Over The Hills and Far Away

The Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell told the story of the unlikely rise of Richard Sharpe from sergeant to officer during the Napleonic wars. As person of very low birth and little formal education, the British Army offered a way out. His heroic saving of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington) in India got him an officer’s commission (this was changed for the tv show where he saves him in Spain)but it would not be easy moving up. In the British Army of the time, officers came from the middle to upper class with little formal training (they had good schooling but little formal military training). In fact, you could purchase an officers commission up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. You had to spend three years before buying up to the next rank (there were exceptions of course).

Richard Sharpe, being of modest means, could not possibly afford to purchase a commission. He got a commission through bravery but would have to wait in line for the next available slot and hope no one would buy it out. His best chance was a battlefield commission, meaning the death or severe wounding of a superior officer that required immediate placement. It meant he would have to fight hard and use all his skills to get promoted. Add to it that he was raised from the ranks made it difficult to find many friends in his fellow officers.

For the television adaptation of the books, John Tams was chosen for the musical arrangement. One of the songs heard during the series was Over The Hills And Far Away, an old Army folk song that had been around for a while. It also had different lyrics though followed mostly the same basic rendition.¬† In this YouTube presentation, it uses Tam’s theme and adds some stunning visual images (mostly paintings and other illustrations). Many today have a hard time getting the idea how big a deal the Napoleonic Wars were. Napoleon set out to expand the French Empire as far and wide as he could. Most of Europe found itself under threat or dominated by Napoleon in one way or another. The British had few allies to count on and could never match the amount of soldiers Napoleon had. The Sharpe novels show how this was played out in Spain as it took a lot of effort to drive Napoleon out of Portugal, then Spain, and then finally launch attacks into France to topple his regime. Though the character of Sharpe is fictional, the battles and most of their descriptions are accurate.