- "God save Ireland."
- — Patrick Harper
Regimental Sergeant Major Patrick Augustine Harper is a fictional character created by Bernard Cornwell in the Sharpe novels. Harper is a large, fierce-seeming man from Donegal, Ireland, described in Sharpe's Company as a sandy haired, six foot four inches of muscle and contentment. Harper is the trusted right hand of Richard Sharpe with whom he was initially antagonistic, but Harper becomes Sharpe's best friend and most reliable companion, rising in rank to sergeant and later to regimental sergeant-major.
Harper was born in 1785 in Tangaveane, County Donegal. He was the fourth of eleven children who survived infancy in a farming family in the Catholic peasantry that predominated in rural Ireland at the time. His mother called him a 'big wee one' and 'to feed Patrick is like feeding three of the others,' so more often than not he stayed hungry. It was this hunger that eventually led him to join the British army in 1801.
Despite serving in the British Army, Harper remains proud of his Irish heritage and, on more than one occasion, expresses confusion about his ambivalent situation and wonders whether he could fight against his friends on Ireland's behalf. During this period he gained a reputation as a troublemaker, one of the wildest men in the British army. Consequently, he was transferred from regiment to regiment, until eventually he settled in the 95th Rifles shortly after its formation.
As a greenjacket Harper got his first taste of battle when, in 1806, he was part of the disastrous attempt to capture Buenos Aires and the following year saw action at the Battle of Copenhagen (1807). He arrived in Portugal in 1808 with the rest of his regiment, and fought at Rolica and Vimeiro. At this point Harper was still a hothead, and during the retreat to Corunna he led a mutiny amongst his fellow men against a new officer whom they neither liked nor trusted: Richard Sharpe. In the aftermath, when trying to make peace with Sharpe, he mentioned he'd never fought a man who hit so hard as Sharpe did. Sharpe eventually forgave the mutiny in face of actions in the field when Harper proved loyal and corageous. Harper became his constant companion and partner in battle. Sharpe learned to trust him completely and rely on him heavily.
Harper was promoted to Sergeant almost against his will, and began to settle down, learing to like the responsibiltiy of rank. Sharpe was able to harness the Irishman's wild enthusiasm, and they formed an effective partnership. Harper helped Sharpe capture the French Imperial Eagle at the Battle of Talavera.In 1809, he and the other thirty stranded riflemen with Sharpe were used to bring the South Essex Regiment, up to strength. He served throughout the Peninsula War displaying great courage and seemingly embracing a cause he believed in, despite his misgivings about the British for whom he fought. In addition to his Baker Rifle, he carries a hugely powerful seven-barrelled Nock gun that Sharpe gave him. He has also been known to wield an axe against enemy troops.
In Sharpe's Regiment, when the Regimental Sergeant Major was killed, Sharpe once again promoted Harper to fill the position. Harper served at almost every battle of the war, from Vimeiro to Battle of Toulouse, before he leaving the army in 1814 with a discharge signed by Wellington himself.
Harper is wrongly flogged after an accusation of theft during Sharpe's Company, as a result of the machinations of Sharpe's enemy Obadiah Hakeswill and receives 60 lashes. Another item of fellowship between him and Sharpe.
In Sharpe's Siege, he stowed away against Sharpe's orders so that he could accompany Sharpe on his mission to Bordeaux. His assistance was instrumental in the unexpected survival of the companies involved. Because a new Colonel arrived to take charge to the Prince of Wales Own while they were gone, and appointed his own RSM, both he and Sharpe were considered detached from their service and he fought his last battle at Toulouse with the the 60th Rifles under Captain Frederickson. (Sharpe's Revenge)
Sharpe helped him obtain a discharge from the army after The Battle of Toulouse, but this did not stop Harper from returning to help Sharpe at Waterloo, and again in Chile some six years later, the intervening years having added some fifty or sixty pounds to his formidable frame, and was described as fat in the way a bull or prize boar was fat, much of which he loses during the sea voyages, and in the jungles of South America. After a decade at war beside Sharpe without a scratch, he takes the only notable wound of his career in Chile, a grazing pistol ball to the skull from agents of the corrupt governor-general; "I went through the whole damned French wars, so I did, and never once did I take a bullet, and now a damned thief in a damned town at the end of the damned world hits me! Jesus sweet Christ!" (Sharpe's Devil).
During their time in Spain, Harper met Isabella, whom he later married and brought to Ireland. (In the films she is called Ramona.) Their first child is called Richard Patricio Augustine Harper. Both he and Sharpe name their first born sons after the other man. Eventually he and Isabella produce four sons, Richard, Liam, Sean, and Mícheál whom Sharpe calls Michael since he cannot pronounce the Gaelic.
After the wars, Harper set up a horse trading business in Dublin, often fencing stolen horses, which he used as an excuse to Isabella to leave for Waterloo.
Harper also owns a successful pub in Dublin. He bought it, and his other property, using his share of the money that Harper and Sharpe got from selling the jewels they recovered from the French baggage train at Vitoria, in Sharpe's Honour. He is considered a gentlemen and has wealth and status.
Harper is a kind, gentle man, with a particular love for bird watching, but in battle he becomes a fierce fighter, shouting in Irish.
He speaks fluent Gaelic, his native language.
In the novel Sharpe's Company, Harper is sentenced to 100 lashes, but Colonel Windham then reduces the punishment to 60. In the television adaptation, he receives all 100 lashes.