Sunday, 21 June 2009

Richard Sharpe: Fictional Character in the Sharpe Series by Bernard Cornwell

Richard Sharpe is the central character in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series of historical fiction stories. These 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 as a Private in Sharpe's Tiger gradually promoted to a field commission of Lieutenant Colonel in Sharpe's Waterloo. They dramatise his 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. Promoted on the battlefield he leaves his own class behind to take a commission in an army where rank is usually bought. Unlike many of the officers he serves with, Sharpe knows how to fight.
Sharpe is described as "brilliant but wayward" in Sharpe's Sword, and is acknowledged by the author to be a loose cannon. A highly skilled leader of light troops, he takes part in a wide array 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 spent in the ranks and as an ensign. He is known for being a dangerous man to have as an enemy; he is a skilled marksman and grows to be a good swordsman.
His frequent appearance is that of a Rifle Officer, armed with a 1796 pattern heavy cavalry sword and Baker rifle, although by Sharpe's Waterloo he has acquired a pistol. He is described as being six feet tall, having long black hair and being blue eyed, with an angular, tanned face. The defining characteristic is a deep scar on his left cheek, which pulls his left eye in such a way as to give his face a mocking expression when relaxed.

Early years
Richard Sharpe was born in London in circa June 26, 1777 (he believed that he may have been 32 during the early months of 1809) to a Cat Lane prostitute mother and an unknown father. When Sharpe was three, his mother was killed in the Gordon Riots, leaving him an orphan.
With no other known relatives to claim him, Sharpe was deposited in Jem Hocking's foundling home at Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, where he spent his days picking his assigned quota of oakum. He was regularly beaten and malnourished, resulting in his being undersized for his age. Because of this, he was 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 were forced to climb up chimneys and remove the soot by hand), Sharpe fled for St. Giles' Rookery, and was taken in by bar-owner and prostitute Maggie Joyce. He stayed under Maggie's protection for three years, learning various forms of thieving.
After killing a gang leader during a fight over Maggie, he escaped from London to Yorkshire at the age of fifteen (by creating this back story Bernard Cornwell was making the actor Sean Bean's Yorkshire accent become part of the canon of the series.). Within six months, Sharpe had killed a second man, the landlord of the tavern where he was working, in a fight over a local girl whom they had both fallen for.
Partly as a result of the enticements of recruiting officer Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill, he joined the British Army to avoid the law. His regiment, the 33rd Foot, sometimes known as "The Havercakes" due to a havercake being engraved on the officers' swords (or from the habit of their recruiting sergeants of putting a cake on the end of their swords to attract starving would-be recruits) was first sent to Holland (Flanders) in 1794, where Sharpe fought in his first battle at Boxtel. The next year, he and his regiment were posted to India under the command of the British East India Company.

In 1799, Sharpe was sentenced to 2,000 lashes (a death sentence) for striking a Sergeant, with the connivance of his company commander Captain William Morris, but was released after only 200 by executive order. He was assigned to accompany Lieutenant William Lawford on a secret mission to rescue Lawford's uncle, intelligence agent Colonel Hector McCandless from Seringapatam. They joined the Tippoo Sultan's army posing as British deserters, but were later exposed and imprisoned. Lawford taught Sharpe to read while imprisoned in the Tippoo's dungeon. Sharpe escaped during the Siege of Seringapatam, killing the Tippoo Sultan after destroying a mine meant to devastate the British army. Sharpe was promoted to Sergeant, as promised, for his successful efforts.
Sharpe served four years as Armoury Sergeant in Seringapatam. In 1803, while on official business in Chasalgoan he suffered a head wound during a massacre ordered by Lieutenant William Dodd. Shortly afterwards, he was attached to Colonel McCandless on a mission to find and capture Dodd. The mission took him to both Ahmednuggur and the Battle of Assaye, even though the 33rd Foot were not present at either battle. His attachment to McCandless led to his being posted with the top tier of officers during Assaye, and being assigned as temporary aide to Arthur Wellesley (1st Duke of Wellington) after the original staff aide was killed. In the middle of the battle, Wellesley fell from his horse and was set upon by enemy soldiers (a historical event which was never fully documented). Sharpe pushed Wellesley under a nearby cannon and fought off the attackers until safe. For his bravery, Sharpe was given a commission and joined the 74th Regiment as an Ensign. According to the Sharpe novels, about 5% of British army officers were promoted from the ranks, though they rarely progressed far past a lieutenancy, since they could not afford to purchase higher ranks. Even Wellesley himself did not grant Sharpe any special honours or unearned promotions after this point. Difficult though his position was - he was neither one of the men nor a 'true officer' - he soldiered on, but he still could not gain acceptance in his new regiment. Eventually his superiors arrange for him to be transferred to the newly formed 95th Rifles Regiment. Before leaving India, he also took part in the assault on Gawilghur. Inside the fortress, Sharpe finally found and confronted Dodd, receiving a scar on his left cheek that would define his appearance in the future.

