Sharpe (novel series)

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Richard Sharpe
Richard Sharpe character
Created by Bernard Cornwell
Portrayed by Sean Bean
Information
Nickname(s) Dick (Short for Richard), Sharpie
Occupation Thief
Soldier
Farmer
Family Unknown father
Prostitute mother
Spouse(s) Teresa Moreno a.k.a. La Aguja
Jane Gibbons
Lucille Castineau
Children Antonia (with Teresa Moreno)
Patrick-Henri Lassan (with Lucille Castineau)
Dominique Lassan (with Lucille Castineau)
Nationality English

Sharpe is a series of historical fiction stories by Bernard Cornwell centred on the character of Richard Sharpe. The stories formed the basis for an ITV television series wherein the eponymous character was played by Sean Bean.

Cornwell's series (composed of several novels and short stories) charts Sharpe's progress in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. He begins in Sharpe's Tiger as a Private in the 33rd Regiment of foot, who becomes a Sergeant by the end of the book, and an Ensign in the 74th Regiment who is transferred to the newly formed 95th Rifles as a Second-Lieutenant during Sharpe's Trafalgar. He is gradually promoted through the ranks, finally becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in Sharpe's Waterloo.

The stories dramatise Sharpe's struggle for acceptance and respect from his fellow officers and from the men he commands. Sharpe was born a guttersnipe in the rookeries of London. Commissioned an officer on the battlefield, he overcomes class in an army where an officer's rank is often bought. Unlike many of the officers with whom he serves, Sharpe is an experienced soldier.

Sharpe is described as "brilliant but wayward" in Sharpe's Sword, and is portrayed by the author as a 'loose cannon'. A highly skilled leader of light troops, he takes part in a range of historical events during the Napoleonic Wars and other conflicts, including the Battle of Waterloo. The earliest chronological books (they were published in non-chronological order) are set in India, and chronicle Sharpe's years in the ranks and as an ensign. He is known as a dangerous man to have as an enemy; he is a skilled marksman and grows to be a good swordsman. In most of the novels he is a Rifle Officer, armed with a 1796 pattern heavy cavalry sword and Baker rifle, although by Sharpe's Waterloo he has also acquired a pistol. He is described as being six feet tall, having an angular, tanned face, long black hair and blue eyes. His most obvious physical characteristic is a deep scar on his right cheek, which pulls his right eye in such a way as to give his face a mocking expression when relaxed, but which disappears when he smiles, which is not too frequently.

Early years[edit]

Richard Sharpe is born in London circa June 26, 1777 (he believes that he may be 22 during the early months of 1799) to a prostitute residing in "Cat Lane", and an unknown father. When Sharpe is three, his mother is killed in the Gordon Riots, leaving him an orphan.

With no other known relatives to claim him, Sharpe is deposited in Jem Hocking's foundling home at Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, where he spends his days picking his assigned quota of oakum. He is malnourished and regularly beaten, resulting in his being undersized for his age. Because of this, he is eventually sold to a master chimney sweep to train as an 'apprentice' at the relatively late age of 12. Fearing the high mortality rate among apprentice sweeps (who are forced to climb inside chimneys and remove the soot by hand), Sharpe flees to the Rookery of St Giles (a form of slum), and is taken in by prostitute (and later bar-owner) Maggie Joyce. He stays under Maggie's protection for three years, learning various forms of thieving.

After killing a gang leader during a fight over Maggie, he escapes from London to Yorkshire at the age of fifteen (by creating this back story, Bernard Cornwell made the actor Sean Bean's Yorkshire accent part of the canon of the series). It is possible that Sharpe learned to play cricket in Yorkshire, as in Sharpe's Waterloo the Duke of Wellington attests that "Sharpe bowls fiendish". He also played while training with the Rifles at Shorncliffe Redoubt, (Sharpe's Fury).

Within six months of his arrival in Yorkshire, Sharpe kills a second man, the landlord of the tavern where he is working, in a fight over a local girl.

