Cornwell, Bernard 1944–
Cornwell, Bernard 1944–
PERSONAL: Born February 23, 1944, in London, England; immigrated to United States, 1980, naturalized citizen; married Judy Acker (a travel agent), October 20, 1980. Education: University of London, B.A., 1967.
CAREER: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC-TV), London, England, producer, 1969–76, Belfast, Northern Ireland, head of current affairs, 1976–79; Thames Television, London, editor of television news, 1979–80; freelance writer, 1980–.
"RICHARD SHARPE" SERIES
Sharpe's Eagle: Richard Sharpe and the Talavera Campaign, July, 1809, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.
Sharpe's Gold: Richard Sharpe and the Destruction of Almeida, August, 1810, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
Sharpe's Company: Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Badajoz, January to April, 1812, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
Sharpe's Sword: Richard Sharpe and the Salamanca Campaign, June and July, 1812, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.
Sharpe's Enemy: Richard Sharpe and the Defense of Portugal, Christmas, 1812, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Sharpe's Honour: Richard Sharpe and the Vitoria Campaign, February to June, 1813, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
Sharpe's Regiment: Richard Sharpe and the Invasion of France, June to November, 1813, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
Sharp's Siege: Richard Sharpe and the Winter Campaign, 1814, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Sharpe's Rifles: Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galicia, January 1809, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
Sharpe's Revenge: Richard Sharpe and the Peace of 1814, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Waterloo, Viking (New York, NY), 1990, published in England as Sharpe's Waterloo: Richard Sharpe and the Waterloo Campaign, 15 June to 18 June, 1815.
Sharpe's Devil: Richard Sharpe and the Emperor, 1820–1821, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Sharpe's Battle: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, May, 1811, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Sharpe's Tiger, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Sharpe's Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September, 1803, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Sharpe's Trafalgar, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Sharpe's Prey: Richard Sharpe and the Expedition to Copenhagen, 1807, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Sharpe's Fortress: Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Sharpe's Christmas, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Sharpe's Havoc: Richard Sharpe and the Campaign in Northern Portugal, Spring 1809, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Sharpe's Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign, September-October 1810, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
"GRAIL QUEST" SERIES
The Archer's Tale, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001, published in England as Harlequin.
Vagabond, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Heretic, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
"NATHANIEL STARBUCK CHRONICLES" SERIES
Rebel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Copperhead, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
Battle Flag, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
The Bloody Ground, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
"WARLORD CHRONICLES" SERIES
The Winter King: A Novel of Arthur, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Enemy of God: A Novel of Arthur, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
MYSTERY AND ADVENTURE
Wildtrack, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.
Killer's Wake, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
Stormchild, Curley (South Yarmouth, MA), 1991.
Crackdown, Penguin (London, England), 1993.
Scoundrel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Redcoat, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
Sea Lord, M. Joseph (London, England), 1989.
(Illustrator) Charles O'Neil, The Military Adventures of Charles O'Neil, Midpoint Trade Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Stonehenge, 2000 B.C., HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000, published in England as Stonehenge: A Novel of 2000 BC.
Gallows Thief, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
The Last Kingdom, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
The Pale Horseman (sequel to The Last Kingdom), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
NOVELS; UNDER PSEUDONYM SUSANNAH KELLS
A Crowning Mercy, Collins (London, England), 1983.
The Fallen Angels, Collins (London, England), 1984.
Coat of Arms, Collins (London, England), 1986.