Campaigns in Portugal, Spain and France
Returning from India in 1805, Sharpe was caught up in the Battle of Trafalgar. This was his first encounter with France and its allies. This episode also introduced him to Lady Grace Hale, with whom he fell in love. After her husband's death (Lady Grace killed him towards the end of the battle, making it look a hero's death), Grace and Sharpe set up house and lived an upper class life together with the loot he had taken from the Tippoo Sultan, since her own wealth was encumbered in her husband's estate. When Grace died giving birth to Sharpe's son, who died almost immediately afterwards, the son was assumed by her brother's lawyers to belong to Grace's late husband. As such, the lawyers for the late Lord Hale's estate was able to confiscate all Sharpe's wealth - including the house he had bought with the pile of jewels he took from the Tippoo Sultan and placed in Grace's name, arguing that it had been bought with Grace's money and that her son had succeeded her as heir. On Grace's death, Sharpe fell into a deep depression and melancholia that led to his being relegated from Number 3 Company to Quartermaster of the Rifles. In 1807, Sharpe attempted to sell his commission but found that this was not allowed (since he hadn't purchased it in the first place). He subsequently found himself back in London. While there, he sought out and killed Jem Hocking, the master of his old foundling home.
In London, he encountered General Baird,an old friend from India, and was sent on a special mission to protect an agent of the Foreign Office sent to treat with the Danish Crown Prince. During this mission, he was present for the Battle of Copenhagen and the British capture of the Danish fleet (to prevent Napoleon Bonaparte from taking it). Even though the 95th Rifles fought in the battle, Sharpe failed to rejoin the regiment, and carried on with his secret duties. After this, Sharpe headed for Portugal and the Peninsular War, finally showing his leadership abilities after all the more senior officers of his company were killed in an ambush during the retreat to Portugal in 1809.
Upon returning to Portugal (where he first met Captain Michael Hogan, an engineering officer who became head of intelligence for Wellesley), the surviving riflemen became the core of the Light Company of the South Essex (a fictional regiment). While assigned to the South Essex, Sharpe performed a number of heroic feats either in the service of Hogan, or in order to gain promotion through the officer ranks. In order to keep command of the Light Company (and to restore the battalion's honor after its standard had been captured by the French), Sharpe and his seargant and friend Patrick Harper undertook the capture of a French Imperial Eagle at the Battle of Talavera in 1809. In order to secure further promotion, and to correct a bureaucrat-induced demotion to Lieutenant, he was the first over the breach at Badajoz. Over time, he gradually took unofficial command of the entire regiment. During this period he first encountered one of his worst enemies, French spymaster Pierre Ducos.
Before the Battle of Toulouse, Sharpe was sent to capture a fort in the "Bassin D'Arcachon," the Teste de Buch just below Bordeaux. During this time Sharpe faced one of his most dangerous situations yet: he found himself trapped in the fort due to Pierre Ducos' planning after capturing it, and was faced with numerous heavy attacks on the fort by General Calvet. He eventually escaped with the aid of an American privateer, Cornelius Killick. He acted as Brigade Major at the Battle of Toulouse.
The chronologically antepenultimate story recounts Sharpe's involvement in the Battle of Waterloo. Prior to the battle Sharpe had been appointed an aide to the Prince of Orange, in order for the widely scorned "Young Frog" ("Silly Billy" in the film) to look better by having such a noted soldier by his side. To give him sufficient status, Sharpe was made Lt. Colonel of the 5th Belgian Light Dragoons, a regiment he had neither met nor been inclined to meet. The Prince soon emerged as totally incompetent whom Sharpe felt obliged to desert (and later attempt to murder) during the battle, his professional (and correct) advice being frequently ignored which resulted in large (and needless) casualties later in the battle. When its commander broke down under fire and Sharpe stepped in, issuing orders that helped prevent a French breakthrough, Wellesley rewarded Sharpe by finally giving him command of the Prince of Wales Own Volunteers (formerly the South Essex Regiment) for the remainder of the battle.