To avoid arrest, Sharpe takes the "King's shilling", joining the 33rd Foot, as a result of the blandishments of Recruiting sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill. The regiment (popularly known as "The Havercakes", due to the oatcake the recruiting sergeants display on their bayonets to attract hungry potential recruits) is first sent to Flanders in 1794, where Sharpe fights in his first battle, at Boxtel. The next year, he and his regiment are posted to India under the command of the British East India Company.

India[edit]

In 1799, Sharpe is sentenced to 2,000 lashes (i.e. a death sentence) for striking a sergeant, with the connivance of his company commander, Captain Charles Morris, but is released after only 200 by executive order. He is assigned to accompany Lieutenant William Lawford on a secret mission to rescue Lawford's uncle, head of British East India Company intelligence, Colonel Hector McCandless. They join the Tippoo Sultan's army posing as British deserters, but are later exposed and imprisoned. Lawford teaches Sharpe to read while they are imprisoned in the Tippoo's dungeon. Sharpe escapes during the Siege of Seringapatam, killing the Tippoo Sultan after destroying a mine meant to devastate the British army. Sharpe is promoted to sergeant, as has been promised, for his successful efforts (Sharpe's Tiger). He also gets away with a fortune of jewels, plundered from the Tippoo's corpse.

Sharpe serves four years as sergeant in the Armoury in Seringapatam. In 1803, while on official business at the fort at Chasalgoan, he is the only survivor of a massacre of the garrison carried out by a turncoat Company officer, William Dodd. As a result, he is taken by McCandless on a mission to identify and capture Dodd. Their search takes them first to the siege of Ahmednuggur and then the Battle of Assaye. Towards the beginning of this battle, Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) orders his six infantry battalions to form into two lines, with his cavalry as a reserve in a third. His allied Maratha and Mysore cavalry are instructed to remain south of the Kaitna to keep in check a large body of Maratha cavalry which hover around the British rear. The opposing general, Pohlmann, soon recognises Wellesley’s intentions and swings his infantry and guns through 90 degrees to establish a new line spread approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) across the isthmus with their right flank on the Kaitna and the left on Assaye. When the dragoon orderly attached to Wellesley is killed in the early stages of the battle, Sharpe takes the man's place, and so is at hand when Wellesley is unhorsed among the enemy. Sharpe defends Wellesley against several Maratha horsemen and so saves the general's life, receiving a battlefield promotion for this act of bravery. He joins the 74th Regiment as an Ensign, the first step on the career ladder of a British army officer (Sharpe's Triumph).

Unfortunately both Sharpe and his new colleagues find it difficult to adjust to Sharpe's new status and role, and his superiors in the 74th arrange for him to be transferred to the newly formed 95th Rifles Regiment. Before leaving India, he takes part in the assault on Gawilghur, commanding troops in action for the first time. Once inside the fortress, Sharpe finally confronts Dodd and kills him, receiving a scar on his right cheek as a legacy of the fight (Sharpe's Fortress).

Campaigns in Europe[edit]

While travelling from India to England to take up his post in the 95th Rifles, in 1805, Sharpe is caught up in the Battle of Trafalgar, his first direct encounter with France and its European allies as an Infantry officer. On the journey he also meets and falls in love with Lady Grace Hale, the wife of a politician (Sharpe's Trafalgar).

Grace sets up home with Sharpe at Shorncliffe, but dies giving birth to their child, who survives her by only a few hours. Sharpe's fortune is assumed by the lawyers to be part of Grace's estate and seized. Sharpe falls into a deep depression, worsened by conflict with other officers in the Rifles, who relegate him to the role of Quartermaster, and leave him in barracks when the regiment is posted to the Baltic in 1807. Sharpe, unable to sell his commission, plans to desert. He returns to Wapping to rob and kill Jem Hocking, the abusive master of the foundling home where Sharpe was raised. Before Sharpe can disappear with the stolen cash, he encounters General Baird, a former colleague from India, who recruits him to protect John Lavisser, a Foreign Office agent sent to negotiate with the Danish Crown Prince. Lavisser betrays Sharpe, and forces him into hiding in Copenhagen, where he witnesses the bombardment of the city and the British capture of the Danish fleet (Sharpe's Prey).

95th Rifles reenactors.

