Literature: Sharpe

"Of course I am a thug. You are a thug. What is the Emperor, if not another thug? Thugs win, Richard."
John Lavisser

Sharpe is a series of historical fiction stories by Bernard Cornwell centred on the character of Richard Sharpe.

Sergeant Richard Sharpe saves the life of Sir Arthur Wellesley (from three Frenchmen on TV; from at least half-a-dozen Maratha warriors in the novels) and is rewarded with a Field Promotion, making him an officer in the British Army. As a gutter-born bastard, Sharpe doesn't play well with regular officers, the rich gentlemen who bought their commissions and resent an upstart from "the ranks" being among their number. But Sharpe's field experience, rough nature and damn good fighting skills give him an advantage when it comes to commanding soldiers. He leads from the front with a Baker rifle and massive Heavy Cavalry sword, and never far from his side is longtime friend Sgt. Patrick Harper and the "Chosen Men", a unit of elite riflemen. When not fighting some great bloody battle, Sharpe and his companions are often sent on missions vital to the war effort by Wellington himself or his intelligence officers. Despite being poor and lacking "gentlemanly conduct", Sharpe achieves further promotions on his merit alone, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the Battle of Waterloo.

In publication since 1981, the series of novels chronicle Sharpe's adventures in India, Portugal, Spain and beyond, from the beginning of his career to the very end. Though a fictional character, he's portrayed as being in the thick of real battles that occurred during the Napoleonic Wars, from the Siege of Seringapatam to the Battle of Waterloo; the novels are as much about the Duke of Wellington's campaigns shown from a new perspective as he fights the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. Cornwell has been writing and publishing the novels out of chronological order: Sharpe's Eagle, published in 1981, is 8th in the series; Sharpe's Devil, chronologically the last in the series, was published in 1992, and Sharpe's Fury, the most recent novel published, is 11th in the series.

The novels have been adapted into a series of television movies starring Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, alongside Daragh O'Malley as Patrick Harper and a slew of British talent in supporting roles (see Trivia), running regularly between 1993 and 1997, and with two additional miniseries in 2006 and 2008. The series was well-received and proved a breakout role for Bean, who went on to star in GoldenEye, The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Much of the plot and backstory from the novels was compressed, modified or jettisoned, and several new stories were invented for the screen.

How badass is Sharpe? Well, put it this way: he survived being played by Sean Bean!

    Sharpe novels 
  • Sharpe's Tiger note  (published 1997)
  • Sharpe's Triumph note  (1998)
  • Sharpe's Fortress note  (1999)
  • Sharpe's Trafalgar note  (2000)
  • Sharpe's Prey note  (2001)
  • Sharpe's Rifles note  (1988)
  • Sharpe's Havoc note  (2003)
  • Sharpe's Eagle note  (1981)
  • Sharpe's Gold note  (1981)
  • Sharpe's Escape note  (2004)
  • Sharpe's Fury note  (2007)
  • Sharpe's Battle note  (1995)
  • Sharpe's Company note  (1982)
  • Sharpe's Sword note  (1983)
  • Sharpe's Skirmish note  (short story) (1999)
  • Sharpe's Enemy note  (1984)
  • Sharpe's Honour note  (1985)
  • Sharpe's Regiment note  (1986)
  • Sharpe's Christmas note  (short story) (1994)
  • Sharpe's Siege note  (1987)
  • Sharpe's Revenge note  (1989)
  • Sharpe's Waterloo note  (1990)
  • Sharpe's Ransom note  (short story) (1994)
  • Sharpe's Devil note  (1992)


Tropes found in the Sharpe Series:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Mary in Tiger, and Simone in Fortress.
  • Action Girl: Teresa is a famous partisan leader called La Aguja - The Needle. She unwinds by killing Frenchmen.
  • America Saves the Day: In the novel Sharpe's Siege, Sharpe and the Chosen Men engineer their way out of a fort surrounded by the French by surrendering it to an American privateer who was fighting the War of 1812 - and trapped in the fort with them. This plot was discarded in the television episode in favor of Sharpe having to fight his way out. Again due to budgetary constraints.
