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"Sharpe's a killer. Killed three French cavalrymen and saved Wellesley's life. Three seconds, slash, cut, thrust. And that's while he was still a Sergeant."
Sergeant Richard Sharpe does a very good turn for The Duke of Wellington, saving the life of "Old Nosey" and killing a few enemy soldiers in the process. As thanks, Wellington does Sharpe a very bad turn by giving him a Field Promotion, making him an officer in the King's Army. Being a gutter-born bastard child, Sharpe naturally does not play well with the other officers, rich gentlemen who bought their commissions and resent an upstart from "the ranks" being among their number. However, his experience in the ranks, his rough nature and being a damn good fighter give Sharpe an advantage when it comes to commanding soldiers. Sharpe leads from the front with his Baker rifle and massive Heavy Cavalry sword, and never far from Sharpe's side is his longtime friend Sgt. Patrick Harper and his unit of elite riflemen, the "Chosen Men". When he's not fighting in some great bloody battle, Sharpe and his companions are sent on missions vital to the war effort by either Wellington himself or his intelligence officer. Despite being poor and lacking "gentlemanly conduct", Sharpe achieves further promotions over the course of his career based solely on merit, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the Battle of Waterloo.
In publication since 1981, the series of novels by Bernard Cornwell 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 occured during the Napoleonic Wars, from the Siege of Seringapatam to the Battle of Waterloo, and the novels are as much about showing the campaigns of Wellington 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, 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-recieved and proved a breakout role for Bean, who went on to star in Goldeneye, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 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.
Specific novels and/or television episodes contain examples of:
- Adaptational Badass: Lt. Berry from Sharpe's Eagle is a fat blubbering henchman in the novel. In the TV version he's played by Daniel Craig and a considerably more dangerous villain.
- Adaptation Decay: The films lack the scale of the battle scenes as described in the books due to budget limitations.
- Adaptation Distillation: In the novels, Sharpe saves Wellington's life in India in 1803. This is moved to 1809 Spain for the film of Sharpe's Rifles.
- Badass Crew: The Chosen Men.
- The Book Cipher: A book cipher plays an important role in the TV version of Sharpe's Sword. The key text is Voltaire's Candide.
- 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.
- 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 and Dagger: Sharpe's Sword. The "El Mirador" network of spies.
- Deliberate Injury Gambit: The villain in the novel Sharpe's Gold (and the TV episode Sharpe's Sword) is a far more skilled swordsman with a superior blade, so to defeat him Sharpe lets himself be stabbed in the leg and then kills his opponent while the guy is trying to pull his blade out.
- Driven to Suicide: Lord Kiely in the Sharpe's Battle novel.
- Fake Defector: In the novel Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe and Lt. Lawford infiltrate the fortress of Serignapatham to rescue an intelligence officer and scout for a British assault. In the TV episode Sharpe's Challenge, Sharpe and Harper infiltrate the fortress of Ferraghur to rescue a general's daughter and scout for a British assault.
- Feed the Mole: Sharpe's Sword. It's Sharpe feeding information to la Marquesa that allows The Duke of Wellington to win the Battle of Salamanca.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Frederickson suggests marriage to Lucille the day he meets her. Immediately after she has accidentally shot Sharpe. Of course, she prefers the charms of Sharpe, just like every woman in the Sharpeverse.
- He Knows Too Much: Sharpe's Peril. Sharpe and a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits are hunted across India after learning that a rogue cavalry squadron is running a secret drug trade using opium stolen from the East India Company.
- Lord Pumphrey is this trope.
- Genius Bruiser: William Fredrickson is a slightly tenuous example, since he isn't the Big Guy, but he is a skilled fighter and excellent commander of light troops, who can also hold his own in a courtroom, makes pencil sketches of Spanish landscapes and discusses politics with Americans.
- In Name Only: The TV version of Sharpe's Gold, which involves Aztec human sacrifice in Spain.