Final book
In the final book, Sharpe's Devil, Sharpe was commissioned by the Countess of Mouromorto to travel to South America to find out what had happened to her husband, Don Blas Vivar, who had disappeared while acting as Spanish Captain General in Chile; the couple had been principal characters in the events of Sharpe's Rifles. As usual, he was accompanied by his Sergeant (and friend), Patrick Harper. (Harper had become Regimental Sergeant Major in Sharpe's Regiment.) En route they stopped to visit the imprisoned Emperor Napoleon on Saint Helena. In Chile, Sharpe teamed up with Lord Cochrane, a real historical figure.

Relationships and family
Sharpe, being the son of a prostitute, has no knowledge of his father's identity. Bernard Cornwell, in answer to a query about the possible identity of Sharpe's father on his website, stated that he knew who the father was and gave a riddle as to his identity:
"Take you out, put me in and a horse appears in this happy person!"
As yet, there appears to be no solution to the riddle widely available.
In his numerous affairs, Sharpe fathers several children. He is an inveterate womaniser; Hogan states in Sharpe's Havoc: "I've noticed you possess a lamentable tendency to put on shining armour and look for ladies to rescue. King Arthur, God rest his soul, would have loved you." and Harper, in Sharpe's Rifles, says it rather more scornfully: "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."
While in India, Sharpe sleeps with several prostitutes and it is unknown if they had children. He also tries to propose to several women, including Simone Joubert and Mary Bickerstaff, but is rejected.
His first child is conceived aboard the HMS Pucelle, in Sharpe's Trafalgar, with Lady Grace Hale, who dies during childbirth.
He then goes to Copenhagen and meets Astrid Skovgaard, whom he sleeps with and she is pregnant by him when Lord Pumphrey's cronies slit her throat.
He also sleeps with the most expensive prostitute in Spain and Portugal, named Josefina Lacosta (Sharpe's Eagle). After he meets his future wife Teresa Moreno (Sharpe's Gold) and sleeps with her, he meets up with Josefina again and does the same.
When Sharpe is in Portugal (Sharpe's Escape) he finds a teacher named Sarah Fry and he sleeps with her.
In Sharpe's Fury, Sharpe sleeps with Caterina Veronica Blazquez, who later marries Brigadier General Sir Barnaby Moon.
With Teresa, Sharpe fathers a daughter named Antonia who is born in 1811. Having married Teresa in Sharpe's Company, Sharpe has an affair in Sharpe's Sword with Hélène Leroux, La Marquesa de Casares el Grande y Melida Sadaba and sister to Colonel Philippe Leroux.
In Sharpe's Enemy he meets up again with Josefina who has assumed the name Lady Farthingdale whilst pretending at Colonel Sir Augustus Farthingdale's behest to have married him).
Later in Sharpe's Honour he once again sleeps with Hélène, who offers to marry him if he gives his parole then breaks it and runs. He does not.
After Teresa's death on 27 December 1812 at the hands of Sharpe's nemesis, Sergeant Hakeswill, Antonia is brought up by her great-uncle Ramon and her future remains unknown.
Before Sharpe marries Jane Gibbons, he has an encounter with Lady Anne Camoynes.
Shortly after their marriage, Jane ends up leaving Sharpe after a prolonged argument about his possible retirement from the army, and their future place of residence. She uses her authority as his wife to steal the fortune he gained at the Battle of Vitoria from the London bank where it was deposited. Jane begins an adulterous affair with Lord John Rossendale after the latter is sent by Sharpe's friends to look after her (Rossendale having befriended Sharpe during Sharpe's Regiment). Most of the fortune is spent on the new couple's lavish lifestyle. This is an ironic twist, because Sharpe had been in love with the upper class Jane for years (since obtaining a locket bearing her picture after watching her brother being killed by Harper in Sharpe's Eagle and meeting her on a recruiting mission), but could not have hoped to marry her until he gained the money that was stolen.
While searching for Ducos during the peace following Napoleon's abdication, Sharpe meets the widow Lucille Castineau (nee Lassan), the sister of a French Captain who was killed in a northern French campaign. The couple settle on her family estate and have two children, Patrick-Henri in 1815 and Dominique in 1816. However, both children carried their mother's maiden name as Sharpe was not free to marry while Jane lived and divorces were not easy to come by (requiring an act of Parliament no less, plus bribery that the Pope would balk at).
Presumably, Jane Sharpe spends the rest of her life in London living off the remains of Sharpe's fortune (of which 5,000 pounds remained after Rossendale's death at the battle of Waterloo).
In 1861, when Patrick is a colonel in the Imperial Guard Cavalry observing the Union and Confederate Armies during the American Civil War, he relates to Nathaniel Starbuck how his father wanted him to join the Rifle Brigade and his mother the French cavalry. In Copperhead (The Starbuck Chronicles, Book II) Patrick mentions his mother is 'very lonely' so it can be assumed that Richard has died by this time. Dominique has married an aristocrat and has had children. The Sharpe Companion gives Sharpe's year of death as 1860, though this is never stated in any of the books.
The TV episode Sharpe's Challenge, meanwhile, is set in 1817 and sees Sharpe admit that Lucille is already dead, contradicting the books.

