Bernard Cornwell is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and celebrated writers of historical fiction in our time. With an exceptional talent for weaving historical events and figures into gripping stories, Cornwell has captivated readers for over four decades. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of his best books, from the origin of his writing career to the most recent releases.
The Origins of Bernard Cornwell’s Writing Career
Early Life and Influences
Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 and grew up in Essex. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother was English. Cornwell was adopted by a family in Essex and raised as their own. He attended the University of London and then worked as a teacher for a while before becoming a television producer.
Cornwell’s passion for history and storytelling developed at a young age. His interest in military history began with his stepfather’s stories of his service in the British Army during World War II. As a child, Cornwell was also fascinated by the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table.
As a young man, Cornwell traveled extensively throughout Europe and the United States. He drew inspiration from the places he visited and the people he met. He also read voraciously, immersing himself in the works of authors like C.S. Forester, Patrick O’Brian, and Alexandre Dumas.
The Birth of the Sharpe Series
Cornwell’s breakthrough as a writer came in the form of his Sharpe series, which follows the adventures of Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. The first novel in the series, Sharpe’s Eagle, was published in 1981, and the series continued for over 20 books.
The Sharpe series was a massive success and brought Cornwell international recognition. The books have been adapted into a TV series starring Sean Bean and have sold millions of copies worldwide.
But the success of the Sharpe series did not come easily. Cornwell spent years researching and writing the books, immersing himself in the history of the Napoleonic Wars and the culture of the British Army. He drew on his own experiences as a soldier in the British Army Reserve to bring authenticity to his writing.
Cornwell’s writing is known for its vivid descriptions of battle scenes and its complex, multi-dimensional characters. His books are meticulously researched and historically accurate, but also full of drama and excitement.
Over the course of his career, Cornwell has written dozens of books, including several other series such as the Saxon Stories and the Warlord Chronicles. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the Winston Churchill Memorial Prize and the Walter Scott Prize.
Today, Cornwell is considered one of the greatest historical fiction writers of our time. His books have inspired countless readers and have helped to bring history to life in a way that is both entertaining and educational.
The Sharpe Series: A Journey Through the Napoleonic Wars
The Sharpe series, written by Bernard Cornwell, is a thrilling journey through the Napoleonic Wars. The series follows the life of Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British Army, as he rises through the ranks and becomes embroiled in some of the key battles of the era.
Key Books in the Series
Sharpe’s Rifles is the first book in the series and sets the stage for Sharpe’s career as a soldier. In this book, Sharpe distinguishes himself as a marksman and begins to gain recognition for his bravery and skill.
Sharpe’s Waterloo is another standout book in the series. It chronicles the famous battle from Sharpe’s perspective and provides a gripping account of the events that took place on that fateful day.
Sharpe’s Honour is a particularly compelling book in the series. In this book, Sharpe is accused of murder and sent to face a firing squad. The book explores the moral complexities of war and the lengths to which soldiers will go to protect their honor.
The Evolution of Richard Sharpe
Throughout the series, Sharpe evolves from a young private to a seasoned officer. He becomes a more complex and nuanced character, struggling with personal demons and grappling with the moral complexities of war.
One of the most interesting aspects of Sharpe’s character is his relationship with Patrick Harper, his friend and mentor. Harper accompanies Sharpe on many of his adventures and provides a sounding board for Sharpe’s thoughts and ideas.
Sharpe is a flawed hero, which is part of what makes him so compelling. He is not invincible and often finds himself in situations where he must improvise and think on his feet. He is also not afraid to bend the rules when it serves his purposes.
The Sharpe series is a must-read for anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars or military history in general. It provides a gripping account of the era and a compelling portrait of one of its most fascinating characters.
The Saxon Stories: A Dive into England’s Dark Ages
The Last Kingdom and Beyond
The Saxon Stories, also known as The Last Kingdom series, is a departure from the Napoleonic Wars setting of the Sharpe series. The books are set in England during the 9th and 10th centuries and follow the exploits of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a pagan warrior who is captured and raised by Danes.
The first book in the series, The Last Kingdom, was published in 2004 and has since been adapted into a successful TV series. The series continues to follow Uhtred as he fights for his place in a world torn apart by war and betrayal.
Uhtred of Bebbanburg: A Hero for the Ages
Uhtred is a fascinating and complex character, driven by a desire for revenge and a need to reclaim his birthright. He is torn between his loyalty to his Saxon roots and his affinity for the Danes who raised him. He is also a formidable warrior and a cunning strategist, using his knowledge of both Saxon and Danish tactics to gain an advantage in battle.