- I Want My Mommy: Type 2. There is a truly heartbreaking scene in Sharpe's Battle when young Rifleman Perkins is stabbed in the stomach and alternately begs for his mother and apologises to Sergeant Harper (not that he did anything wrong - he was bayoneted by a traitor in the ranks after heroically clearing a path for them through the enemy). Harper's there, at least, holding him as he dies, and tells him "Your mother's here, lad. Mothers never leave you!"
- Which in turn leads to a Heroic BSOD on the part of Harper who hunts said traitor and his faction through the town (in which the battle is still being fought), wipes the mooks out with a single shot and proceeds to stab the traitor in the stomach and kidneys with his own bayonet, kick him to the ground and leave him to slowly die in agony.
- The Laws and Customs of War: In Sharpe's Battle, Sharpe executes two French prisoners of war who were caught raping a Spanish woman. This has huge political ramifications, almost ruining Wellington's relationship with the Spanish and getting Sharpe permanently demoted.
- The proper treatment of captured officers is also touched upon. They are expected to give their 'parole', i.e. swear not to try to escape, and then they are treated well; if they do not give it, they are treated badly.
- At one point Sharpe is captured and tortured by Ducos after intrigue had resulted in Sharpe's commission being suspended, so the French claim he is not an officer and does not deserve civilised treatment. Sharpe adopts the contemporary version of 'name, rank and serial number', saying nothing but repeating "I am an officer in His Britannic Majesty's Army, and I demand the treatment proper to my rank."
- Major Incognito: In Sharpe's Regiment, Sharpe and Harper take on fake identities and enlist as recruits in order to find out what happened to the South Essex Regiment's 2nd Battalion, which doesn't seem to exist yet still draws pay and rations. It works as this trope because the recruiters, Sergeants and officers frequently bring up the great Major Richard Sharpe and his faithful lancer, Regimental Sergeant Major Patrick Harper, as examples of sheer balls-to-the-wall heroism and how far enlisted men can go in the South Essex. There's a great scene where the recruiting Sergeant goes on at length about how he taught Sharpe and Harper everything they know and now they're BFFs, completely unaware that he's talking to Sharpe and Harper.
- The Neidermeyer: It's Sharpe himself in Sharpe's Rifles, when he first takes command of the Chosen Men. In accordance with the trope, they do indeed try to kill him. They fail.
- Oh Crap: The look on Sgt. Lynch's face when he realises that the Irish recruit he's been bullying for the past weeks (as a Rifleman Sergeant-Major) outranks him...
- Powder Trail: Sharpe's Gold
- Retirony: Narrowly avoided by d'Alembord, who is due to retire and get married but stays on for one last battle -- which happens to be Waterloo -- and is convinced he is going to die. He loses a leg, but survives.
- Shoot Your Mate: In Sharpe's Tiger, then-Sergeant Sharpe and Lt. Lawford are sent to infiltrate Serignapatham and rescue Colonel McCandless, an intelligence agent. To prove his loyalty to the Sultan of Tippo, Sharpe is given a loaded musket and told to kill McCandless. Naturally, the musket doesn't fire properly. Sharpe later tells Lawford that he knew the gunpowder used to prime the musket was bad, but its left ambiguous whether Sharpe knew about the bad powder before or after he fired the weapon.
- Subverted later in the same novel: when British scouts are seen outside the fortress walls, Sharpe and Lawford are given rifles and told to shoot the scouts. Sharpe tries in earnest to kill one of the scouts but his shot goes wide; Lawford tries to shoot wide of his target but ends up killing the soldier by mistake.
- Played extremely straight in Sharpe's Challenge, when Sharpe and Harper are the Fake Defectors. Sharpe is ordered to kill Harper using a musket he just loaded, but at the last moment he realises (from the smell) that the powder is bad and the shot won't fire, so he goes along with it.
- Tactical Withdrawal: Most of the novel Sharpe's Escape follows Wellington's retreat through Portugal to the Lines of Torres Vedras.
