A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: part 7 – 1884 – 1915


The last twenty years of Flashman’s life are very poorly covered in his memoirs, even by inference. Although by the time this period starts, with his being dragged off to the Sudan in the wake of General Gordon, Flashman is almost 62, he has not yet escaped adventure.
Boys of my generation were still being brought up on the myths of Empire, and I doubt that many of my time escaped seeing the illustrations of Gordon, befezzed, carrying a handgun, on the stairs in Khartoum where his command was besieged and massacred, without relief. Where Flashman was during that unhappy conclusion is only to be imagined, though we know Gordon used him for undercover work, but we can rest happy knowing that the old fox’s instinct for a bolthole in time of danger just got sharper and sharper.
Somehow, in some way, Flashman makes it back alive. We next have mention of him in 1887, being called in by Queen Victoria to advise on the display of the Koh-i-Noor diamond during her Golden Jubilee, which apparently inspires him to write the earliest of his private memoirs, almost a decade and a half before the majority of these papers are written. I have my doubt about that, but the Papers appear to be clear.
In 1890, the Flashmans join the house party at Tranby Croft at which Gordon-Cumming is accused of cheating. Flashman takes malicious pleasure in helping to forge the awkward compromise that blows up in everybody’s faces a year later, in the form of a libel case that damages the reputation of the Prince of Wales. When the matter is over, Elspeth Flashman reveals a completely unsuspected complicity.
Flashman’s last adventure of which we have any record takes place in London in 1894, and involves the re-emergence of Colonel Moran. Flashman is horrified to learn that the old roue is blackmailing his favourite Granddaughter, Selina, to sleep with him, but he cannot buy the man off: Moran was Spring’s cabin boy, nearly fifty years ago, abandoned in Gezo, and wanting revenge.
Flashman is forced to plot to murder Moran, but is spared this step when the Colonel is himself taken by murder, by a well-known London consulting detective, whose powers of observation and deduction, though exercised logically, do not penetrate Flashman’s identity! Sadly, for Flashman’s illusions, dear Selina proves to be no innocent, having already become mistress to the Prince of Wales.
Sometime too, in this decade, Flashman had a relationship with the famous Society Hostess, Alice Keppel, who became the Prince of Wales’ mistress in 1898: Flashman was first again!
Though we have absolutely no details of it, Flashman appears to have taken some part in the Mahdist War of 1896, a later phase of the Sudan War of 1884, having in his possession a medal issued in respect thereof.
At the end of the Nineteenth Century, Flashman traveled to Pekin, calling in in South Africa during the Boer War either on the way out or home. He also revisited Patusan, in Sarawak, during this expedition. In Pekin, he met the Empress Yanavalona, who did not recognise him from their acquaintance in 1860, and was caught up in the British Embassy, winding up in charge of the defence during the 77 day siege, and still faking injury!
Once Flashman returns to England, he devotes himself to producing his unofficial memoirs, which appears to have taken up large parts of his time. In 1908, he travels to America, where he revisits some of the scenes of his travels on the plains, and meets his old friend, Geronimo, but this appears to be his last journey. We see him in his old age, interfering every now and then in his family’s affairs, and as an eminence grise of sorts to the American, Mark Franklin, in whose company we last see him, hobbling into Buckingham Palace to use the toilet, on the night the Great War is declared.
General Sir Harry Flashman died in 1915, in circumstances unknown, presumably damning his enemies, including the mysterious Iron Eyes, whoever he was. He was much mourned by his family – until they discovered his unofficial memoirs that is. These were hastily concealed in a chest of drawers, not to be seen again until 1966, by which time the Flashman family had dwindled, his only living relative being Mr Paget Morrison, of Durban, South Africa.
At this point, they were entrusted to George MacDonald Fraser, a newspaper editor…

