Book Review: Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Battle: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro

Posted December 21, 2011 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Battle: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro

Sharpe's Battle: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro


Bernard Cornwell

historical fiction, military fiction that was published by HarperCollins on May 1, 1995 and has 304 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Sharpe's Fortress: India 1803, Sharpe's Trafalgar: Richard Sharpe & the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805, arpe's Prey: Denmark, 1807, Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe's Havoc: Portugal 1809, Sharpe’s Eagle, Sharpe’s Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign, Sharpe's Gold: Richard Sharpe and the Destruction of Almeida, Sharpe's Company, Sharpe's Sword, Sharpe's Fury: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Barrosa, Sharpe's Enemy: The Defense of Portugal, Christmas 1812, Sharpe's Honor, Sharpe's Regiment

Twelfth in the Richard Sharpe historical military fiction series revolving around Captain Richard Sharpe in the Peninsular War in May of 1811.

My Take

One of the subplots has Sharpe facing off with General Loup while the primary theme is sabotage. A weakening of one’s enemy through subterfuge.

Harper is such a crackup with his little ways of distracting Sharpe when he’s angry or frustrated. This time he keeps telling stories of how one or another of his relatives loses things.

Cornwell has really created a nasty character in General Loup, and I do love how Sharpe snarks at Loup! I don’t care how badly the partisans treat the soldiers, you just don’t treat children this way. And considering how the French normally treat everyone, heck, I think the French are getting off light. I liked the reference Cornwell throws in about Agincourt. A lovely bit of up yours!

Throughout the stories about the Peninsular War so far, Cornwell has included a description of the French Republican ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood, ascribing these values as reasons why the afrancesadoes and others support the French invasion. Their reasons vary but boil down to intellectuals who see that the time for blood to dictate life and policy is over and a merit-based system would be preferred, the poor who are tired of being trampled on, and those who see violent change as an opportunity for their own advancement.

From an American perspective, it’s easy to empathize with these ideals especially when Cornwell presents the evils of the British Army’s method of promotion! And their aristocracy’s notions of officer suitablility…oh, brother. But Cornwell easily presents those principles only to demolish them through the French style of waging war. I find myself curious if Wellington’s insistence on paying his army’s way across countries is a first in warfare?

From the dedication, I assume this particular installment was specifically written by Cornwell for the television series.

The Story

It’s May 1811 and 40 men in Sharpe’s company march to supplement the undermanned South Essex as a guard unit in Vilar Formoso. As you can imagine, Sharpe is quite depressed about this upcoming duty and inclined to take it out on the French soldiers who have raped and massacred a village right down to the babies and are just finishing up their “work” by raping the one woman they haven’t yet killed.

But Sharpe’s idea of justice in one with which General Loup disagrees. Strongly. So strongly, that Loup vows to take Sharpe down.

That’s the easy part. The difficult task is coping with the Real Compañía Irlandesa. A royal household guard supposedly sent by the Spanish via the French to supplement Wellington’s army. Right. It’s a balancing act between being seen to honor the Real Compañía Irlandesa to curry favor with General Valverde — Wellington needs Valverde’s nod to become Generalisimo and the head of the allied armies — and being nasty enough to the Irlandesa that they choose to go off to Cadiz even as he susses out their secrets. For Hogan and Wellington know full well that the company is simply a cover for French sabotage in the middle of the British Army.

The powers-that-be determine that the best way to tick off the Real Compañía Irlandesa is assigning them to Sharpe’s tender teachings. They couldn’t ask for a better teacher nor could Sharpe possibly find a company in more desperate need of his abilities and compassion.

Tucked away in Fort San Isidro to isolate this potential disaster, Sharpe does his best to strengthen them in spite of the betrayals, bitter attacks, and the determination of the High Command to get rid of the Irlandesa. Lord knows, Sharpe resorts to some pretty radical techniques to build morale! Shoot the officers. Hatch a gruesome plan with El Castrador. Logic.

The enemy uses betrayal, forgery, and propaganda.

The Characters

Captain Richard Sharpe is between a rock and a hard place. Total destruction or mercy and justice.

Sharpe’s men include…
Sergeant Patrick Harper, an Ulsterman from Donegal; Lieutenant Harry Price; Daniel Hagman, the oldest man in the regiment and a former poacher from Cheshire; Thompson; Cooper; Harris, a former schoolteacher; Perkins, the youngest; Green; Horrell; McDonald; Cresacre; Smith; Sergeant Latimer; and, Corporal Jackson.

Teresa Moreno, a.k.a., La Ajuga (The Needle), is out fighting the French with her guerilla band. El Castrador, a.k.a., the Castrator, leads another band of partisans that castrates any Frenchmen they find. Of whom, Sharpe makes a very peculiar request. Strictly for morale, of course.

Major Michael Hogan is the head of Wellington’s Intelligence services. Arthur Wellesley is now Viscount Wellington and the General Marshal of Portugal’s army and commander of the British forces in Portugal. Major Alexander Tarrant with his sidekicks, Gog and Magog, a.k.a., Privates Hughes and Hughes, are in charge of Wellington’s ammunition and getting it delivered where needed.

General Don Luis Valverde is the junta‘s official observer, and it is his recommendation that will determine if Wellesley is appointed Generalisimo.

Real Compañía Irlandesa is…
…His Most Catholic Majesty’s household guard sent to supplement Wellington’s army. The drunk and dissolute Lord Kiely, an earl and the only Irish aristocrat in Spain, is in command, technically. Father Sarsfield is the Irlandesa’s chaplain with a surprising sense of humor. The men of the Irlandesa includes Sergeant Major Noonan and Captain Donaju who is the real military expert. Colonel Runciman is the British liaison between Wellington and the Irlandesa. Wellington and Hogan see him as the ultimate scapegoat, and initially, one looks forward to his “execution” as bigoted as Cornwell paints him but towards the end, my opinion changed.

Colonel Oliveira with Captain Tom Garrard and their Portuguese battalion are the babysitters.

Miranda is the woman they rescue.

The Brigade Loup, a.k.a.…
…the Wolf Brigade, is led by Brigadier General Guy Loup, a terrorist. His mission is to terrify the partisans into keeping to themselves and not killing French soldiers from ambush. Seems it’s all right for the French to terrorize but they don’t like having it done to them.

Major Pierre Ducos is the emperor’s spy and an even nastier man than Loup.

Doña Juanita de Elia is well-born, but with the character of a whore. It’s said that she collects one uniform from the regiment of every man she’s slept with, and that she has tailored them to fit her form. She sees herself as an adventuress and a Spaniard who would prefer the French in power, and she wears her uniforms whenever she can.

The Cover and Title

This is a new style of cover for this series. It has the feel of a watercolor painting: a rocky stream bordered by trees, a manor house in the background suffused with an orangey yellow sky as two men fight amongst the rocks.

The title proclaims Sharpe’s Battle against Loup, France’s best soldier.