- The Tooth Hurts: Poor Harper has a horrible toothache in Sharpe's Siege.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: If Sharpe had just told Teresa to kill Hakeswill when she had a knife at his throat, there wouldn't have been any problem. They spend that entire series knowing that he's trouble and reacting to all the underhanded things he does and they never just kill him. This is likely, aside from narrative purposes, to be because it is made clear that Hakeswill is an absolute master at brown-nosing the officer class and is thought of as a superb Sergeant by them for that very reason.
- Wrecked Weapon: Sharpe's Sword. Kinda self-explanatory.
The series as a whole contains examples of:
- 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 - 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.
- 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.
- On screen at least, this one is subverted as often as not. Pretty much ever other officer Sharpe meets is an aristocrat, and while many turn out to be antagonists or incompetents, others are honorable characters and become allies of Sharpe. The Duke of Wellington is portrayed in a generally favorable light, and the Prince of Wales, while being portrayed as a total lunatic, becomes a patron of Sharpe's. The trope is further subverted in Sharpe's Justice in which the villain is not an aristocrat, but a moneied commoner who compares himself directly to Sharpe as a man from humble beginnings who rose to prominence on his own merit.
- One particularly crowning subversion is Sharpe's Odd Couple 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?
- Badass: There are probably fictional characters out there who are more badass than Richard Sharpe. Ellen Ripley might qualify... the Alien Hybrid at least. Batman, if written by Frank Miller. Sam Vimes, at least when he's angry. But they are rare indeed.
- Badass Longcoat: Greatcoats were pretty common for soldiers in that period, but Sean Bean made them look awesome.
- Badass Spaniard: A lot of the action takes place in Spain. Some of the locals are useless. Some of them are freakin' scary. And then there's Teresa.
- Bald of Evil: Obadiah Hakeswill
- Battle Couple: Sharpe and Teresa, particularly in some of the TV movies.
- 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.
- 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. Except Sharpe, who is just that Badass. (Cornwell owns one himself.)
- The Big Guy: Harper. Though Sharpe himself is big enough to intimidate most people.
- Camp Gay: Lord Pumphrey, to what by the standards of the time is an outrageous degree. Still, he's on Sharpe's side.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- Character Title
- 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.
- Cold Sniper: Firmly averted in the case of Hagman, who often acts as The Obi-Wan for the younger members of the Chosen Men, Perkins specifically.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cultured Badass: Captain Frederickson. A tough war leader with a deliberately horrifying appearance (to scare the enemy) who is well-versed in such diverse fields as law, architecture and poetry, speaks three languages fluently, and spends his spare time making pencil sketches of Spanish landscapes and discussing politics with Americans.
- 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...
- Cunning Linguist: One of Sharpe's Riflemen was a former teacher, and often served as a translator. Later Sharpe himself became fluent in Spanish and French, mostly by falling in love with women of the appropriate nationalities.
- Death by Childbirth: Lady Grace.
- Death Trap: Mostly inverted, especially during the India trilogy. Its usually Sharpe who keeps throwing the baddies, especially Hakeswill, into a villain's recently abandoned death traps and then leaving him to die. Of course, Hakeswill always survives. In Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe throws Hakeswill into a pit of tigers. In Sharpe's Triumph, he leaves Hakeswill under the foot of an elephant trained for executions. In Sharpe's Fortress, Sharpe knocks Hakeswill into a pit of snakes.
- Disposable Woman: Mostly averted - while Sharpe gets through numerous girlfriends and wives, most of them leave him for reasons of their own. When Teresa and Lady Grace die, he spends half the next book feeling deeply depressed as a result. However, then there's his reaction to Astrid's death...
- Do-It-Yourself Theme Tune: Although you perhaps wouldn't expect it to work, Hagman's folk rendition of the Rifles' marching song Over the Hills and Far Away (with altered lyrics to fit the particular episode's events) often comes close to Crowning Music of Awesome.