Circa 1793. Enlisted as a Private.
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 timeframe 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
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;
Killing the Tippoo Sultan and looting his corpse;
Saving Arthur Wellesley's life at the Battle of Assaye;
Opening the gates at Gawilghur to let in the besiegers;
Sighting the boats which 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;
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.

The Sharpe novels and short stories
Title Fictional and Historical Subject Series Num.
1st Pub Date Revision Date
• Sharpe's Tiger Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799 01 (1997)
• Sharpe's Triumph Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803 02 (1998)
• Sharpe's Fortress Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803 03 (1999)
• Sharpe's Trafalgar Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Trafalgar, October 1805 04 (2000)
• Sharpe's Prey Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Copenhagen, 1807 05 (2001)
• Sharpe's Rifles Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galicia, January 1809 06 (1988)
• Sharpe's Havoc Richard Sharpe and the Campaign in Northern Portugal, Spring 1809 07 (2003)
• Sharpe's Eagle Richard Sharpe and the Talavera Campaign, July 1809 08 (1981)
• Sharpe's Gold Richard Sharpe and the Destruction of Almeida, August 1810 09 (1981)
• Sharpe's Escape Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Busaco, September 1810 10 (2004)
• Sharpe's Fury Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Barrosa (March 1811), Winter 1811 11 (2006)
• Sharpe's Battle Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, May 1811 12 (1995)
• Sharpe's Company Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Badajoz, January to April 1812 13 (1982)
• Sharpe's Sword Richard Sharpe and the Salamanca Campaign, June and July 1812 14 (1983)
• Sharpe's Skirmish Richard Sharpe and the Defence of the Tormes, August 1812 (short story) 15 (1999) (revised extended edition published 2002)
• Sharpe's Enemy Richard Sharpe and the Defence of Portugal, Christmas 1812 16 (1984)
• Sharpe's Honour Richard Sharpe and the Vitoria Campaign, February to June 1813 17 (1985)
• Sharpe's Regiment Richard Sharpe and the Invasion of France, June to November, 1813 18 (1986)
• Sharpe's Christmas December 1813, Franco-Spanish border (short story) 19 (1994) (revised edition published 2003)
• Sharpe's Siege Richard Sharpe and the Winter Campaign, 1814 20 (1987)
• Sharpe's Revenge Richard Sharpe and the Peace of 1814 21 (1989)
• Sharpe's Waterloo Richard Sharpe and the Waterloo Campaign, 15 June to 18 June 1815 22 (1990)
• Sharpe's Ransom December 1815, Normandy (short story) 23 (1994) (revised edition published 2003)
• Sharpe's Devil Richard Sharpe and the Emperor, 1820–21 24 (1992)

Further reading
Adkin, Mark. The Sharpe Companion: A Detailed Historical and Military Guide to Bernard Cornwell’s Bestselling Series of Sharpe Novels. London; New York: Harper Collins, 1998. ISBN 0002558173, ISBN 0002571587, ISBN 0060738146.

Adkin, Mark. The Sharpe Companion: Early Years. London; New York: Harper Collins, 2003. ISBN 0007144822, ISBN 0060738146.

Bluth, B. J. Marching With Sharpe. London; New York: Harper Collins, 2001. ISBN 0004145364, ISBN 0004145372.

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