  • Anti-Hero: A variety of characters qualify as Anti-heroes.
    • Sharpe comes in as a Type IV
    • Harper and most of the chosen men are Type III-V.
    • Wellington is a Type II, as is Lord Nelson.
    • Calvet is a Type IV.
    • Cochrane is a Type V, as is Lord Pumphrey.
    • Theresa Moreno is a Type IV, whilst La Marquesa is a Type V.
  • Anti-Villain: Anthony Pohlmann, the German leader of Scindia's army, generally comes off as a reasonable and affable individual. He criticizes some of the more severe practices of the British Army, and many of his European and Indian officers are happy under his command. After meeting him in person, Sharpe is briefly tempted to join up with him.
  • Affably Evil: Lord Pumphrey is charming, witty, erudite, possibly in love with Sharpe and has no morals except government interests. His personality is so infectious that Sharpe, even after everything Pumps has done, can't bear to kill him (though Pumphrey was armed and too influential to just kill.)
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill, the insane misanthrope and Manipulative Bastard who had Sharpe flogged while he was a private in India. He eventually kills Sharpe's wife in Sharpe's Enemy before being executed himself. Cornwell admitted that after Hakeswill's death he found it hard to supply Sharpe with an equally malevolent adversary. This is particularly glaring in Sharpe's Challenge, which is actually an adaptation of prequel books in which Hakeswill is the main villain, but was re-set after the Peninsular War for the TV series, so Sharpe is given a Hakeswill expy villain who isn't particularly convincing.
    • Major Pierre Ducos does a decent job of picking up the baton, repeatedly attempting to not only have Sharpe killed but have him die a dishonourable death in revenge for a relatively minor insult. In the books, he shares Hakeswill's fate of being executed by his own side, although it's disappointingly glossed over as an Off-Page Moment of Awesome. Cornwell seems fond enough of the character to make him The Man Behind the Man in stories written after but set before his and Sharpe's first meeting.
    • Another major villain in the India prequels was Major William Dodd, a British deserter in service of the Indian princes. Sharpe bears a great deal of personal hostility toward him for massacring a garrison of British troops, and later because he believes that Dodd was the one who murdered McCandless. While he wasn't quite as personal of an enemy for Sharpe as Hakeswill, he came pretty close.
    • The Duke of Wellington and his historic Arch-Enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil:
    • With a few exceptions, most aristocrats encountered in the novels and TV series - whether British or otherwise - are vile types, enemies of Sharpe, and often also Upper Class Twits. A good example is the villain in Sharpe's Eagle, Henry Simmerson.
    • One particularly crowning subversion is Sharpe's Odd Friendship with the aristocratic William Lawford, which he explains to Leroy in Sharpe's Eagle:
      Sharpe: We spent three months chained in a cell in India. He had a page of the Bible. In three months he taught me how to read and write. How can you pay back a man who teaches you how to write your own name, Captain?
    • Double-subverted in Sharpe's Regiment when Sharpe goes to Lawford for help after corruption within the army affects their old Regiment, and Lawford tries to cover the scandal up because "gentlemen look out for themselves" - however, he tries to look after Sharpe as well in the course of covering it up, as he tries to get Sharpe a colonelcy with the Royal American Rifles (which is portrayed as quite a promotion.) A standard Sharpe aristocrat would have tried to have him killed etc.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The Duke of Wellington famously considered his forces this in real life and so he does in the Sharpe novels. This attitude is also held by the officer class in general and to varying degrees by the public back in England as well.
  • Artistic License – History: Through out the novels Cornwell adjusts the actual events to fit his stories putting whatever units and/or Sharpe himself at key points of historical battles. He typically explains in the afterword the extent and nature of his artistic license in regard to the historical events.
