Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His daughter was a Canadian airman, and his cousi, who was English, a member of the Women 's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his birth mother 's maiden name, Cornwell.
Cornwell was sent way to Monkton Combe School, attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher. He tried to enlist in the British armed services at least three times but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.
He then joined BBC 's Nationwide and was promoted to become head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland. He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News. He moved to the United States in 1980 after marrying an American. Unable to keep a green card, he continue writing novels, as this did not equire a work permit.
As child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was delighted to find there were no such novels following Lord Wellington 's campaign on land. Motivated by he need to support himself in the U.S. through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series. He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most major battles of the Peninsular War.
Cornwell wanted to start another series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of " warm-up " novels. These were and, al published in 1981. was picked up by th publisher, and Cornwell got a three-book deal. He went on to tell a tory of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel,, published in 1982.
Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym " Susannah Kells ". These were, published in 1983, in 1984, and ( aka) in 1986. ( Cornwell 's strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of, which took place during the English Civil War.) In 1987, he also published, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British.
After publishing eight books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series. They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain. The result was, published in 1987, and series of Sharpe television films staring Sean Bean.
This series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: published in 1988, ( aka) in 1989, in 1990, in 1991, and, a political thriller, in 1992.
In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen 's 80th Birthday Honours List.
Cornwell 's latest work,, was released in the UK in October 2008. The character is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, another devastating defeat suffered by the French in the Hundred Years War. However, Cornwell has stated that it would ot be about Thomas of Hookton from The Grail Quest or any of his relatives.