In "Sharpe's Rifles," Sharpe is said to have fought against the French in Portugal at Roliça and Vimeiro, both in August 1808. Sharpe is now referred to as a Second Lieutenant because, as a light infantry unit of the British army, there are no Colours and thus no Ensigns in the Rifles.

By early 1809 Sharpe is in Spain with the 95th Rifles, undertaking the terrible hardships of the rearguard of the retreat to Corunna. Cut off from the main body of the army, he is forced to take command of a handful of surviving but mutinous riflemen (including Patrick Harper), while protecting a small party of English missionaries and assisting Spanish Partisans in the temporary liberation of the city of Santiago de Compostela (Sharpe's Rifles).

After making their way to Portugal, and taking part in the Battle of the Douro, Sharpe and his surviving riflemen are attached to the Light Company of the South Essex (a fictional regiment) as part of Wellesley's Peninsula Army. Sharpe takes part in a number of notable actions, either with the South Essex, or on detached duty for Major Michael Hogan, Wellesley's head of intelligence. These include the capture of a French Imperial Eagle at the Battle of Talavera in 1809, and storming of one the breaches at Badajoz. He also takes an active role in the first siege of Almeida, the Battle of Bussaco, and of Barossa, Ciudad Rodrigo, Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria and Toulouse.

Over this period he rises in rank from Lieutenant through Captain to Major, eventually taking unofficial command of the entire regiment. In parallel Sharpe's friend and colleague, Harper, rises from Rifleman to Regimental Sergeant Major.

His intelligence work for Hogan and Wellesley brings him the long lasting enmity of the fictional French spymaster Pierre Ducos, who conspires several times to destroy Sharpe's career, reputation and life.

Sharpe possibly appears in Simon Scarrow's The Fields of Death, although his surname is not confirmed. A Major in the 95th Rifles called Richard and who, "unusually for an officer... carries a rifle like his men" delivers captured French orders to the Duke of Wellington indicating the enemy's intention to fall back to Vitoria.

Prior to the Battle of Waterloo, Sharpe is appointed aide to the Prince of Orange, so finally achieving the rank of Lt. Colonel. Disgusted by the Prince's dangerous incompetence during the course of the battle, Sharpe deserts his post (after making an attempt on the Prince's life), but comes to the aid of his old regiment, Prince of Wales Own Volunteers (formerly the South Essex), steadying the line and preventing a French breakthrough. Wellesley then gives him command of the unit for the remainder of the battle (Sharpe's Waterloo).

Retirement[edit]

In 1820 Sharpe, now retired and living as a farmer in Normandy, is commissioned by the Countess of Mouromorto to find her husband, Don Blas Vivar, who has disappeared in the Spanish colony of Chile; both she and her husband had encountered Sharpe in 1809, during the events leading up to the assault on Santiago de Compostella.

Accompanied by his old companion, Patrick Harper, Sharpe travels to South America, and becomes involved in the Chilean War of Independence along with Lord Cochrane. En route Sharpe finally meets Napoleon, in exile on St Helena.

Relationships and family[edit]

Sharpe, the son of a prostitute, has almost no memory of his mother, and no knowledge of his father. The author, Bernard Cornwell, in answer to a query on his website, wrote a riddle which he claims contains the father's identity: "Take you out, put me in and a horse appears in this happy person!" No solution has yet been provided or published.

Sharpe is both a romantic and a womanizer; In Sharpe's Rifles 207, Harper notes that "He'll fall in love with anything in a petticoat. I've seen his type before. Got the sense of a half-witted sheep when it comes to women."

In India Sharpe asks for permission to marry Mary Bickerstaff, who later leaves him (Sharpe's Tiger), and has a brief affair with Simone Joubert, who bolts with gems he left with her for safe keeping (Sharpe's Triumph, Sharpe's Fortress).

His relationship with Lady Grace Hale in 1805 has a more lasting impact; the birth of his first child, who dies only a few hours after his mother, leaves Sharpe deeply distressed. Sharpe also conceives a child with Astrid Skovgaard in Copenhagen, but she is murdered by British spymaster Lord Pumphrey (Sharpe's Trafalgar, Sharpe's Prey).