- Downer Ending: The TV version of what was to be the last episode, Sharpe's Waterloo, included two of Sharpe's best men and close friends, who had appeared in every previous episode, being killed due to incompetence by the Prince of Orange. And then the recent revival Sharpe's Challenge made matters worse by killing off Sharpe's wife soon after they were married, whereas in the books they live Happily Ever After.
- Dress-Coded for Your Convenience: And Truth in Television to boot. Sharpe, the Chosen Men and any other Riflemen (read: elite badasses) wear dark green, the rest of the British army wears red, the French wear blue and the Spanish wear a variety of browns.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: No matter how many times Sharpe saves Wellington's bacon or saves the army or defeats the bad guys or does something really freaking awesome, the rich, gentlemanly officers think he's just an arrogant upstart who needs to be taught his place.
- Duel to the Death: Sharpe duels in a couple of books/episodes, mostly against other Britons rather than the enemy. Cornwell successfully averts what the modern viewer/reader might expect, that Sharpe (having risen from the ranks and being contemptuous of aristocratic twits) does not dismiss duelling as a silly affectation, but takes it very seriously - despite Wellington having banned the practice.
- The Duke of Wellington: The series' Big Good.
- Enemy Mine: Sharpe and General Calvet in the TV episode Sharpe's Revenge.
- The Engineer: Major Hogan's other hat is that of combat engineer.
- Mr. Fanservice: Just look at how often Sean Bean shows up on that page.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Obadiah Hakeswill. Although it's more of an insane fixation. Sharpe, conversely, doesn't seem to care about who his mother was (she's never even named).
- Fake American: In-universe example, as Sharpe always pretends to be American to avoid anti-British prejudice when encountered alone by potential enemies. At this point in history American and British accents were similar enough for this to be plausible (and few Europeans would have ever heard a real American anyway).
- Famed in Story: Sharpe (and to a lesser extent, Harper) are renowned throughout the army and even back home in England for their sheer badassery. South Essex recruiting Sergeants brag about how the pair are part of the Regiment, and Sharpe is well-received in the court of the Prince Regent.
- Fatal Flaw: Sharpe's is beautiful women. He's never quite sure how to act around them. Granted, the fact that he usually ends up in bed with them is a point in his favor, but Sharpe also has a habit of believing anything a beautiful woman tells him.
- Fire-Forged Friends: In the TV series, Sir Henry Simmerson is one of the longest-running Sharpe antagonists, appearing intermittedly ever since the first episode. However, it's only in the latest episode, Sharpe's Peril, that Sharpe and Simmerson find themselves actually fighting the bad guys as part of the same unit, and after the battle, Simmerson is a good deal friendlier to Sharpe than ever before, actually shaking his hand and calling him "Richard".
- Field Promotion: How Sharpe is risen up from the ranks to the officer's mess in the first place...
- Five-Man Band: The TV version of Sharpe and the Chosen Men. Sharpe is The Hero, Harper is The Lancer, Harris is The Smart Guy (he's a former schoolteacher), Hagman is The Big Guy (not in the traditional sense, but he's the best sharpshooter in a team of Riflemen), and Perkins is The Chick (the youngest and least experienced).
- Teresa, a partisan, acts as The Sixth Ranger until her death. Afterwards, Captain Friedrickson fills the role.
- Good Looking Privates
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Sharpe has a facial scar (taken in one of his first swordfights) which, pretty much every single book tells us, gives him a mocking, sardonic, look. Obadiah Hakeswill, on the other hand, has a scar round his neck which only adds to his freakish appearance.
- Firmly averted, on the other hand, by William Frederickson, whose facial injuries make him truly hideous but is one of Sharpe's staunchest allies (at least until they find themselves competing for the same woman).
- In the TV movies Sharpe periodically removes his shirt -- with his back to the camera, thus reminding viewers that he still carries scars from a long-ago (and nearly lethal) flogging. In Sharpe's Eagle he does so before a group of soldiers, making sure they know he too was once one of them.
"The South Essex. Sir Henry aside, Sharpe, what do you make of them, man for man?"