  • Artistic License – Religion: In universe, this is Hakeswill's specialty. He uses the phrase "says so in the scriptures" as a sort of go-to argument to justify whatever he has to say or wants to do. Gloriously, Colonel McCandless calls him out on this in Sharpe's Triumph:
    Hakeswill:...says so in the scriptures.
    McCandless: [shouting for the only time in the series] It says nothing of the sort, Sergeant! I've had occasion to speak to you before about the scriptures, and if I hear you cite their authority one more time I shall break you, Sergeant Hakeswill, I shall break you!
  • Awesome McCoolname: In "Sharpe's Devil", Lord Cochrane complains that the Spanish don't know how to name their warships. "Warships ought to have names like Victory, Arse-kicker, or Revenge.
  • Bad Ass:
    • Richard Sharpe himself. Sharpe defeats or outwits opponents known for their cunning and skill any number of times in the stories. He also survives some of the bloodiest battles and sieges of the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe is not the only Badass in the world though:
    • Patrick Harper is Sharpe's lancer and as bad a badass as ever stalked Spain. He often accompanies Sharpe into some of his deadliest conflicts save for a few.
    • Teresa Moreno is not to be messed with. Hakeswill finds this out the hard way in Sharpe's Company. She gains an infamous reputation among French who nick name her "La Aguja", which means the needle. For her penchant of dispatching the French with her dagger.
    • General Jean-Baptiste Calvet is a Four-Star Badass, whose various exploits include ripping his way out of Russia, serving as a kind of friendly enemy to Sharpe, eating his own corporal (they were running out of food) and impaling two Cossacks on his sword at the same time.
    • Chef de Bataillon Alexandre Dubreton has two Légions d'Honneur. He also proves his badassery when he actually manages to hold off Sharpe in a swordfight.
    • Major Blas Vivar is definitely Spain's answer to the Badasses that fill the British and French armies.
    • Major General David Baird, a Real Life character who was also a Badass, but especially in Sharpe's Tiger, when he hacks through everyone in Seringapatam (again, he did this in real life).
    • Wellington is another Real Life example: There's a reason he never lost a battle.
    • Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, another Real Life example. His plot to capture Valdivia in Sharpe's Devil has to be seen to be believed. It happened in real life too.
    • William Fredrickson. Took a cannonball in the face, and kept going. Stacks pretty well against Sharpe in the badassery league.
    • Colonel Leroux in Sharpe's Sword. His supremely-designed Kligenthal sword actually shatters Sharpe's original Heavy Cavalry blade, he knocks Harper down a flight of stairs and shoots Sharpe in the gut, bringing him closer to death than almost any other enemy.
  • Badass Boast: General Calvet delivers one to Sharpe:
    "I should have killed you at Toulouse," Sharpe said.
    "So that was you?" Calvet laughed. "The Englishman who can kill me has not been born, Major, but I will shoot you down like a rabid dog if you don’t tell me where Pierre Ducos is hiding."
  • Badass Crew: The Chosen Men who follow Sharpe. They frequently outfight superior enemy numbers or prove pivotal in a variety of battles.
  • Bald of Evil: Obadiah Hakeswill who is described as having little or no hair on top of his head which only adds to his sinister appearance. He is described as ugly and vile in appearance part of which his baldness plays a part.
  • Battle Couple: Sharpe and Teresa. Not only do they meet and initially fall for each other on a battle field hiding from Lancers fighting for the French, they work together on a few occasions to thwart the French's plans in Spain.
  • Beast and Beauty: Invoked by one snobby officer about Sharpe and Jane Gibbons, leading to a duel.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Sharpe was involved in crucial moments in so many key historical events that - within his own fictional setting - if he'd never existed Britain would have probably lost the Napoleonic Wars.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Sharpe's mother was a prostitute, which makes her son less than fond of pimps. Sharpe calling someone a pimp is not only an insult, its the worst insult he can think of.
    • Likewise, Obadiah Hakeswill goes crazy when you insult his mother or like Sharpe thwart his schemes.