During the early years of the Peninsula Campaign Sharpe's affections are torn between a Portuguese courtesan, Josefina Lacosta, and the partisan leader Teresa Moreno (Sharpe's Eagle, Sharpe's Gold). Teresa bears Sharpe a daughter, Antonia (Sharpe's Company), in 1811, and marries Sharpe in 1812, but is murdered a year later by the renegade Obadiah Hakeswill (Sharpe's Enemy). Sharpe leaves his daughter to be raised by Teresa's family, and, as far as is known, never sees her again.

Over the same period Sharpe also conducts affairs with an English governess, Sarah Fry (Sharpe's Escape), Caterina Veronica Blazquez, a blackmailing prostitute (Sharpe's Fury), and the French spy Hélène Leroux (Sharpe's Sword, Sharpe's Honour).

For some years Sharpe carried a small portrait of Jane Gibbons, taken from her brother's murdered body (Sharpe's Eagle). In 1813, he returns to England to fetch reinforcements, and meets, elopes with, and marries Jane (Sharpe's Regiment). Sharpe remains faithful to his second wife, until she herself proves disloyal; when Sharpe is falsely accused of theft and murder, she embarks on an adulterous affair with Sharpe's former friend Lord John Rossendale and steals the fortune Sharpe had accumulated in London. It is while searching for evidence to clear his name that Sharpe meets and falls in love with Lucille Castineau (nee Lassan), the widow of a French officer killed at Vitoria (Sharpe's Revenge, Sharpe's Waterloo).

Although unable to marry while Jane lives, Sharpe settles with Lucille on her family estate in Normandy and raises two children, Patrick-Henri, who becomes a French Cavalry Officer (and a character in Bernand Cornwell's The Starbuck Chronicles), and Dominique, who ultimately marries an English aristocrat.

By 1861, Patrick-Henri, then a colonel in the Imperial Guard Cavalry observing the Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War, mentions that his mother is "very lonely" so it may be assumed that Sharpe has died sometime before that date.

(The Sharpe Companion gives Sharpe's year of death as 1860, though this is never stated in any of the books.)

This is contradicted in the Television adaptation Sharpe's Challenge, set in 1817, in which Sharpe claims that Lucille has already died.

Promotions[edit]

  • Circa 1793. Enlisted as a Private.
  • Circa 1796-97. Promoted to Corporal. Demoted to private after passing wind on parade.
  • 4 May 1799. Promoted for gallantry to Sergeant after Siege of Seringapatam (Sharpe's Tiger).
  • 23 September 1803. Commissioned for gallantry as an Ensign after the Battle of Assaye by General Wellesley (Sharpe's Triumph).
  • Circa 1806. On transfer to the 95th Rifles, Sharpe becomes a Second Lieutenant, equivalent in rank to an Ensign, as the Rifles do not have Ensigns (Sharpe's Prey).
  • Circa 1807-08. Sharpe promoted to Lieutenant - the exact time frame is not referred to in the novels but occurred sometime after the events of Sharpe's Prey and before Sharpe's Rifles.
  • July 1809. Gazetted by General Wellesley as a Captain after saving the Regimental Colour of the South Essex Battalion at Valdelacasa (Sharpe's Eagle).
  • January 1812. Reverted to the rank of Lieutenant after his gazetting as Captaincy was refused by Horse Guards and in the absence of a vacant Captain's position in the South Essex (Sharpe's Company).
  • 7 April 1812. Restored to rank of Captain in the South Essex Battalion after successfully leading an unofficial forlorn hope to take the third breach of Badajoz and the death of several Captains in the Battalion (Sharpe's Company).
  • 14 November 1812. Promoted to the army (as opposed to regimental) rank of Brevet Major by the Prince Regent (Sharpe's Enemy).
  • 1815. Serves as Lieutenant Colonel in the 5th Belgian Light Dragoons (Dutch Army) led by the Prince of Orange during the 100 days. He later acts as Lieutenant Colonel of his old battalion during the Battle of Waterloo. At the climax of the battle, it is assumed he is given official control after Wellington says, "That is your Battalion now! So take it forward!"

