Sharpe (novel series)

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Richard Sharpe
Sharpe character
Created byBernard Cornwell
In-universe information
NicknameDick, Sharpie
  • Thief
  • Soldier
  • Farmer
  • Antonia (with Teresa Moreno)
  • Patrick-Henri Lassan (with Lucille Castineau)
  • Dominique Lassan (with Lucille Castineau)

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 featuring Sean Bean in the title role.

Cornwell's series is composed of many novels and several short stories, and charts Sharpe's progress in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars, though the novels were published in non-chronological order. He begins in Sharpe's Tiger as a private in the 33rd Regiment of Foot who is continually promoted, finally rising to lieutenant colonel in Sharpe's Waterloo. His military career ends with the final defeat of Napoleon, but he has more adventures as a civilian.

Sharpe is born to a whore in the rookeries of London. Orphaned at an early age, he grows up in poverty. He is eventually taken in by prostitute (and later bar owner) Maggie Joyce and becomes a thief. He has to flee the city after killing a man to protect Maggie.

Enlisting in the army, he is promoted to sergeant as a reward for completing a highly dangerous spying mission in India. He is made an officer, an ensign, when he saves the life of his commanding officer, Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington), during the Battle of Assaye. It is a mixed blessing, as he constantly has to fight class prejudice in an army where an officer's rank is often purchased without regard to qualification. Cornwell sees to it that he is improbably present at many important battles of the British Empire at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, including the Battle of Waterloo.

Sharpe is described as "brilliant but wayward" in Sharpe's Sword, and he is portrayed by the author as a "loose cannon". He becomes a highly skilled and experienced leader of light troops. In contrast to the honourable Horatio Hornblower, the inspiration for the series, Sharpe is a rogue, an unabashed thief and murderer who has no qualms about killing a bitter enemy when the opportunity arises. However, he is protective of women in general and has a number of lovers over the course of his life.

He is six feet tall, with an angular, tanned face, long black hair, and blue eyes. He has a deep scar on his right cheek which pulls at his right eye, giving his face a mocking expression when relaxed; this disappears when he smiles, which is not too frequently. By the end of the series, he has had two wives and three children.


Cornwell enjoyed C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels, which depict a Royal Navy officer's career. When he could not find a similar series for the British Army, he decided to write it himself. Struggling to come up with a name as distinctive as Horatio Hornblower, he used a placeholder based on the rugby union player Richard Sharp; eventually, he kept it, just adding an "e".[1] The author had decided to write 11 novels, the same number as in the Hornblower series, ending with Sharpe's Waterloo, but changed his mind and continued writing.

Sean Bean[edit]

Sean Bean played Sharpe in the British television series Sharpe. Cornwell was so impressed with Bean's portrayal that he expanded Sharpe's backstory to have him growing up in Yorkshire to account for Bean's accent. The author also avoided further mention of Sharpe's black hair (Bean's hair being blond).

Early years[edit]

Richard Sharpe is born in London circa 1777 (he believes that he may be 22 during the early months of 1799) to a prostitute residing in "Cat Lane" and possibly a French smuggler. When Sharpe is three, his mother is killed in the Gordon Riots.

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 soot by hand), Sharpe flees to the Rookery, a slum in St Giles, 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. Maggie is his first lover.

After killing a gang leader during a fight over Maggie, he escapes from London to Yorkshire at the age of fifteen. 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 oatcakes 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.


In 1799, Sergeant Hakeswill goads Sharpe into striking him. Sharpe is sentenced to 2,000 lashes (effectively a death sentence), but is released after only 200 by executive order (Sharpe's Tiger). He is assigned to accompany Lieutenant William Lawford on a secret mission to rescue Lawford's uncle, Colonel Hector McCandless, the head of British East India Company intelligence. They join the Tippoo Sultan's army, posing as British deserters, but are later exposed and imprisoned. Lawford teaches Sharpe to read and write whilst they languish in the Tippoo's dungeon. Sharpe escapes during the Siege of Seringapatam and prematurely detonates a mine meant to devastate the British army. The British enter the city through the breach Sharpe has provided. He then kills the fleeing Tippoo Sultan unobserved during the fighting and loots a fortune in jewels from the corpse. He is promoted to sergeant for his efforts.

Sharpe serves four uneventful years as a sergeant. In 1803, he is the sole survivor of a massacre of the garrison of a small fort carried out by a turncoat Company officer, William Dodd (Sharpe's Triumph). 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.