"They're flogged soldiers, sir. And flogging teaches a man only one lesson."
"What's that, Richard?"
"How to turn his back."
- Groin Attack: It's a favourite. Sharpe ends one fight with a Giant Mook by stabbing him in the balls.
"Tell this eunuch he got his wish. He wanted an Englishman. He got one."
- The Gump: Sharpe was involved in crucical moments in so many key historical events, within his own fictional setting if he'd never existed Britain would have probably lost the Napoleonic Wars.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Sharpe and Harper.
- Honor Before Reason: Pretty much half the plot of Sharpe's Honour.
- And all of the plot of Sharpe's Eagle.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each book/episode is named "Sharpe's ______". Also, all the books have more historically descriptive subtitles, e.g. "Sharpe's Company" is subtitled "Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Badajoz, 1812".
- Inspired By: The character of Rifleman Harris is named after a real individual, Private Benjamin Harris of the 95th Rifles who fought in the Peninsular War and, upon returning home, dictated an account of his experiences to an acquaintance. Eventually published as "The Recollections of Rifleman Harris", it's one of the few accounts of life in the British Army as an enlisted soldier (since "rankers" were typically illiterate, most accounts of the period were written by officers), and was one of Bernard Cornwell's main sources when he researched and wrote the Sharpe novels.
\In fact, Harper at one point suggests to Harris that when the war is over he should write a book about his experiences, "full of battles and death", and that would be sure to make his fortune. The audiobook of "Recollections" was narrated by Jason Salkey, the actor who played Harris in the TV series. However, unlike his novel counterpart, TV's Harris dies at Waterloo.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: Almost an inversion - "Over the Hills and Far Away" is frequently used this way, but justified by its being an old folk song about the military.
- It's Personal: After Major Ducos gets a bloody nose (so to speak) from Sharpe early on in the series, every one of his "destabilise and destroy Wellington's army" schemes simply must involve the humiliation and total annihilation of Richard Sharpe.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The TV version of Sharpe.
Marie-Angelique: You are a good man, Richard, whatever you would have the world think.
- Although more jerk and less gold, the book version qualifies too.
So much sin in him, thought Colonel Mc Candlass, and so much good.
- Karma Houdini: Hakeswill, for about four books of near-continuous evil.
- To a lesser extent, Sharpe himself - he's a thief and a murderer (although his victims are all bad people) who at one point deliberately blows up an entire fortress full of friendly troops and is never brought to book.
- Hakeswill doesn't really count, given he dies in the second or third book he's in and the rest of his appearances are in India set before those. A better example thus far is Lord Pumphrey who has one of Sharpe's girlfriends murdered and skips out on it free and clear.
- To a lesser extent, Sharpe himself - he's a thief and a murderer (although his victims are all bad people) who at one point deliberately blows up an entire fortress full of friendly troops and is never brought to book.
- Law of Inverse Recoil: Averted, especially with the Nock volley gun.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Each novel has this, not to mention the staggering amount of characters who recur from one novel to the next.
- Military Maverick: Sharpe is described by Cornwell himself as being a loose cannon, and his proud, vengeful nature often gets him in trouble with his superiors and the upper-classes. Fortunately, there's usually a big battle around where he can redeem his honour.
- Or murder his enemies.
- Or both.
- Or murder his enemies.
- The Man They Couldn't Hang: Sergeant Hakeswill, who is convinced he can't die because he survived being hanged as a child, and indeed does manage to escape several apparently fatal events. These include being thrown into a cage full of tigers, placed under the foot of an elephant, and tossed into a snake pit. As it turns out, however, he's not Immune to Bullets.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: A lot of the French villains and Spanish partisans, e.g. Brigadier Loup, "The Needle", El Castrator.
- Napoleon Bonaparte: The Big Bad (at least, from Sharpe's perspective). Sharpe eventually meets him in exile on St Helena in Sharpe's Devil, but despite having fought his armies for years, Sharpe takes quite a liking to l'Empereur. Lord Cochrane plans to bust him out of the island and set him up as Emperor of a "United States of South America", but Napoleon died before they could try. (The second sentence consists of real, historical events).