Historical achievements[edit]

Despite being a fictional hero, Sharpe is often portrayed as the driving force in a number of pivotal historical events. Cornwell frankly admits to taking license with history, placing Sharpe in the place of another man whose identity is lost to history, or sometimes "stealing another man's thunder." Such accomplishments include:

  • Disabling a booby trap laid for the British soldiers assaulting Seringapatam (Cornwell points out in the novel's historical note that there never actually was such a booby trap, and the event was based on a British shell that struck a magazine in the city days earlier);
  • Killing the Tippoo Sultan and looting his corpse;
  • Saving Arthur Wellesley's life at the Battle of Assaye;
  • Storming the walls of the inner fortress at Gawilghur and opening the gates to the besieging forces;
  • Sighting the boats that allowed Wellesley's forces to ambush Marshall Nicolas Soult's forces at the Battle of Oporto;
  • Being the first British soldier to capture an Imperial Eagle, at the Battle of Talavera (This event never happened, the first French Eagle to be captured by the British was captured at the Battle of Barrossa in 1811);
  • Successfully assaulting the central breach at Badajoz;
  • Deliberately triggering the massive explosion that destroyed the fortress of Almeida;
  • Taking command of a regiment driving off the advance of the French Imperial Guard at the Battle of Waterloo.

Novels and short stories[edit]

The first book was written in 1981 with Sharpe in 1809. The next seven books were written in order up to Sharpe's Siege in 1814. A prequel (Sharpe's Rifles) was written next set in 1809. The next four books follow on from Sharpe's Siege, up to Sharpe's Devil, set in 1820–21. Then came Sharpe's Battle set between Sharpe's Gold and Sharpe's Company (set in 1811). Cornwell then moved to the beginning of Sharpe's army career with Sharpe's Tiger set in 1799 until three books later with Sharpe's Prey set in 1807. Cornwell followed this with two novels and four short stories which lie between Sharpe's Rifles (1809) and Sharpe's Devil (1820–21).

Series No. Title Sub-title 1st published Revision date
01 Sharpe's Tiger Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799 1997
02 Sharpe's Triumph Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803 1998
03 Sharpe's Fortress Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803 1999
04 Sharpe's Trafalgar Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Trafalgar, October 1805 2000
05 Sharpe's Prey Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Copenhagen, 1807 2001
06 Sharpe's Rifles Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galicia, January 1809 1988
07 Sharpe's Havoc Richard Sharpe and the Campaign in Northern Portugal, Spring 1809 2003
08 Sharpe's Eagle Richard Sharpe and the Talavera Campaign, July 1809 1981
09 Sharpe's Gold Richard Sharpe and the Destruction of Almeida, August 1810 1981
10 Sharpe's Escape Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Bussaco, September 1810 2004
11 Sharpe's Fury Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Barrosa March 1811, Winter 1811 2007
12 Sharpe's Battle Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, May 1811 1995
13 Sharpe's Company Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Badajoz, January to April 1812 1982
14 Sharpe's Sword Richard Sharpe and the Salamanca Campaign, June and July 1812 1983
15 Sharpe's Skirmish Richard Sharpe and the Defence of the Tormes, August 1812 (short story) 1999 revised extended edition published 2002
16 Sharpe's Enemy Richard Sharpe and the Defence of Portugal, Christmas 1812 1984
17 Sharpe's Honour Richard Sharpe and the Vitoria Campaign, February to June 1813 1985
18 Sharpe's Regiment Richard Sharpe and the Invasion of France, June to November 1813 1986
19 Sharpe's Christmas December 1813, Franco-Spanish border (short story) 1994 revised edition published 2003
20 Sharpe's Siege Richard Sharpe and the Winter Campaign, 1814 1987
21 Sharpe's Revenge Richard Sharpe and the Peace of 1814 1989
22 Sharpe's Waterloo Richard Sharpe and the Waterloo Campaign, 15 June to 18 June 1815 1990
23 Sharpe's Ransom December 1815, Normandy (short story) 1994 revised edition published 2003
24 Sharpe's Devil Richard Sharpe and the Emperor, 1820–21 1992

See also[edit]

Sharpe related Wikipedia categories[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography

External links[edit]