At Assaye, the greatly outnumbered British force is commanded by Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington). When Wellesley's orderly is killed in the early stages of the battle, by chance Sharpe is the only one available to take his place, and so is at hand when Wellesley is unhorsed alone and among the enemy. Sharpe single-handedly saves the general's life, killing about half a dozen enemy soldiers and holding the rest at bay until help arrives. Wellesley rewards him with a battlefield commission as an ensign for his act of bravery, though Wellesley doubts it will turn out well. Sharpe joins the 74th Regiment.

Both Sharpe and his new colleagues find it difficult to adjust to his 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. Sharpe finds a way into the nearly impregnable fortress, and once inside, he confronts and kills Dodd, at the cost of a scar on his right cheek (Sharpe's Fortress).

Campaigns in Europe[edit]

While sailing 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 the ambitious politician Lord William Hale (Sharpe's Trafalgar). During the sea battle, Lord Hale confronts his wife, having discovered her infidelity. She is forced to kill him in self-defence. Sharpe has the body taken on deck so that it will appear he died in the fighting.

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.

He falls into a deep depression, worsened by his bad relationship with his commanding officer, who relegates him to the role of quartermaster. He is left behind when the regiment is posted to the Baltic in 1807. Sharpe, unable to sell his commission, considers deserting. He returns to Wapping and robs and kills Jem Hocking, the abusive master of the foundling home where Sharpe was raised. Before Sharpe can disappear, 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). Sharpe considers settling down there, having fallen in love with Astrid, the daughter of Ole Skovgaard, the chief British spy in Denmark. However, Skovgaard turns against the British because of their attacks, and Astrid obeys his order to break up with Sharpe.

95th Rifles reenactors.

By early 1809, Sharpe is in Spain with the 95th Rifles, his men serving as the rearguard of the retreat to Corunna. Captain Murray is mortally wounded and leaves his heavy cavalry sword to Sharpe, giving him his signature weapon used in all the subsequent books. 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. He encounters Spanish Major Blas Vivar and his partisans and unwillingly helps them temporarily seize control of the city of Santiago de Compostela so that Vivar can raise a sacred gonfalon to bolster the Spanish people's flagging morale (Sharpe's Rifles). Sharpe's surviving riflemen that begin the retreat to Corunna are:

In the Sharpe television series, the rank of Chosen Man is used to denote a special unit within the company, where all the riflemen are Chosen Men.

After making their way to Portugal, and taking part in the Battle of the Douro, Sharpe and his surviving 30 riflemen are attached to the Light Company of the South Essex Regiment (a fictional regiment) as part of Wellesley's Peninsula Army. Some of the men Sharpe commanded in the South Essex are:

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 the breaches at Badajoz. He also takes an active role in the first siege of Almeida, the battles of Bussaco, 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 and is promoted to the rank of lieutenant 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, the 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).


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.


During the earliest (chronological) books Sharpe is a private and later sergeant, and so his uniform and weapons largely are in line with Army regulations. His first sword and officer's sash are taken from the dead in the wake of the Battle of Assaye, although no specifics are given on the weapon.

By the time of Sharpe's Prey as a junior Rifle officer, although carrying a regulation Pattern 1796 light cavalry sabre, Sharpe has begun carrying a Baker rifle as well, and is noted to prefer a heavier sword like the cutlass used by the Navy, as the point of the curved sabre was never where he expected it to be and also lacked the weight to block attacks from a musket and bayonet in close quarter battles.

In Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe acquires his other signature weapon. Captain Murray, mortally wounded in the Corunna retreat, leaves his 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword to him, a replacement for the sword that broke in the battle. From a French chasseur Harper kills, Sharpe takes his overalls and boots. Sharpe continues to wear his green jacket even whilst serving in a regular infantry battalion out of pride, as do Harper and all of the other elite riflemen. As Sharpe, like the majority of his men, also acquires a French ox-hide pack in place of the inferior British one he is originally issued, more of his equipment is French than British.

Sharpe also possesses a fine telescope made by Matthew Berge, a gift from Wellington for saving his life in the Battle of Assaye. It is inscribed "In Gratitude, AW. September 23rd 1803." It is destroyed by Pierre Ducos in Sharpe's Honour, but he is gifted another that belonged to Joseph Bonaparte, which he carries until Sharpe's Revenge when it is confiscated after Sharpe's arrest. This is in turn replaced by a sea captain's telescope.