  • BFG: Harper carries a Nock volley gun, a weapon that fires seven pistol bullets at once and was discontinued because the recoil had the tendency to smash the shoulders of anyone who tried to fire it. Harper is supposedly one of the few men who are big and powerful enough to use it, although Sharpe also uses one in a few of the prequel books because he's just that hard.
  • BFS: Sharpe's 1796 pattern heavy cavalry sword. Not big by anime standards, but definitely heavier than almost anything anyone would try to fence with. Sharpe prefers the heft of the larger cavalry swords for their ability to power through enemy officers blocks and inflict tremendous wounds on his foes. (Cornwell owns one himself.)
  • The Big Guy: Harper. Though Sharpe himself is big enough to intimidate most people.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Molly Spindacre from Sharpe's Revenge and also Jane Gibbons herself once she realizes Sharpe isn't going to let her go on her way with all his money.
  • Blood Knight: Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane wants to free Napoleon from Elba and create a "United States of South America" from Spanish and Portugese colonies. Why? He just really loves killing people. This is Truth in Television. The Siege of Sebastopol would have been much shorter had he been in charge. Why? His plan involved saturation bombardment and poison gas.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Displayed both by Sharpe and his enemies. Pierre Ducos in particular just has to humiliate and utterly destroy Sharpe in all of his schemes, which hamstrings them because Sharpe always gets past them. Sharpe in India keeps trying to kill Hakeswill in elaborate ways involving animals, which never work, and he never sticks around to see the outcome: The Tipoo Sultan's tigers don't eat Hakeswill because they've been fed. Hakeswill escapes being crushed by Dowlat Rao Scindia's elephant by jabbing it with a knife. It isn't explained how he escapes being killed by Manu Bapoo's snakes, but Sharpe should really have known by then.
  • Brave Scot: Quite a few of these throughout the series, especially in the India campaign. Special mention goes to Baird and Campbell, both of whom go on a claymore rampage while assaulting enemy walls.
  • Call to Agriculture: Sharpe often talks about becoming a farmer after he is done with war and he ends up as an apple farmer in France at the end.
  • Camp Gay: Lord Pumphrey, to what by the standards of the time is an outrageous degree. Still, he's (often) on Sharpe's side. To be more accurate, he is on the side of His Majesty's Government. As long as Sharpe is too, then Sharpe is safe.
  • Canon Immigrant: The characters of Harris and Perkins were created for the film series, but proved popular enough to find their way into many of the later books.
  • The Captain: Many, as well as another rank Sharpe holds as he climbs the ranks.
  • Cartwright Curse: Sharpe gets a new girlfriend frequently. They always leave, either by running away with his money, dying, or otherwise being written out.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • Sharpe keeps drilling into his soldiers, almost to the point of being a Badass Creed, that the key to soldiering is being able to "fire three rounds a minute and "stand".
    • Sharpe considers every "Proper Officer" a "Bastard!"
    • Harper's favourite exclamation: "God save Ireland!"
    • Hakeswill's "It says so in the scriptures", his justification for anything.
    • Expert marksman Daniel Hagman shouts "Got 'im!" when he hits his target, and recommends "brown paper and paraffin oil" for any injury.
  • Cavalry Officer: Several characters in the books are noted as leading cavalry unit in both friend and foe alike.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: William Dodd starts out as a deserter from the East India Company army, massacring British troops and joining up with Scindia. When it becomes clear that the Battle of Assaye cannot be won, he absconds with his boss' gold. He then joins up with the Rajah of Berar's army, only later to murder the Rajah's brother in hopes of taking sole command of the mighty fortress of Gawilghur, and from there carve out his own empire.
  • Cigar Fuse Lighting: Richard Sharpe borrows a cigar from another officer when he has no slow-match to light fuses with.
  • Clear My Name: The novels (and TV adaptations) Sharpe's Honour and Sharpe's Revenge. In both cases, Sharpe is framed by Major Ducos as part of a plan to derail Wellington's campaigns.