ADAPTATIONS: Cornwell novels that have been adapted for audio include Rebel (eleven cassettes), read by Ed Sala, Recorded Books, 2000; Sharpe's Devil: Richard Sharpe and the Emperor, 1820–1821 (seven cassettes), read by Frederick Davidson, Blackstone, 2000; Sharpe's Tiger (nine cassettes), read by Frederick Davidson, Blackstone, 2000; Sharpe's Trafalgar (ten cassettes), Chivers Audio Books, 2001; Stonehenge: A Novel of 2000 BC (twelve cassettes), read by Frederick Davidson, Blackstone, 2001; Copperhead (eleven cassettes), read by Tom Parker, Blackstone, 2001; and The Last Kingdom, (eleven CDs), read by Tom Sellwood, Sound Library/BBC Audiobooks of America, 2005. Many of the "Richard Sharpe" books have been filmed by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
SIDELIGHTS: Bernard Cornwell is the author of numerous historical action novels, most notably the "Sharpe" series about soldiering during the Napoleonic Wars. Scrupulously researched and graphic in descriptions of violence and squalor, Cornwell's books aim to capture the spirit of the era in which they are set, whether it be the France of Napoleon's time or the Celtic Britain of the legendary King Arthur. In Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, Geoffrey Sadler acknowledged Cornwell as "a leading figure under two separate names in the field of the historical novel," adding that the author holds "a secure place among contemporary adventure writers."
Cornwell was born in London and lived in England until he immigrated to the United States in his mid thirties. While still a youngster he became interested in the Napoleonic Wars and read everything he could find on the subject. The author told a Books interviewer that he began writing his own military novels because "I got pissed off with going into bookshops and being confronted only by books on Britain's military defeats…. From going into bookshops hoping there'd be a novel about Waterloo or Badajoz, I suddenly hoped there wouldn't be anyone else with the same idea." Cornwell's hopes were realized when he found a publisher for his "Sharpe" series, which has sold millions of paperback copies since the early 1980s.
The Sharpe novels are centered upon the military career of the fictitious Richard Sharpe, a British Army officer serving under Lord Wellington in the 1800s. Each book focuses on a different battle, and, according to Sadler in Contemporary Popular Writers, "each battle is matched with a struggle to outwit an individual enemy who seeks Sharpe's destruction." Commenting further upon the Sharpe adventures in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, Sadler noted that "without a doubt … the peak of Cornwell's achievement is the magnificent sequence of novels featuring his rifleman hero Richard Sharpe, which span the entire period of the Napoleonic Wars, from the viewpoint of the frontline soldier…. Cornwell's painstaking research, his sure grasp of authentic period detail, enable him to bring home to the reader the scent and feeling of those vanished times, forcing him to witness afresh the savage butchery of the battles, the squalor and corruption that marks life in the early-19th century." Sadler concluded that "Sharpe is one of the best fictional creations of recent years, and his adventures yield fresh insights into the Napoleonic period. With him the reader re-lives a vanished age, learning the techniques of skirmish and ambush, the handling of the deadly Baker rifle and its fearsome sword-bayonet."
Cornwell once wrote about his Richard Sharpe novels: "They are picaresque adventure stories set during the Peninsular War, 1808–14, and follow the adventures of a British soldier. They are shamelessly modeled on C.S. Forester's 'Hornblower' series. I have always had a fascination with the Duke of Wellington's army, research on it has been a hobby since my youth, and the Sharpe novels come from that research."
Sharpe and his Irish sidekick, Sergeant Harper, continue their adventures in a growing list of volumes, including Sharpe's Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign, September-October 1810, described as "a worthy entry" by Library Journal reviewer Fred Gervat. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "with fully fleshed-out characters and keen human insight, Cornwell just keeps getting better and better. His faithful will be left hoping Sharpe goes on forever."
Cornwell has also written adventure stories set in the present day and is the author of three historical novels under the pseudonym Susannah Kells (Crowning Mercy, The Fallen Angels, and Coat of Arms). In Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, Sadler wrote of the pseudonymous works: "Cornwell, as Kells, achieves a compelling vision of both the Civil War and French Revolutionary periods, his powerful and exciting narratives aided by strong characterization, and some very authentic-sounding dialogue. He also manages to convey, in an uncomfortably convincing manner, the almost routine brutality and squalor that are linked with the art and culture of the time, the grim spectacle of a public execution presented with the same visual force as the splendour of a court ball."
