Sharpe's Havoc

Sharpe's Havoc: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Oporto is the seventh historical novel in the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell, first published in 2003.

Sharpe's Havoc
First edition cover
AuthorBernard Cornwell
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesRichard Sharpe
GenreHistorical novels
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback) and audio-CD
ISBN0-00-712010-9 (first edition, hardback)
Preceded bySharpe's Rifles (chronological)
Sharpe's Prey (publication) 
Followed bySharpe's Eagle (chronological)
Sharpe's Escape (publication) 

The story is set largely in Portugal during General Arthur Wellesley's Oporto Campaign in 1809, part of the Napoleonic Wars.

Plot summary

Lieutenant Richard Sharpe, leading his men of the 95th Rifles in retreat from the French victory at Oporto, are unexpectedly saved by a small detachment of Portuguese soldiers led by Lt. Jorge Vincente, a law student who joined his country's army out of patriotism. Despite his bitter hatred of lawyers, Sharpe gradually comes to respect Jorge's bravery in combat.

While the British Army is in retreat, Sharpe and his men are ordered to help retrieve a young Englishwoman, Kate Savage, the daughter of a prominent port merchant, recently deceased. For unknown reasons, she decided not to flee the city with her mother.

In going to retrieve Kate, Sharpe and his men are caught up in the scheming of "Colonel" Christopher, a turncoat spy for the British Foreign Office. Initially sent to Portugal to investigate the possibility that Marshal Soult might decide to declare himself King of Portugal (and thus cut himself off from Napoleon), Christopher has instead decided to use the situation to his own enrichment.

On the one hand, he acts as agent provocateur, encouraging rebellious officers of the French Army to conspire against "King Nicolas," and then, when the time is right, offers to expose all of them to Soult, demanding a monopoly on the port trade in return (Christopher confidently expects the French to win the war, and thus to be the permanent rulers of Portugal).

On the other hand, he has seduced Kate and married her in a sham ceremony, for both her youthful beauty and her father's fortune.

Seen openly collaborating with the French, he assures Sharpe that he is simply on a secret mission for Britain. Sharpe is temporarily duped, but realises the truth when he and his men are ambushed by a French detachment. The Riflemen escape and rejoin the main British force, while Christopher makes his way to the French lines, and Kate, against her better judgement, goes with him.

Acting as scouts for the Army, Sharpe spots a small group of boats overlooked by the French that can be used to cross the river at the one weak point in the French's defences. A division crosses in secret and, by the afternoon, have entrenched themselves and sparked the French in a desperate attempt to push them out again.

In the aftermath of the British victory and the desperate French retreat, Sharpe confers with General Wellesley and Foreign Office dignitary Lord Pumphrey, who says that Christopher has done no lasting harm, but is a traitor nonetheless and should be disposed of.

Sharpe, Jorge, and their men accompany the British pursuit of the fleeing French forces, who have managed to force their way through the Portuguese barricade at a narrow bridge. Catching up with them during the retreat, Jorge rescues Kate and Sharpe kills Christopher.

Characters in "Sharpe's Havoc"

  • Richard Sharpe protagonist.
  • Patrick Harper Sergeant in the Rifles, Sharpe's right-hand man.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Turncoat Foreign Office spy who wants to sell military secrets in return for favours from the conquering French.
  • Major Hogan Irish born, British Engineering officer for Wellesley.
  • Jorge Vicente Portuguese officer.
  • Major Dulong courageous French opponent of Sharpe.
  • Lord Pumphrey an agent of the British Foreign Office.
  • Kate Savage Portuguese raised daughter of an English port maker.

Historical figures

Allusions to other Sharpe novels

  • Turncoat British officers are recurring antagonists in several of Cornwell's later-published Sharpe novels, especially those taking place during the early phase of the Peninsular War (notably Sharpe's Trafalgar and Sharpe's Prey). In addition to a general opportunism - seeking personal gain amid the chaos of war - what each of these characters have in common is the conviction that the French under Napoleon will be the inevitable victors in the war and the smartest thing to do is side with them in any way possible. Such belief was apparently widespread during the early years of the war, given the French's series of victorious battles against the Austrians and Russians, and the small size of the British expeditionary force in comparison to the French armies it confronted.
  • Lord Pumphrey re-appears after his introduction in Sharpe's Prey. His internal thoughts confirm that he ordered the murders of Sharpe's love interest from that novel, Astrid, and her father, which Sharpe himself will not discover until the events of Sharpe's Fury which takes place two years later.
  • In the subsequent novel, Sharpe's Escape, Kate has married Jorge and is pregnant with his child.
  • Cornwell lampoons Marshal Soult by showing him arguing with his cook about the menu for that evening's dinner, while the British are crossing the river. The cook is named as Sergeant Deron, who later becomes "Marshal Pot-au-feu," the commander of an army of deserters and a leading antagonist of Sharpe's Enemy.

Literary and Historical References

  • Christopher is fond of quoting a line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Christopher uses the line as a subtle insult, and as a means of over-awing his critics, implying that all his treachery is actually part of some elaborate, secret scheme for the greater good, beyond their understanding.
  • In his historical note, Cornwell said that he based the character of Major Dulong on the real-life Dulong, who is mentioned only briefly in the histories as a valorous French officer who almost single-handedly saved Soult's army during the retreat by leading an attack on the Portuguese roadblock. Cornwell calls Dulong "a rather Sharpe-like figure," and even bases his appearance on that of Sharpe, as described in the earlier novels.
  • Col. Christopher emulates Marshal Andre Massena, in having Kate dress in a man's Hussar uniform that shows off her figure.

Publication history

It is the twentieth full-length novel in the series in order of publication, and takes place between the events of Sharpe's Rifles and Sharpe's Eagle.


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