2012).
The Saxon Stories
Cornwell's latest series focuses on the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, England during the 9th-century reign of Alfred the Great, his fierce opposition to the Danes and his determination to unite England as one country. According to Cornwell's replies on his website bulletin board, the series will not be a trilogy like his medieval works, but will have 3 or 4 more sequels: "I'm not sure how many there will be – perhaps seven? maybe eight?"
The Starbuck Chronicles
An earlier, part finished series of novels set during the American Civil War and following the adventures of the Boston-born Nathaniel Starbuck during his service in the Confederate army. Consists of four novels, taking the protagonist as far as the Battle of Sharpsburg, with an aspiration by Mr Cornwell to write some more some day. Notable for an "easter egg" appearance by the son of Richard Sharpe as a supporting character.
Cornwell's thriller series are modern mysteries, all with sailing themes. He is a traditional sailor and enjoys sailing his Cornish Crabber christened Royalist. According to Cornwell's website, there may be no additions to the series: "I enjoyed writing the thrillers, but suspect I am happier writing historical novels. I'm always delighted when people want more of the sailing books, but I'm not planning on writing any more, at least not now – but who knows? perhaps when I retire".
In addition to the many fiction series, and the fictional retelling of the battle of Waterloo, Cornwell published a nonfiction book, Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles, released in September 2014, timely for the 200th anniversary of that battle.
- "Cornwell Biography". Bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- "Interview with Bernard Cornwell". Radio.nationalreview.com. 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- "The Story of Sharpe". Uktv.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- "A word from Bernard Cornwell". Southessex.co.uk. 2002-09-29. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- Cornwell, Bernard (1994). Sharpe's Eagle. London: HarperCollins Publishers. pp. vi–vii. ISBN 978-0-00-780509-9.
- Cornwell, Bernard (1994). Sharpe's Rifles. London: HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 7–9. ISBN 978-0-00-779651-9.
- The London Gazette: . 17 June 2006.
- "Bulletin Board". Bernardcornwell.net. 2011-08-30. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- "Death of Kings". Bernard Cornwell. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
- "Richard Sharpe bio". The South Essex. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- Cornwell, Bernard. "Cornwell's comment on Heretic". Author's Official site. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
- Cornwell, Bernard. "Cornwell's comments against a trilogy (but you have to "search" for the specific dialogue)". BernardCornwell.net. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
- "The Author's Official site – Sharpe Books dot com". Bernard Cornwell. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- Bernard Cornwell. "Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
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