The 1990s witnessed two new Cornwell historical series, one set during the American Civil War and another set during the time of England's King Arthur. Rebel, Copperhead, Battle Flag, and The Bloody Ground recreate the grim battles of the Civil War through the eyes of Nathaniel Starbuck, a Northern-born son of abolitionist parents who takes arms for the Southern side. In the second book, Copperhead, is set in 1862, with the South defending Richmond, which was made possible in part because of Union general George McClellan's lack of aggression. Nathaniel is caught up in a situation that finds him acting as a double agent for both sides in this Civil War story.
Cornwell said in Books that he decided to write about King Arthur because he "wanted to take him out of that romantic mystical land of fable and place him in the very real world where he is most likely to have lived." Cornwell continued, saying that "to survive at this time and obtain great power, Arthur must have been a brilliant military commander. Previous Arthur novels have concentrated on him as a wise king or great lover, but I see him as a soldier and that's where, of course, my interest in him started." The author's first two books in the "Warlord Chronicles" series have earned the same sort of favorable notices that have attended other Cornwell offerings.
Cornwell began another series with The Archer's Tale, published in England as Harlequin. This story is set in 1400 at the start of the Hundred Years War between England and France. The broken lance thought to have been used by St. George to slay the dragon, has been stolen, and Thomas of Hookton, the bastard son of a murdered priest whose family claims to have possessed the Holy Grail, joins the army of King Edward III in hopes of recovering it. An expert with a longbow, Thomas becomes caught up in one of the bloodiest periods in the history of these two countries. The characters include Blackbird, a young woman with whom Thomas finds romance, and who is also a skilled warrior.
The next book in the "Grail Quest" series, Vagabond, begins with Thomas fighting in the Battle of Neville's Cross (1346) and ends with the English defeating the French a La Roche-Derrien (1347). Thomas attempts to decipher the clues, written in Latin and Hebrew, in a book that had belonged to his father that might lead to the Grail, but others know of the book's existence and would take it from him. They include his father's murderer, Thomas's French cousin Guy Vexille, Dominican Inquisitor Bernard de Taillebourg, and the evil English knight Sir Geoffrey Carr. A Publishers Weekly writer noted that "Cornwell is meticulous about historical facts and period detail."
Heretic, the third book in the series, finds Thomas in his father's homeland of Gascony, where he and a band of soldiers defend a castle against the French as he faces threats from the church and the Black Death and comes to terms with the truth about the Holy Grail.
Among his historical novels that are not part of a series is Cornwell's Stonehenge, 2000 B.C., published in England as Stonehenge: A Novel of 2000 BC. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called this book a "wild tale, rich with sorcery, pagan ritual, greed, and intrigue … Cornwell's most ambitious fiction yet." The story is about three brothers, the eldest of whom kills their father to become chief of the tribe. Even more cruel than Lengar is the crippled Camaban, a sorcerer who demands that a stone memorial be erected to honor him. The stone temple is eventually built by the youngest brother, Saban. The tale spans twenty years, during which the people of Ratharryn survive weather and warring tribes and try to appease their gods. The Publishers Weekly writer described the story as "graphic, gritty and riveting," but felt that Cornwell's descriptions of the engineering used to build Stonehenge to be "the real strength of this book."
Another of Cornwell's standalone novels is Gallows Thief, which features Captain Rider Sandman, like Sharpe a veteran of Waterloo. Rider's father committed suicide after he lost the family assets by gambling them away, and now Rider plays cricket to support himself. Rider accepts when he is offered an opportunity to investigate the case of Charles Corday, an artist who has been accused of killing the Countess of Avebury. He soon realizes that Charles is innocent and goes in search of the witness whose testimony could prevent him from being hanged. This story includes a romance within the mystery. "Cornwell's flair for authentic detailing distinguishes this suspenseful, action-packed period whodunit," concluded Margaret Flanagan in Booklist.
