Sharpe's Waterloo (novel)

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For the television adaptation, see Sharpe's Waterloo (TV programme).
Sharpe's Waterloo
First edition cover
First edition cover
Author Bernard Cornwell
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Richard Sharpe
Genre Historical novels
Publisher Collins
Publication date
1 February 1990
Media type Print (hardback & paperback) and audio-CD
Pages 416 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-00-223643-5 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 32926187
823/.914 20
LC Class PR6053.O75 S57 1990a
Preceded by Sharpe's Revenge
Followed by Sharpe's Ransom

Sharpe's Waterloo is a historical novel in the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. Originally published in 1990 under the title Waterloo, it is the eleventh and final novel of the "original" Sharpe series (beginning with Sharpe's Eagle), and the twentieth novel in chronological order.

Plot summary[edit]

Napoleon having escaped from Elba, Richard Sharpe leaves his farm in Normandy to rejoin the British Army, and is created a Lieutenant Colonel of a Dutch-Belgian cavalry regiment, a sinecure to give him standing as one of the Prince of Orange's staff officers. Sharpe's lover Lucille has followed him to Belgium with their infant son, Henri-Patrick, as has Sharpe's friend Patrick Harper, now a civilian who has ostensibly come to Belgium to trade in horses, but unofficially to resume his old place at Sharpe's side.

The First Day: 15 June 1815[edit]

While patrolling the roads connecting the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian forces, Sharpe witnesses the main body of Napoleon's army crossing the border from France, revealing that Napoleon does not intend to maneuver around the flank of the allied armies, via Mons, as the Duke of Wellington expected, but instead to ram his army into the gap between the two allied forces and defeat them in detail. Encountering a cavalry patrol of the King's German Legion, Sharpe sends an urgent message to Wellington, while Sharpe stays behind to continue spying on the invading French. Unfortunately, the cavalry's commander, General Dornberg, decries Sharpe's message as a French deception, and tears it up rather than forward it to Wellington.

Later that day, after the French have entered Charleroi, Sharpe returns to the Prince of Orange's headquarters and is aghast to find that the army is ignorant of the French invasion. The Prince's aide, Rebecque, dispatches a messenger to retrieve the Prince from Brussels, while Sharpe carries orders to the troops nearest to the crossroads at Quatre Bras, commanded by Prince Bernhard Carl of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Although the French are checked as evening falls, Sharpe knows they will make a much stronger attack in the morning, and rides to Brussels to warn Wellington.

Sharpe's entrance into the Duchess of Richmond's ball - covered in dirt, sweat, and the blood of a slain French dragoon - causes a stir to which Sharpe is oblivious as he informs Wellington of the invasion. Wellington is equal parts dismayed and admiring at being "humbugged" by Napoleon, who has brought his army to the allies' doorstep before the Anglo-Dutch army can converge, much less link with the Prussians.

Exiting his conference with the Duke, Sharpe is outraged to encounter Lord John Rossendale, the lover of his estranged wife Jane. He insults Rossendale in public and demands the return of the money Jane took from him. Rossendale, knowing full well that he will lose any combat with Sharpe, meekly acquiesces, but Jane encourages him to use the impending battle as a cover to kill Sharpe.

The Second Day: 16 June 1815[edit]

On the field at Quatre Bras, it quickly becomes apparent that the Dutch-Belgian contingent of the British Army will not fight against their old comrades in the French army, and the Dutch-Belgians brought up to reinforce Saxe-Weimar's men break and run as soon as the first French column appears in the fields. Likewise, the Prince of Orange comically attempts, twice, to lead a charge of his Dutch-Belgian cavalry against an opposing force of French lancers, but is forced to turn back when his horsemen refuse (twice) to move.

Wellington arrives at Quatre Bras in time to see the Dutch-Belgian troops fleeing, and details General Picton to deploy the British reinforcements, while Wellington rides east to check on the status of the Prussians. The Prince of Orange, humiliated by his troops' desertion, becomes outraged at Picton deploying brigades from I Corps, of which the Prince is the nominal commander, without consulting him. To assert his authority, the Prince orders General Halkett's brigade to form line and advance, but Sharpe objects that the French cavalry are lurking in a depression in the field, and will massacre any infantry in line. The Prince disregards this advice, and dismisses Sharpe from his staff when Sharpe refuses to carry the orders to Halkett's brigade.

