Bernard Cornwell is an English-American author of historical novels and a history of the Waterloo Campaign. He is most famous for his fiction about Napoleonic Wars rifleman Richard Sharpe. Cornwell also wrote 13 books about England's making called The Saxon Stories.
Cornwell was born in London in 1944 to a Canadian airman and a Women's Auxiliary Air Force member. He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People. This strict Protestant sect banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his mother's maiden name, Cornwell.
He attended London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television, where he worked for the next ten years. Cornwell began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended up as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland.
While working in Belfast Cornwell met Judy, a visiting American. Because Judy couldn't move to Britain for family reasons, Bernard went to the States, where he was denied a green card.
Bernard Cornwell decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government — and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars — and so the Sharpe series was born.
As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find there were no such novels following Lord Wellington's campaign on land. Cornwell decided to write such a series.
He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most battles of the Peninsular War. Instead of starting with the Siege of Badajoz, Cornwell began with "warm-up" stories.
These were Sharpe's Eagle and Sharpe's Gold, both published in 1981. Cornwell signed a three-book deal after the publisher picked up Sharpe's Eagle. In 1982, he published Sharpe's Company, his third Sharpe novel.
Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym "Susannah Kells." These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms (aka The Aristocrats) in 1986.
His strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War. In 1987, he also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British.
After publishing eight books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point for the series. They also requested that the story feature a significant role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain.
The result was Sharpe’s Rifles, published in 1987, and a series of Sharpe television films starring Sean Bean. A series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and Scoundrel, a political thriller, in 1992.
In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's 80th Birthday Honours List.
Bernard and Judy married in 1980 and still live in the States.
Photo credit: www.bernardcornwell.net