Publishers Weekly contributor John F. Baker interviewed Cornwell and noted that in middle age, the author learned about his birth parents, a Canadian airman and English woman who gave him up for adoption. He found his natural father, who was at the time eighty-four years old, in Vancouver, and discovered that his family name is Oughtred, an ancient clan that can be traced to Bebbanburg Castle in Northumbria. Cornwell created his character Uhtred, a variation on his family name, a boy adopted by the Ragnar, a Dane, and wrote a book for him. The Last Kingdom is projected to be the first in a series about England's King Alfred the Great. As Cornwell notes, the pagan warriors we think of as the Vikings were actually Danes who conquered the four kingdoms of Christian England. Many of the characters are actual historical figures, and Cornwell offers a steady stream of history as the story unfolds. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that The Last Kingdom "is a solid adventure by a crackling good storyteller."
In the sequel, The Pale Horseman, Uhtred returns to court after his win at the battle of Cynuit to find that Odda the Younger has taken his place as Alfred's favorite, and has taken credit for Uhtred's disposal of Ubba, a Danish warrior. While the king, whose Wessex is the only kingdom still unconquered by the Vikings at the time, seeks safety in a bog, Uhtred retires to his farm and his increasingly difficult wife, Mildrith. He is saved from this fate by his old friend, Leofric when they embark on an adventure, disguising themselves as Vikings and looting as they go. Uhtred finds himself drawn to his Danish heritage that honors only "ale, women, sword, and reputation." They also rescue Iseult, a beautiful Celtic queen and a witch. They return with their bounty, some of which Uhtred uses to settle the debt of his wife's family to the church. He then must face Steapa, an extraordinarily large warrior, in order to return to Alfred's good graces.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "filled with bawdy humor, bloodlust, treachery and valor, this stirring tale will leave readers eager for the next volume." "Swords, shields, mud and blood," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Great stuff, as always, from the master."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 97-98.
Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, third edition, St. James Press, 1994, pp. 152-153.
Books, September-October, 1995, Bernard Cornwell, interview, p. 10.
Booklist, April 1, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Sharpe's Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September, 1803, p. 1444; November 15, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of Sharpe's Fortress: Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803, p. 609; January 1, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of Sharpe's Prey: Richard Sharpe and the Expedition to Copenhagen, 1807, p. 775; May 15, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of Gallows Thief, p. 1584; October 1, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of Heretic, p. 275; November 1, 2005, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Pale Horseman, p. 4.
Entertainment Weekly, January 28, 2005, Adam B. Vary, review of The Last Kingdom, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2003, review of Sharpe's Havoc: Richard Sharpe and the Campaign in Northern Portugal, Spring 1809, p. 411; August 15, 2003, review of Heretic, p. 1031; November 1, 2005, review of The Pale Horseman, p. 1155.
Library Journal, September 1, 2001, Jane Baird, review of The Archer's Tale, p. 232; November 15, 2002, Jean Langlais, review of Vagabond, p. 99; April 15, 2003, Fred Gervat, review of Sharpe's Havoc, p. 120; April 1, 2004, Fred Gervat, review of Sharpe's Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign, September-October 1810, p. 120.
Publishers Weekly, July 19, 1999, review of Sharpe's Triumph, p. 184; March 27, 2000, review of Stonehenge, 2000 B.C., p. 48; April 29, 2002, review of Gallows Thief, p. 46; August 6, 2002, review of The Archer's Tale, p. 58; October 14, 2002, review of Vagabond, p. 62; March 31, 2003, review of Sharpe's Havoc, p. 45; August 11, 2003, review of Heretic, p. 253; March 15, 2004, review of Sharp's Escape, p. 56; December 6, 2004, review of The Last Kingdom, p. 41; February 14, 2005, John F. Baker, "Bernard Cornwell: Old English made new" (interview), p. 49; November 14, 2005, review of The Pale Horseman, p. 42.