The Prince's orders are carried out, and, shortly, the 69th Regiment is all but wiped out by a cavalry charge led by General Kellermann, although Sharpe and Harper rush to the side of their old regiment, the Prince of Wales' Own Volunteers and save the majority of them by urging them to run and take cover in the forest. The rest of the brigade likewise takes casualties, and the French cavalry capture the King's Colour from the remains of the 69th. Although more reinforcements arrive in time to check the French advance, making Quatre Bras a technical victory, Sharpe rages at the needless loss of life caused by the Prince.

The Third Day: 17 June 1815[edit]

Rebecque attempts to mend fences between Sharpe and the Prince of Orange, saying the Prince needs Sharpe at his side more than ever, now that the entire army knows he made a mistake. As much as he despises the Prince, Sharpe makes a token apology for his "rudeness," not wanting to lose the earnings from his colonelcy.

The British army began the day expecting to pursue a routed French army, but Sharpe is dismayed to hear that the Prussians are falling back from their defeat at Ligny, and the British will likewise need to retreat to the fallback position chosen by Wellington: the field just south of the village of Waterloo. While they are preparing their horses to ride, Sharpe and Harper are stunned when Simon Doggett, the youngest of the Prince's British aides, excitedly points across the field, where Napoleon himself is sitting astride his horse.

During the confusion of the retreat from Quatre Bras, Lord John Rossendale is separated from the Earl of Uxbridge's staff, and Sharpe corners him in the woods. Rossendale aims a pistol at Sharpe, but hasn't the nerve to pull the trigger, and Sharpe disarms him easily. Sharpe says Rossendale is welcome to Jane, but Sharpe wants his money back. Rossendale dashes off a promissory note, and Sharpe mockingly drops a length of rope into Rossendale's lap, saying that Rossendale has "bought" Jane according to the English custom, and, for a "whore's bastard out of the gutter" such as Sharpe, that's as good as a legal divorce.

The Fourth Day: 18 June 1815[edit]

Wellington deploys his forces on a ridge south of Waterloo, preparing to defend against Napoleon's inevitable attack, while waiting for the Prussians to march to his aid. Unknown to him, Marshall Blücher's chief of staff, General Gneisenau, not trusting Wellington to make a stand, has deliberately arranged the order of the Prussians' march to ensure that they will move slowly and arrive late in the day, if at all.

The Prince of Orange, expecting a flanking maneuver by Napoleon, posts Sharpe on the British right, to watch for any French forces. Privately, Sharpe and Harper agree that, as fond as he usually is of maneuver, Napoleon is so confident of victory, that he will make a frontal attack in overwhelming force. In fact, Napoleon is so confident that, although both armies are assembled on opposite sides of the battlefield well before dawn, he does not commence the attack until close to 11:00 a.m.

Sharpe and Harper, watching the French advance, are drawn into the defence of Hougoumont, and witness Colonel Macdonnell's heroic closing of the gates. With a temporary pause in the fighting, Macdonnell diffidently asks if Sharpe will fetch fresh ammunition for his troops, and Sharpe agrees readily.

Orange is humiliated further when, again, the Dutch-Belgian troops under his command refuse to advance, and, again, the Prince finds himself virtually ignored by the rest of the army's commanders. Believing that the farm of La Haye Sainte is about to fall to the enemy, the Prince quickly orders a Hanoverian regiment to advance in line, again ignoring his officers' warnings that the French cavalry are lurking. Again, the allied infantry are slaughtered as a result of following the Prince's orders.

With Hogoumont under siege on Wellington's right, Napoleon believes (incorrectly) that Wellington will have weakened his line to deploy reinforcements there, so he decides to launch D'Erlon's infantry corps at the British center.