- In the TV seres, Sharpe's Devil was never adapted, but instead Sharpe saw him briefly through the powder smoke at Waterloo.
- Not So Different: Sharpe and General Calvet. Both men from humble origins who owe their positions and success to the men in charge of their respective armies, and who care deeply for their men.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Sharpe may be an officer, but he's not a gentleman.
Lt Col Lawford: Lieutenant Slingsby, tells me that you insulted him. That you invited him to a duel. That you called him illegitiamte. That you swore at him.
Capt Sharpe: I doubt I called him illegitimate, sir, I wouldn't use that sort of language. I probably called him a bastard.
- The Only One: No matter how large the armies or how complicated the situations, it inevitably falls to Sharpe, the Chosen Men and/or the South Essex Light Company to save the day and defeat the bad guys.
- Pointy Haired Military Boss: More than you can shake a bayonet at, Henry Simmerson is probably the worst.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The entire damn army. According to Wellington and Hogan, all the enlisted men in the British army are either gutter bastards, drunks, thieves, rapists or murderers--and at least three of those describe Sharpe himself.
- The column of soldiers in Sharpe's Peril comprise of East India Company troops on maneouvres, an incredibly lazy unit of the King's soldiers transporting a prisoner under the command of a pre-pubsescant officer, an engineer and his mate, a pregnant woman, an Indian noble and a priest.
- The villains of Sharpe's Enemy are the evil version of this trope, a group of deserters from the English, French, Spanish and Portugese armies who've organised into an army of their own.
- Truth in Television, witness Wellington's famous quote "I don't know what effect they will have on the enemy, but by God they frighten me".
- And even more appropriately, "Our army is the scum of the earth, the merest scum of the earth..." (and the usually forgotten second part) "...but by God, what have we made of them!"
- Real Men Wear Pink and Cultured Warrior: Captain (later Major) Peter D'Alembord - elegant and erudite, with exquisitely tailored uniforms and perfect, languid, manners. Also a first-class swordsman and excellent commander of light troops.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sir Arthur Wellesley (the later Duke of Wellington)gives an epic one to Sir Henry Simmerson in Sharpe's Eagle:
Wellesley: He says you lost the King's colours.
Simmerson: The fault was not mine, sir. Major Lennox must answer.
Wellesley [at the top of his voice] : Major Lennox answered with his life, Sir! As you should have done if you had any sense of honour. [calmer] You lost the colours of the King of England. You disgraced us, Sir. You shamed us, Sir! You will answer. [coldly] The South Essex stood down in name. If I wipe the name, I may wipe the shame. I am making a battalion of detachments. You will fetch and carry. The Light Company put up a fight. So I will let it stand under the command of a new captain.
Simmerson: ...to be commanded by the newly gazetted Captain Gibbons?
Wellesley: To be commanded by the newly gazetted Captain Sharpe, sir.
Simmerson: I have a cousin at Horse Guards, sir... and I have friends at court.
Wellesley: The man who loses the King's Colours....loses the King's friendship.
- Redshirt Army / We Have Reserves: Most of Sharpe's aristocratic enemies take this attitude, and his mission is to convince the troops that they are more than that.
- Bonus in that most of the British soldiers actually do wear Red Shirts.
- Remember When You Captured That Eagle At Talavera?: Sharpe's crowning moments of awesome are acknowledged in-canon. The best example is Sharpe's capture of an Imperial Eagle at the Battle of Talavera (Sharpe's Eagle), which made him famous throughout the army and back in England for its sheer awesomeness. At least once in all the following novels, a character will say something along the lines of "Hey, you're Sharpe, the guy who captured the Eagle at Talavera! That was awesome!"
