Not much is actually known about Lord Pumphrey other than his status as an accredited diplomat with the British Foreign Office. He makes his first appearance in Sharpe's Prey and subsequently shows up again in Sharpe's Havoc, and most recently, Sharpe's Fury.
When Sharpe first encounters Lord Pumphrey, he figures him to be about thirty years old (Sharpe's Prey : Chapter 3), placing his lordship's birthdate sometime between 1775 and 1779 which allows for two years of deviation on either side. Though he is always referred to in canon as a "lord", his exact title and rank are uncertain. Given the rules of style and usage for the Peerage of England/Great Britain/Scotland/Ireland/United Kingdom though, there are several possibilities that might apply to Pumphrey. If his father is still living, then his title is merely courtesy and he is, in fact, a commoner. If, however, his father is deceased, then he is a peer in his own right. Because Pumphrey appears to be the character's surname as well as his title, one may assume that he holds a baronage, viscountcy, or earldom (though there is precedent for marquesses whose titles have been taken from their surnames instead of a geographical location.) However, because Pumphrey is never referred to by a specific rank in canon, it is safe to assume that he is most likely a baron (either by right or courtesy) because barons are never referred to as such in speech or writing within the British system.
Lord Pumphrey attended Eton with the Honorable John Lavisser where he acted the part of Ophelia to Lavisser's Hamlet (Sharpe's Prey : Chapter 3). No information was ever given as to whether Pumphrey continued his education at university or not. Likewise, nothing is known about how the character came to work at the Foreign Office or what his exact role within the institution is. However, based upon his role in the books, he appears to be of the diplomatic corps or perhaps even a general "clean up man", responsible for cleaning up mistakes and tying up loose ends.
Personality and GeneralEdit
Love him or hate him, he is, regardless, an interesting and often, entertaining, character. From Cornwell's descriptions, Pumphrey comes off as affected, ironic, and urbane; he is also quite openly homosexual and is apparently attracted to both Sharpe and Sir Arthur Wellesley. His behavior might be considered outrageous for the period - he greets Sharpe by kissing his hand to him in Fury and tells Sharpe and Major Hogan that "Sir Arthur makes me go weak at the knees" (Sharpe's Havoc : Chapter 9) - but he somehow manages to get away with it, hinting at the amount of influence that he either exercises himself, or that backs him back at Whitehall.
Behind the façade of pretentious mannerisms, Pumphrey is nevertheless a shrewd, calculating, and somewhat unprincipled man.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
When it is discovered in Prey that the British agent in Denmark Ole Skovgaard gave the names of British agents abroad to his daughter Astrid, and that neither are willing to leave Copenhagen to escape the approaching French, Pumphrey does not hesitate to have both of them murdered in order to keep the information from passing into the wrong hands. This act has lasting effects because Astrid was Sharpe's love interest and his discovery of her murder sours what had hitherto been a cordial and even friendly relationship between the two. In addition to his tendency to have people killed (it is, afterall, Pumphrey who ultimately gives HM Government's consent to Sharpe to have both Lavisser and Colonel Christopher killed), Pumphrey has extremely sticky fingers where government funds are concerned. He appropriates a portion of the recovered bribe money in Prey and also is guilty of stealing money from Henry Wellesley in Fury.
Cornwell describes Pumphrey as "birdlike" (Sharpe's Prey : Chapter 3) and goes through great lengths to describe his physical appearance, moreso than any other male character in the series. Readers are told that Pumphrey is frail, thin, pale, black-haired, and apparently prone to feminine excesses of dress and carriage. His most noticeable feature is a black velvet beauty patch worn almost always on the left cheek; though Fury had Pumphrey wearing various floral-scented perfumes as well.
- Pumphrey's full name is given as William Pumphrey though he is referred to as "Lord Pumphrey", indicating that he is the eldest son of a peer or a peer in his own right.
- Characters who address Pumphrey familiarly often call him "Pumps"; Sharpe does this rather sarcastically once in Fury.
- He was apparently intended for army service by his father until it was determined that he was too frail for such a barbaric occupation (Sharpe's Prey : Chapter 3).
- He is called a "molly", a contemporary term of derision for effeminate, homosexual men, twice in canon.