Rossendale, desperate to regain his honor in battle after being humiliated by Sharpe, joins the charge of the British heavy cavalry in sweeping D'Erlon's infantry from the ridge. Rossendale fights bravely, but allows himself to be swept along with the ill-disciplined English cavalry as they continue the charge across the field and to the French artillery park. By the time a retaliatory charge of French lancers forms up behind them, the Englishmen's horses are exhausted, and they are easily slaughtered. Rossendale is crippled by a lance strike to his spine and blinded by a sword slash across the face, knocked off his horse, and left lying wounded on the battlefield.

Sharpe, outraged to learn that the Prince has repeated his mistake and caused yet more needless deaths, gives the Prince the V sign and rides away. He briefly considers riding back to Brussels and collecting Lucille, since he is no longer an officer on the Prince's staff, but is diverted when Marshall Ney, mistaking movement behind the British ridge as a sign of wavering, unleashes the French cavalry at the ridge, where they are met by British infantry in square formation and unable to attack. Sharpe and Harper take shelter in the square formed by the Prince of Wales' Own Volunteers. The French cavalry are largely wasted in repeated fruitless attacks on the squares, but enough of them remain in the valley floor to force the British to remain in square, which makes them prime targets when the French artillery commence fire again, taking a dreadful toll.

Orange, for the third time, causes his men (this time from the King's German Legion) to be slaughtered by ordering them forward in line in the proximity of cavalry. Lieutenant Doggett, once the most deferential of the Prince's aides, calls the Prince "a silk stocking full of shit," (echoing Patrick Harper's earlier words) and rides off to find Sharpe. Fearing more men will die if Orange remains in command, Sharpe attempts to kill him under cover of a rifle barrage but only succeeds in hitting him in the shoulder and wounding him, forcing him to retire from the field.

As La Haye Sainte falls and with the French skirmishers and cannon slowly grinding down the British numbers, Colonel Ford, the Prince of Wales' Own Volunteers commander, goes to pieces and Sharpe's friend D'Alembord, who had been previously shot in the leg but insisted on returning to the battle, succumbs to his wound as he tries to take command. Just then, Napoleon decides to issue the final blow by advancing two columns of the Imperial Guard. Although some of the less-experienced soldiers and officers are unnerved by the sight of the Guard, Wellington is well-experienced at repelling troops in column formation, and personally commands the volleys that destroy the larger column.

Sharpe, with Harper, Doggett and Captain Harry Price, takes command of the regiment and helps to turn back the smaller column of the Guard. With the Imperial Guard defeated and the Prussians finally arriving on the field, the morale of the French army collapses, and Wellington orders a general advance, driving them off the battlefield. The only regiment that fails to join the advance is the Inniskillings, who have anchored the Duke's flank since the start of the battle, and continue to do so, despite suffering over 50% casualties.

As night falls, a delirious Rossendale is killed by a peasant woman looting the battlefield. Sharpe and Harper stay on the battlefield to hold the regiment together. After finding Rossendale's body, his fellow officer reluctantly informs Sharpe that the promissory note has no value, then leaves to break the news to Jane, who is pregnant with Lord John's child and now utterly alone.

Characters in Sharpe's Waterloo[edit]

Fictional

  • Lt. Col. Richard Sharpe – now a staff officer in the Dutch army.
  • Patrick Harper – now a civilian, Dublin pub owner, horse trader and thief.
  • Lt. Simon Doggett – a British officer on the Prince of Orange's staff.
  • Lord John Rossendale – British cavalry officer, and the lover of Sharpe's estranged wife Jane.
  • Jane Sharpe – Sharpe's estranged wife, discovered to be pregnant with Rossendale's child.
  • Lucille Castineau – Sharpe's French lover.
  • Daniel Hagman – Rifleman.
  • Major Dunnett – Rifle officer, Sharpe's old commander.
  • Lt. Harry Price – officer in the Prince Of Wales' Own Volunteers.
  • Major Peter d'Alembord – officer in the Prince Of Wales' Own Volunteers.
  • Lt. Col. Joseph Ford – new commanding officer of the Prince Of Wales' Own Volunteers.
  • Paulette: Belgian prostitute, the Prince of Orange's "seamstress" (i.e., mistress).