- Rousing Speech: Sharpe gives one to nervous regulars a few times, most notably in Sharpe's Eagle:
Sharpe: You don't see a battle. You hear it. Black powder blasting by the ton on all sides. Black smoke blinding you and choking you and making you vomit. Then the French come out of the smoke - not in a line, but in a column. And they march towards our thin line, kettledrums hammering like hell and a golden eagle blazing overhead. They march slowly, and it takes them a long time to reach you, and you can't see them in smoke. But you can hear the drums. They march out of the smoke, and you fire a volley. And the front rank of the column falls, and the next rank steps over them, with drums hammering, and the column smashes your line like a hammer breaking glass... and Napoleon has won another battle. But if you don't run - if you stand until you can smell the garlic, and fire volley after volley, three rounds a minute - then they slow down. They stop. And then they run away. All you've got to do is stand, and fire three rounds a minute. Now, you and I know you can fire three rounds a minute. But can you stand?
- Sergeant Rock: Patrick Harper pretty much occupies this position
- Self-Made Man: Sir William In Sharpe's Justice and, to a lesser extent, Sharpe himself.
- Shout-Out: A good many, in both directions:
- Examples of shout outs to other works:
- Cornwell ties in his novel Sharpe's Escape into C.S. Forester's 1932 novel Death To The French by implying that Forester's protagonist, Rifleman Matthew Dodd, was part of Sharpe's Light Company during the Battle of Bussaco (Cornwell later confirmed that the Dodd in his novel is supposed to be the Dodd from Forester's). Death To The French, which follows the wartime adventures of a British rifleman who is separated from his Regiment during that battle, was likely one of the inspirations for the Sharpe novels.
- George Wickham, a military officer and antagonist of the TV-only story Sharpe's Justice, shares a name with a character from Pride and Prejudice, who is also a military officer and an antagonist.
- In the book Sharpe's Tiger, the Moonstone from Wilkie Collins' novel of the same name makes a brief cameo appearance.
- Rifleman Benjamin Harris was named after a soldier in the Real Life 95th Rifles, who dictated (he was illiterate) a story of his memories from the Peninsular Campaign, and whose book served as an inspiration for the Sharpe series.
- Examples of shout outs in other works to the Sharpe series:
- In Cornwell's own Gallows Thief, a murder mystery set after Waterloo, the protagonist is an Army veteran whose life was once saved by a Rifle officer and his men.
- Cornwell's American Civil War series, The Starbuck Chronicles, includes a French officer traveling with the Confederate Army as an observer. It's clear to readers of the Sharpe series from context that this man is Richard Sharpe's son.
- The Fields of Death, part of a "parallel lives" series about Napoleon and Wellington by Simon Scarrow, features a Rifle officer named Richard who unusually carries a rifle like the rankers.
- Ads for PC game Empire: Total War featured a very Sean Beanish redcoat in them, which seems odd until one considers that Sharpe dons his signature green jacket much later. (In Napoleon: Total War, as it were.)
- Examples of shout outs to other works:
- Smug Snake: Ohhh Sir Henry Simmerson. Also has elements of the Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
- Spin Offspring/Babies Ever After: Sharpe and Lucille's son, Patrick Lassan, is a minor character in The Starbuck Chronicles, another series by Cornwell set during the American Civil War. In that series, Patrick is a Chasseur Colonel of the French Imperial Guard and a French Military Observer attached to the Union Army. He carries and uses Sharpe's old sword, though his father was apparently a bit disappointed that his son joined the cavalry rather than the infantry. By 1862, when the novel was set, Sharpe had died of old age on the farm and Lucille was still alive.
- Spot of Tea: This being the British Army, tea is never far away.
- Still Wearing the Old Colors: In Sharpe's Waterloo, Sharpe wears his usual uniform despite being repeatedly ordered to change into a newer one.
- Take That: Numerous
- In Sharpe's Eagle, Lieutenants Berry and Gibbons are named after his first wife's divorce attorneys.
- The Spymaster: Major Hogan.
- "El Mirador", in Sharpe's Sword.