  • Cloak & Dagger:
    • Major Duco is responsible for French intelligence and a notable opponent of Sharpe.
    • The "El Mirador" network of spies.
  • Clothes Make the Legend:
    • Sharpe's green Rifleman jacket. All of Sharpe's friends know that if he dies, he's to be buried in it.
    • In various novels the green rifle jacket marks one as a rifleman separate from the common infantry of the British Army. The French even give them a nickname partly because of the jackets.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Sharpe doesn't believe in fighting fair, so expect to see him use every dirty trick in the book in order to win. These include switching uniforms, ambushing enemy troops, frequent use of Groin Attacks, luring enemies into positions where they can be shot by the French. One specific example: While fighting a superior swordsman with a rapier, he allows his opponent to stab him in the thigh, lodging the rapier in place due to the wound's suction. His opponent is thus (in an extremely unorthodox fashion) disarmed.
  • Corrupt Church: If the Catholic Church shows up, it will either be in the form of a high-ranking prelate, who will be a scumbag, or an honest village priest, who will be a lovely person. Notably, the Inquisitor, Father Hacha, is a foul individual, as is the Cardinal of Naples, who seems to have read about Rodrigo Borgia and tried to imitate him as far as possible, only with more child abuse.
  • Cool Sword: Sharpe's 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword. It's a real weapon, but so massive that they're only used by men on horseback. Only those as big and strong as Sharpe are capable of wielding it like an infantry sword.
  • Corporal Punishment: Flogging was common, Sharpe was on the receiving end of a particularly brutal one. In Sharpe's opinion, flogging only teaches a soldier one thing, "how to turn his back."
  • Corrupt Quartermaster: In Sharpe's Fortress, Sharpe's nemesis Sergeant Hakeswill wangles a supply sergeant's slot, and colludes with his captain to sell off prodigious amounts of goods. Sharpe himself averts this trope, remaining honest during his own stints as a quartermaster.
  • Court-Martialed:
    • In Sharpe's Tiger, Richard Sharpe is court-martialed after being goaded into striking the malevolent Sergeant Hakeswill. He's sentenced to two thousand lashes, effectively a painful death sentence, but the flogging is interrupted after 200.
    • Sharpe faces another court-martial in Sharpe's Honour, when he's falsely accused of murdering a Spanish aristocrat. He's convicted and sentenced to hang for political reasons, but another convict is hanged in his place, leaving him free to clear his name.
  • Cultured Badass:
    • Arguably, Sharpe himself. He goes from lowly rifleman to great war hero and ends up able to quote Voltaire to boot. Of course, it helps to have a girlfriend who can speak French.
    • There is also Rifleman Harris, the only one crazy enough to lug around a small library in addition to his already sizeable kit, and reads Voltaire, William Wordsworth and dirty books by the Marquis de Sade.
  • Cultured Warrior:
    • Captain, later Major, Peter D'Alembord. He is an elegant and erudite, with exquisitely tailored uniforms and perfect, languid, manners. Also a first-class swordsman and excellent commander of light troops.
    • Lord Pumphrey. He is described as being a very cultured man.
  • Cunning Linguist: Isaiah Tongue, one of Sharpe's Riflemen, was a former teacher and often served as a translator. Later Sharpe himself becomes fluent in Spanish and French, mostly by falling in love with women of the appropriate nationalities.
  • Dangerous Deserter: A few, notably Obidiah Hakeswill, not that he was exactly a bundle of laughs before he deserted.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wellington's spymasters have a tendency to be this.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Subverted for Perkins in that he was created for the show and introduced into the novels later, and he survives the book version of the episode where he dies.
    • Played straight with Harry Price. Maybe. He's apparently killed in the adaptation of Sharpe's Company, but three years later a different actor plays "Harry Price" in the adaptation of Sharpe's Waterloo. It's unclear whether he's meant to be The Other Darrin or a violation of the One Steve Limit. In the books, they're the same character and he also appears in most of the intervening novels.
    • Also played straight with Major Dunnet