I have just started the eleventh (chronological) Sharpe series book by Bernard Cornwell entitled Sharpe’s Fury. I am finished viewing all of the British TV series of Sharpe and have begun viewing The Video Diaries of Rifleman Harris created by actor Jason Salkey who played the educated Harris in the series. At this time, Sharpe’s Trafalgar (the fourth book chronologically) has been my favorite. I think there are at least a couple of reasons. The first reason is that Mr. Cornwell wrote this book as one of the seven prequels to Sharpe’s Eagle, but he wrote it in 2000. This was after he had written the majority of the series and I really enjoy his later writing style (not that it was not good previously, however). The second reason is that Richard Sharpe leaves India to go back to England and he has not yet fought in Portugal and Spain. The change of scenery from India and the hot battlefields and learning about one of the most important sea battles between the British Navy and the French and Spanish fleets was exciting. My hero, Sharpe, is leaving India to go back to England to join the Rifles, a new unit of skirmishers and marksmen. Lo and behold, on his way back, he gets embroiled in the famous Battle of Trafalgar.
The setting for Sharpe’s Trafalgar was aboard a couple of ships as Sharpe was traveling “home.” Home is a relative term for Sharpe, being as he is an orphan. Before finding and boarding the ship he chartered to take him home, Sharpe saved the life of a certain Captain Joel Chase. Sharpe had been taken advantage of by some shady Indian businessmen who had charged him to store his belongings and take them to the ship and then lost them in a “fire.” He had to buy more gear and was suspicious of the merchants. Chase also smelled a scam and went to the Indians’ home to confront them at the same time as Sharpe. Sharpe saved Chase’s life and became fast friends with Chase. Sharpe was sailing on the transport ship Calliope and Chase was the captain of the Pucelle. Later, the Calliope was “taken over” by a French warship, the Revenant, and then Chase and his ship later encountered the Calliope and saved Sharpe and others. I used the term “taken over” lightly because the captain of the Calliope, Peculiar Cromwell, really was in cahoots with the French and steered a course where the ship could be captured. (A side note: Mr. Cornwell, the author, was adopted and grew up and lived with a religious group in England called the Peculiar People. I believe that has something to do with the name of his Calliope captain.)
Before the actual battle, Sharpe fell in love with Lady Grace Hale, one of the passengers on the ships. She was a beautiful lady married to Lord William Hale, a higher up in the political scene in London, who was a stuffy, cold man. Sharpe and Lady Grace managed to have a secret relationship throughout the journey. Of course, Sharpe had to take care of a blackmailer. However, Lady Grace’s husband did find out about the relationship and tried to pay them back during the battle. Not smart with Sharpe aboard.
The battle itself and the strategies involved concerning the British versus the French and Spanish were very enlightening to me, someone who knew virtually nothing about this time period. Admiral Nelson makes an appearance in the book before his tragic death. Mr. Cornwell provided an excellent map of the positioning of the ships just west off of Cape Trafalgar at the start of the battle. There is also a diagram of a typical ship from the time period, denoting the different decks and quarters.
—Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805, Lemuel Francis Abbott, Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 76.2 cm (25 x 30 in), National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England
It is amazing that Sharpe seems to turn up in every important battle in India, Copenhagen, Portugal, Spain, and at the most important sea battle where Admiral Nelson meets his end. That is ok by me, but you have to know the total improbability of it. But I enjoyed seeing Sharpe out of his element aboard ships on the sea, in love with a well-placed woman of society who loved him despite his lower status, and yet still fighting and making a difference for England and King George.
Since this novel was set aboard a couple of ships, I learned some new nautical words. Here is a sampling:
cutlass: a short curving sword forermly used by sailors on warships
forecastle: forward part of the upper deck of a ship futtock: one of the curved timbers scarfed together to form the lower part of the compound rib of a ship grapnel: a small anchor with usually four or five flukes used especially to recover a sunken object or to anchor a small boat halliard: a rope or tackle for hoisting and lowering something (as sails) hawser: thick cable or rope used in mooring or towing a ship lubber: a clumsy seaman matelot: sailor mizzen: a fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzenmast–the mast aft or next aft of the mainmast in a ship orlop deck: the lowest deck in a ship having four or more decks sutler: a civilian provisioner to an army post often with a shop on the post
Thanks for reading more about my current obsession: Sharpe. And stay tuned.