The Saxon Stories are a thrilling and immersive series that offers a vivid depiction of life in England during a turbulent period in its history.
But what was life really like during this time? The Dark Ages, as they are commonly known, were a period of great upheaval and change in England. The country was constantly being invaded and conquered by different groups of people, including the Romans, the Saxons, and the Danes. This led to a blending of cultures and traditions, which is evident in the Saxon Stories.
One of the most interesting aspects of the series is the portrayal of religion. Christianity was becoming more dominant during this time, but there were still many pagans who clung to their old beliefs. Uhtred is one such character, who struggles with his own beliefs and the beliefs of those around him. This conflict is a recurring theme throughout the series, and adds depth and complexity to the characters.
The series also offers a glimpse into the daily lives of people during this time. The feudal system was in place, with lords and vassals ruling over their lands. There was a strict hierarchy, with the king at the top and the peasants at the bottom. Life was hard for most people, with little access to education or healthcare. Disease was rampant, and many people died young.
The Last Kingdom: From Page to Screen
The Last Kingdom has been adapted into a successful TV series, which has introduced the world of Uhtred to a whole new audience. The series stays true to the books, while also making some changes to the plot and characters. One of the most notable changes is the portrayal of Uhtred’s love interest, Brida. In the books, she is a minor character, but in the TV series, she is given a much larger role.
The series has been praised for its attention to detail and its realistic portrayal of life in England during this time. The costumes and sets are meticulously designed, and the battle scenes are intense and thrilling. The cast is also excellent, with Alexander Dreymon giving a standout performance as Uhtred.
Overall, The Saxon Stories are a must-read for anyone interested in English history or epic adventure tales. With its richly drawn characters and vivid depiction of life in the Dark Ages, it is a series that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.
The Warlord Chronicles: A Fresh Take on Arthurian Legend
The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur
The Warlord Chronicles is another departure from Cornwell’s usual setting. The series reimagines the Arthurian legend as a gritty, realistic tale set in the 5th century during the Saxon invasion of Britain.
The series follows Derfel Cadarn, a warrior and friend of Arthur, as he navigates the treacherous politics of Arthur’s court and battles the invading Saxons. The series is a refreshing take on the Arthurian legend, eschewing the fantastical elements in favor of a more grounded and historically accurate portrayal.
The Unique Blend of History and Mythology
The Warlord Chronicles showcases Cornwell’s skill as a writer, blending historical accuracy with the mythology of the Arthurian legend. The series offers a compelling look at the politics and culture of the time, while still delivering a thrilling adventure.
Standalone Novels and Lesser-Known Series
The Grail Quest Series
The Grail Quest series is a lesser-known series from Cornwell that follows the exploits of Thomas of Hookton, an archer in the English Army during the Hundred Years’ War. The series spans four books and follows Thomas as he searches for the Holy Grail.
The Starbuck Chronicles
The Starbuck Chronicles is a series set during the American Civil War, following the adventures of Nathaniel Starbuck, a Northerner fighting for the Confederacy. The series offers an interesting perspective on the war and is a must-read for fans of historical fiction set in America.
Fools and Mortals: A Tale of Shakespeare’s World
Fools and Mortals is a standalone novel from Cornwell that explores the world of William Shakespeare. The book follows Richard Shakespeare, William’s younger brother, as he navigates the cutthroat world of the theater.
While not as well-known as his other series, these books and standalone novels offer a glimpse into the versatility and talent of Bernard Cornwell.
Bernard Cornwell is a master storyteller whose books continue to entertain and engage readers around the world. From the battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars to the courts of King Arthur and the theaters of Elizabethan England, Cornwell’s books offer a thrilling journey through some of the most fascinating periods in history.
Whether you’re a longtime fan or have yet to discover the world of Bernard Cornwell, there’s no better time than now to dive into his books and explore the rich tapestry of history and storytelling that he has created.
In what genre does Bernard Cornwell write?
Bernard Cornwell is a British author known for his contributions to history and historical fiction. His Saxon stories inspired the popular television series, The Last Kingdom, which covers the geopolitics of Britain during the Dane and Saxon years.
Is Bernard Cornwell still writing?
Cornwell is still writing. He released his most recent book, Uhtred’s Feast, at the end of May 2023.
What Bernard Cornwell titles are his best?
The Last Kingdom, Sharpe’s Fortress, The Fort, and 1356 are all popular books written by Bernard Cornwell.