- The Squad: Sharpe and the Chosen Men. More so in the TV series, where there's only five Chosen Men besides Sharpe and they get a lot of character development, compared to the books where there's a dozen or two Riflemen who are only named and mentioned specifically when needed.
- Storming the Castle: Literally, and regularly.
- Suicide Attack: An unusual Real Life example mentioned in the books. By the Napoleonic Wars, though cavalry charges were death on disorganised troops or those in line, they were incapable of breaking disciplined troops who had formed squares, because the horses would always veer off rather than impale themselves on the bayonets. The only exception was if a shot from the infantry killed one of the lead horses at just the right moment, causing the horse and rider to smash through the infantry from momentum and ripping a hole in the square for other cavalrymen to charge through and break up the formation.
- It should be noted that after they smash one square, the Germans go on to utterly destroy several other nearby squares in quick succession by letting the fleeing french from the first square knock the others into disarray.
- Suicide Mission: The Forlorn Hope (derived from Dutch verloren hoep, "lost troop"), who are the first men to charge through a breach opened in an enemy fortress' walls--nine times out of ten they naturally catch the brunt of the enemy defence and get killed, but if they survive, they get instant promotions. Sharpe ends up leading one in order to confirm his promotion to captain.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The intelligence officers who replace Major Hogan in later episodes of the TV show.
- Suspiciously Small Army: In the tv series, the units involved in the battles tend to be rather small, no doubt because of budget constrains. Works fine when depicting small-unit actions in Spain, breaks down miserably when trying to depict the battle of Waterloo.
- Tall Poppy Syndrome: How dare this jumped-up sergeant go around leading troops. How dare he be good at it.
- Title Drop: Most of the books have a final sentence that concludes with the title words.
- Perhaps the most notable exception is Sharpe's Waterloo, which concludes "and the world was at peace".
- Too Dumb to Live: Many of the officers that Sharpe encounters.
- Unfriendly Fire: So many examples that you might start to wonder whether there was anyone left for the French to kill.
- Unstoppable Rage: When the close-quarters fighting starts, with swords and bayonets and improvised weapons, everyone gets this, from the gentleman officers to the lowliest privates.
- Upperclass Twit: Most of the officers.
- Warrior Poet: Rifleman Harris, created for the TV series, is the closest thing the series has to this trope. In one of the movies, Sharpe's Sword, he's involved in a lengthy sub-plot were he must find a copy of Voltaire's Candide in order to find a French spy. Besides that, he's one of the few literate members of The Squad, and Sharpe often gets a lot of esoteric information from him, whether he wants it or not.
- Weapon of Choice: Sharpe's Baker rifle and heavy cavalry sabre. At the time, infantry soldiers fought with muskets (or rifles) and bayonets, while the officers used pistols and sabres (if they fought at all). Not only do the rifle and sword make an effective combo, but they aptly represent where Sharpe has come from and what he is now.
- Harper's Nock gun.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Theresa and Sharpe have a daughter about halfway through the first series. Sharpe does not get to see her often, but when he does he appears to dote on her. After Theresa's death we rarely hear of her again.
- Word of God (in the foreword to a '94 printing of Sharpe's Enemy) says she lives happily ever after. So now we know.
- Worthy Opponent: Sharpe regards Napoleon as one in the books. Not so much in the TV series, but he doesn't appear to have any particular animosity for l'Empereur either.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Sharpe does this quite a lot in the books, much less so in the TV version.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Whenever Sharpe has to get somewhere by ship in the books, particularly in Sharpe's Trafalgar and Sharpe's Devil.
- Writer Revolt: An editor told Bernard Cornwell to change a scene where an Ensign died. He resented being told how to write, so he changed it... to be more depressing. And in a number of the books since, Cornwell has killed off Ensigns in increasingly worse ways.
- ↑ Although three rounds a minute was merely passable for British troops in the Peninsular War - most units could manage four, and some five or even six (3 RPM is good for riflemen at the time - the Baker rifle is harder to load and takes longer to aim.)