In 1981. Bernard Cornwell created a character by the name of Richard Sharpe. The character is what we know as "Historical Fiction". In that, the character is entirely fictional and bears no resemblance to any real character, he appears at several key points in history, in this case, a military career that would span all the way from 1799-1820. Covering the Indian Campaign, Trafalgar, the Peninsular Wars and all the way to Waterloo.
He is described in the novels as a loose cannon. Brilliant, but wayward. He stands at around 6 feet tall, angular face. With long black hair and blue eyes. His most distinguishing feature is a large scar that runs down his face.
In the novels, he's born to a prostitute and unnamed father in 1777. At age 3, his mother was killed in the Gordon Riots. With no family, he was sent to St. Giles Rookery, where was put into the care of Jem Hockling. He stayed there until the age of 12, where he fled, after he was assigned the job of apprentice chimney sweep. He ended up in the care of tavern owner Maggie Joyce. After killing a man in a fight over Maggie, Sharpe flees London for Yorkshire.
Whilst in Yorkshire, he learns to play cricket. As in Fury, he plays cricket with the 95th rifles whilst in training. Later on, in Waterloo, Wellington claims that Sharpe "bowls fiendish". However, only 6 months in Yorkshire, he kills as second man in a fight over a local woman. To avoid arrest, he takes the King's Shilling, joining the 33rd Foot. The following year, 1794. Sharpe would be sent to Flanders, where he'd face his first real tests in battle. By 1795, Sharpe had been transferred to the British East India Company and his regiment was sent to India.
In 1799, Sharpe is sentenced to death by 2000 lashes, after striking a superior officer. He is saved after 200, thanks to executive orders. He is assigned to help William Lawford find his uncle, Hector McCandless. They start by pretending to be deserters and joining the Tippoo Sultan's army. It doesn't take them long to be found out and they are imprisoned. It's here that Lawford starts Sharpe's education by teaching him to read. During this time, the British army has started assaulting the Sultan's fortress, giving them time to escape. Sharpe destroys a mine that would have devastated the British forces and kills the Tippoo Sultan and loots his corpse.
After this battle, Sharpe is promoted to Sergeant and serves in the armoury. In 1803, William Dodd betrays the British forces and allows them to be massacred at Chaslogan. McCandless hires Sharpe's services again to find Dodd and bring him to justice. This takes them through 2 major battles. The first being Ahmednuggur and then the Siege of Assaye. It's during the Siege of Assaye, that Sharpe saves the life of Arthur Wellesley from several Maratha cavalrymen, Sharpe is later assigned to the 74th Regiment as an Ensign.
In his final adventure in India, 1803, Sharpe is wishing he hadn't accepted the commission. Spurned by his new regiment. They decide to have him transferred to the newly created 95th Rifles. However, before he is, Sharpe is once again needed to help, when William Dodd is found in the Fortress at Gawilghur. Sharpe infiltrates the fortress and confronts Dodd, killing him once and for all, earning the scar on his face as a reminder.
By 1805, Sharpe's career in India was over. Sharpe is on the cargo ship Calliope and sails from India, back to England. En route, the ship is stopped and captured by the French warship, The Revenant. After the French capture a treaty that could start a new war, Sharpe allies himself with Lord Horatio Nelson and defeats the Revenant at Trafalgar, recapturing the treaty.
In 1807, Sharpe is back in England. Grace, whom Sharpe met during Trafalgar, dies in childbirth at Shorncliffe. The child dies a few hours later. With his wife and child dead, his fortune seized and resentment from the 95th, Sharpe is relegated to quartermaster and falls into deep depression. He returns to Wapping, where he kills Jem Hocking, his former owner when he was a child. As he's escaping with the stolen money, he runs into General Baird, a colleague of his from India. Baird recruits Sharpe to watch over Lavisser, a diplomat being sent to Denmark, a neutral territory at the time. However, Lavisser betrays Sharpe and forces him into hiding. Sharpe can only watch as the city of Copenhagen is bombarded and it's fleet captured, so they cannot help Napoleon. Sharpe is promoted to Second Lieutenant of the 95th Rifles.
Sharpe's Rifles picks up a year later. In August 1808. He's now a Lieutenant and is fighting the French in Portugal in the previous year. By 1809, Sharpe is in effective command of the 95th rifles in Spain and commands a company of 30 chosen men. After fighting their way through Spain, protecting Partisans, they are attached to the South Essex from Portugal onward. He would also have allies in the Royal American 60th, lead by William Fredrickson.
It was in this period of 1808 - 1814, then 1815-1820, that Sharpe would perform his greatest feats, such as capturing a French Eagle. Taking part in the battle of Talavera, Storming the breaches of Badajoz, He was also present at major battles including Almedia, Bussaco, Barossa. Ciudad Rodrigo, Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria and Tolouse. It was in this period that his sacrifices would earn him the eventual rank of Major.
Prior to the Battle of Waterloo, Sharpe is assigned as the Aide to the Prince of Orange. Sharpe is angered by the Prince's incompetence which costs the lives of many men. Sharpe makes an attempt on the Prince's life, wounding him. After this, he comes to the aid of the South Essex, emboldening them and preventing a breakthrough by the French. Wellesley gives him command of the South Essex for the remainder of the battle.
After the battle of Waterloo, Sharpe took his retirement to become a farmer in Normandy. In 1820, Sharpe and Harper are tasked with rescuing their old friend, Don Blas Vivar from Chilean rebels. They stop off at St. Helena on the way to resupply, where Sharpe meets with Napoleon. After fighting in the Chilean War of Independence and recovering Don Blas, Sharpe returns to St Helena, to find out that Napoleon died in the meantime. Sharpe returns home to Normandy.
If you are interested in reading them, they are easily available on the secondary market and the reading order is:
- Sharpe's Tiger (1799)
- Sharpe's Triumph (1803)
- Sharpe's Fortress (1803)
- Sharpe's Trafalgar (1805)
- Sharpe's Prey (1807)
- Sharpe's Rifles (1808)
- Sharpe's Havoc (1809)
- Sharpe's Eagle (1809)
- Sharpe's Gold (1810)
- Sharpe's Escape (1810)
- Sharpe's Fury (1811)
- Sharpe's Battle (1811)
- Sharpe's Company (1812)
- Sharpe's Sword (1812)
- Sharpe's Skirmish (1812)
- Sharpe's Enemy (1812)
- Sharpe's Honour (1813)
- Sharpe's Regiment (1813)
- Sharpe's Christmas (1813)
- Sharpe's Siege (1814)
- Sharpe's Revenge (1814)
- Sharpe's Waterloo (1815)
- Sharpe's Ransom (1816)
- Sharpe's Devil (1820)