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!". Bernard announced on 27 July 18, on his website that Sharpe's father was a French smuggler and that is all he knows.

Sharpe is both a romantic and a womanizer; In Sharpe's Rifles, 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 safekeeping (Sharpe's Triumph, Sharpe's Fortress).

His relationship with Lady Grace Hale in 1805 has a more lasting impact; the death of his first child, who succumbs only a few hours after Grace dies in childbirth, leaves Sharpe deeply distressed. In Copenhagen, Sharpe falls in love with Astrid Skovgaard, the daughter of an important Danish spy for the British. However, after the British naval attack on Copenhagen, her father refuses to let her marry him. After Sharpe leaves, she and her father are murdered by British spymaster Lord Pumphrey (Sharpe's Trafalgar, Sharpe's Prey), as their loyalty has become suspect.

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 Sharpe's longtime enemy, deserter 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 has affairs with an English governess, Sarah Fry (Sharpe's Escape); Caterina Veronica Blazquez, a prostitute who has beguiled Henry Wellesley, Arthur Wellesley's brother (Sharpe's Fury); and the French spy Hélène Leroux (Sharpe's Sword, Sharpe's Honour).

For some years, Sharpe carries a small portrait of Jane Gibbons, taken after murdering her brother (Sharpe's Eagle). In 1813, he returns to England to fetch replacements, and meets, elopes with, and marries Jane (Sharpe's Regiment). Sharpe remains faithful to his second wife, until, 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 and entrusted to her. 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 in Russia (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 states that Lucille has already died.


Date Details Novel
c. 1793 Enlisted as a private
c. 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 by General Wellesley after the Battle of Assaye. Sharpe's Triumph
c. 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
c. 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 colonel of his old regiment during the Battle of Waterloo. At the climax of the battle, he is given official command after Wellington says, "That is your Battalion now! So take it forward!" At the end of the war Wellington confirms his command, allowing Sharpe to retire from the army on a lieutenant-colonel's pension. Sharpe's Waterloo, Sharpe's Assassin

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 (the identity of the soldier who killed the Sultan was never revealed, probably because he did not wish to admit to looting his jewels);
  • Saving Arthur Wellesley's life at the Battle of Assaye (Wellesley was unhorsed and forced to defend himself from Mahratta artillerymen for a few crucial moments; Cornwell notes that if any soldier or officer had saved his life during this fight, he would almost certainly have rewarded him with a promotion);
  • Storming the walls of the inner fortress at Gawilghur and opening the gates to the besieging forces;
  • Finding the boats that allowed Wellesley's forces to ambush Marshal Nicolas Soult's forces at the Second Battle of Porto;
  • Being the first British soldier to capture an Imperial Eagle, at the Battle of Talavera (in reality, the first French Eagle to be captured by the British was 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 (usually attributed to accident, combined with careless British handling of their munitions store);
  • Carrying the news of Napoleon's invasion of Belgium to Wellington at the Duchess of Richmond's ball, during the Waterloo Campaign (historically the bearer of the message was one of the Prince of Orange's ADCs: Lieutenant Henry Webster, 9th Light Dragoons);
  • Firing the shot that wounded the Prince of Orange during the Battle of Waterloo, forcing him to retire from the field (in reality, this shot was most likely fired by a French skirmisher);
  • Taking command of a regiment driving off the advance of the French Imperial Guard at the Battle of Waterloo.

Novels, short stories, and non-fiction[edit]

The first book was written in 1981, with Richard Sharpe in Spain at the Talavera Campaign in 1809. The next seven books were written in order up to Sharpe's Siege in 1814. The novel Sharpe's Rifles was written next, set earlier in 1809 at the time of the retreat from Corunna, Spain. 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 in British India with Sharpe's Tiger set in 1799, beginning a series of three books, closing 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).

Cornwell published the non-fiction book Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles in September 2014, timely for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.[2]

Series No. Title Sub-title First 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 Assassin Richard Sharpe and the Occupation of Paris, 1815 2021
24 Sharpe's Ransom December 1816, Normandy (short story) 1994 revised edition published 2003
25 Sharpe's Devil Richard Sharpe, Thomas Cochrane and the Emperor, 1820–21 1992

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A word from Bernard Cornwell". 29 September 2002. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012.
  2. ^ Bernard Cornwell. "Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles". Fantastic Fiction. Archived from the original on 9 July 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014.

External links[edit]