Historical

References to/in other novels[edit]

  • Lord John Rossendale first appeared in the novel Sharpe's Regiment as an aide to Prince Regent who assists Sharpe with dealing with the Prince's bizarre behavior. In the subsequent novel Sharpe's Revenge, he meets Jane when she comes to England to intercede on Sharpe's behalf, and the two fall madly in love, while Jane is the guardian of Sharpe's fortune (looted from the French during the Vitoria Campaign in Sharpe's Honour).
  • Lucille and Sharpe met and fell in love in Sharpe's Revenge, when Sharpe decided to settle in Normandy.
  • In the subsequent novel Sharpe's Devil, the prologue of which takes place in 1819, Sharpe confirms that Jane is still alive, and therefore he is still legally married to her and prevented from marrying Lucille. Sharpe is also questioned by a Spanish official in Chile about his experience at Waterloo, and recalls that what frightened him most was the overwhelming French artillery fire.
  • A passing reference to Sharpe is made in Cornwell's novel Gallows Thief, when another Waterloo veteran mentions a "tall Rifle officer" who faced down the Imperial Guard.
  • Gallows Thief also refers to one of Waterloo's minor characters, a cavalry lieutenant named Witherspoon, killed in the opening hours of the battle. Witherspoon's cousin, another Witherspoon, appears in Gallows Thief as secretary to Lord Sidmouth, and mentions his cousin's death to Rider Sandman, the protagonist of the novel and another Waterloo veteran.
  • Sharpe and Lucille's son, Henri-Patrick, appears in Cornwell's Starbuck Chronicles, taking place during the American Civil War, as a French cavalry officer posted to America as an observer, where he is known as Patrick Lassan (Lucille's maiden name).
  • In The Bloody Ground, the fourth volume of the Starbuck Chronicles, an officious Confederate Army officer surveying the ground at Sharpsburg, suggests that the Confederate army garrison a farmhouse in the same manner that Wellington garrisoned Hougomont at Waterloo; not expecting his audience to know anything of military history, the officer is nonplussed when one retorts that Wellington also garrisoned La Haye Sainte, which fell during the battle.

Historical Influences and Errors[edit]

In his historical note, Bernard Cornwell cites, as his two primary sources, Jac Weller's Wellington at Waterloo and Lady Elizabeth Longford's Wellington: The Years of the Sword.

In said note, Cornwell further denigrates the Prince of Orange by quoting a letter he wrote to his parents on the night of the battle, claiming that "it was my troops that bore the brunt of the fighting and to whom we owe the victory," an opinion which appears to blithely ignore the Dutch-Belgian troops' refusal to participate in the campaign, at the expense of the British and German troops. The excerpt from the Prince's letter, quoted by Longford in her book, was actually translated, "it was my corps that bore the brunt of the fighting," which is slightly more accurate, since the Prince was the nominal commander of I Corps of the Anglo-Dutch army, composed of British as well as Dutch-Belgian troops.

Television adaptation[edit]

The novel was adapted as the fifth season finale (and last regular episode) of the Sharpe television series, guest starring Paul Bettany as the Prince of Orange, Neil Dickson as Uxbridge, Oliver Tobias as Rebecque and Chloe Newsome as Paulette, with the latter having her nationality changed to English. The adaptation was largely faithful to the novel but several characters were omitted such as D'Alembord, Charlie Weller and Sharpe and Lucille's son Henri (since her pregnancy had been removed from the adaptation of Sharpe's Revenge). Others, such as Dunnett and the Claytons, had been killed in earlier episodes, although Harry Price was retained despite a character of the same name apparently dying in Sharpe's Company. Other small changes included having Sharpe's friends Hagman and Harris killed as a result of one of Orange's orders (in the novel, Hagman dies in the main battle while Harris was created for the series), a cleaner death for Rossendale (who is bayonetted by French soldiers) and Ford being killed by artillery in the closing stages of the battle.

External links[edit]