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 5 – 1868-1876


The next phase of Sir Harry Flashman’s career takes us from the end of his successful campaign in Abyssinia in 1868 to the long-overdue conclusion of his American escapades in 1876.
It’s a period that takes in several adventures that we know of only in passing, and seven years of Flashman’s middle age during which the pace at which he goes through escapades may well slow a little.
Flashman leaves Abyssinia in May 1868, and we have no reason to doubt that he returned home, with his usual urge to never leave again. In the summer, he travels to the Mediterranean to meet Emperor Franz-Joseph and Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to receive the Empire’s highest honour, the Order of Maria Theresa, in honour of his service to the Emperor’s late younger brother, Maximilian.
Mention should be made of Flashman’s reference to observing a battle from a Hot Air Balloon, which he did once, whilst in Paraguay. In the absence of any other information, Flashman aficianados have tentatively ascribed this to the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864 – 1870, and have suggested that this incident took place in 1868, though no-one has come up with any explanation for him being in South America at this time.
On the other hand, there is no mention anywhere in the Papers of any occurrences out of the ordinary in 1869. And Flashman does mention Elspeth developing a passion for travel somewhere in the years leading up to 1875. Though he only mentions European/Mediterranean destinations (the Black Forest, the Pyrenees, the Italian Lakes, the Holy Land, the Pyramids and Greece), it’s not implausible that this might have started with a trip to South America.
We do know is that Flashman was involved, in some unspecified capacity, in the ‘Franco-Prussian nonsense’ (July 1870 – May 1871), and was in Paris for at least some part of the lengthy siege of the City. During this period, he renewed acquaintance with his old Civil War comrade, General Philip Sheridan, and first met the journalist Stefan Blowitz.
Unfortunately, Flashman has also referred to acting as Deputy Marshall to James ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock, and holding the latter’s guns in the confrontation with the gunman, John Wesley Hardin, in Abilene (April – December 1871). How (and why) he got to Kansas from France is a perfect mystery, especially as he’s certainly not brought Elspeth along.
It would be nice to think that these incidents were followed by a peaceful period, indulging Elspeth’s travels. And these would, of course, be a perfect excuse for Flashman to be in Egypt whilst Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was securing the Suez Canal shares for Britain in 1875: Flashman is involved in some aspects of the negotiations, even if only as witness to what he openly suggests is double-dealing by the politician. Ultimately (but presumably much later), this would lead to the impounding by Bailiffs of all copies of Flashman’s official memoirs, Dawns and Departures of a Soldiers Life. Three volumes were written, and Flashman must have had some kind of leisure time in which to write these, very carefully.
Not all Flashman’s time is spent travelling. Among those of his conquests who retained his interests throughout his life was the actress and future Royal Mistress, Lily Langtry. Since Flashman boasts of ‘being aboard her’ before HRH, that relationship must have begun in 1874, placing our hero back in London for some time.
But by 1875 at least, Elspeth is definitely interested in travelling further afield, and so Flashman does take her to America, to the United States, where he finds his past catching up on him.
The Flashmans head first to Philadelpia, for Phil Sheridan’s wedding, allowing Flashman to reacquaint himself with various of his former Army colleagues, including George Custer, whom Flashman barely knew during the Civil War business, but who adopts him now.
Custer is, as usual, on the outs with Army authority, and especially his former Commander-in-Chief, Sam Grant, now President. Custer has no compunction about using Flashman against Grant, any more than Grant has about involving Flashman in the negotiations with the Sioux over the Black Hills of Dakota, where gold has been discovered.
The negotiations are not being carried out in good faith, except perhaps for the cynical Flashman, who counsels his old Indian contact, Spotted Tail, rather more honestly than anyone else on the white side does. When he’s not worrying about whether Elspeth is romping on the prairie with the old chieftain that is.
But Flashman has concerns of his own. A certain businesswoman, a Mrs Arthur B Candy, is attracting his lustful eye, with ostensibly a business proposition, calling on Flashman’s supposed influence with German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Flashman knows that he has absolutely no influence whatsoever, but is happy to go along if it will get him into bed with Mrs Candy.
He even allows her to lead him into the same territory as the Seventh Cavalry, complete with the unstable Custer, are entering, in pursuit of the Sioux. But this is a serious mistake, for Mrs Candy is now who she claims to be: she is Cleonie, Flashman’s lover and Susie Willinck’s whore twenty-five years ago, who he sold to the Indians. She has endured, hating him now as much as she loved him then, and now she’s discovered him back in America, she wants her revenge. Kidnap, and torture as only an Indian can, by her son.
Two factors disrupt Cleonie’s revenge. The Indian camp to which she has Flashman carried is that on the Little Big Horn river, the day of Custer’s fateful attack. And her son, who doubles between being an Indian Brave and an Army Scout of some repute, is not just her son, but Flashman’s, and he has a mind of his own when it comes to the old man.
So Frank Flashman Grouard rescues his father from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and nurses him back to health before delivering him to Deadwood to return to Washington. He rides away forever, leaving Flashman with a heartache that lasts all of sixty seconds.
Flashman wastes no time leaving Deadwood on the first stage, but first he bumps into his old friend, Wild Bill Hickock, to whom he tells the truth of his long American odyssey. It makes no odds: unknown to Flashman, as his stage leaves town, Hickock has been shot in the back in the saloon.

The Flashman Papers 1878 & 1883-1884, 1890 – 1891 and 1879 & 1894 – Flashman and The Tiger


The Eleventh Packet differs from all the other Flashman Papers in not being an actual Packet (though I’ll continue to refer to it as such for consistency’s sake). Flashman and the Tiger was published almost twenty years after the short story of that name had appeared in the Sunday Times, and after many years of clamour from Flashman fans who wanted the chance to read it.
Fraser’s conceit was to now reveal, in the traditional Explanatory Note, that from time to time Flashman had set down his thoughts on various simpler incidents of his past, and tucked these shorter narratives into various Packets. Since the first of these had come to light, he said, two further narratives had also been discovered, hence this volume was a convenient way of publishing the same.
All three narratives post-date any other part of Flashman’s career, in which the furthest we’ve got thus far is 1876. The narratives cover a variety of dates, from 1878 to 1894, hop-scotching about, as is appropriate for the elder Flashman, who is not as mobile as he once was and who, by the latest of these dates, appears to have given up chasing young women, if you can believe that.
Before we turn to the narratives, Fraser also chooses this volume to provide us with a vastly expanded Who’s Who entry for General Sir Harry Flashman. Like genuine entries, it is broken down into different categories, dealing with official campaigns and honours, private travels and Flashman’s more commercial ventures. I’ll be looking more closely at this under History and Memories

The first narrative, ‘The Road to Charing Cross’, is by far the longest in the book, almost two hundred pages, which would represent a bit over half a standard Packet.
Like both the other narratives, the story takes place in two different time periods. The set-up for the story, which is all but a separate account. It is 1878, and Flashman is inveigled into attending the Congress of Berlin by the famous journalist, Stefan Blowitz. Flashy knows the energetic little man from the Franco-Prussian business in 1870, and the busy journalist has already more or less procured for him the Order d’Honneur, conferred by the French President, MacMahon, in a ceremony attended by former President Grant, who has begged Flashy to attend as his personal translator.
As well as this indication towards Flashy’s presence during the Siege of Paris, the Order is given for his otherwise unidentified service with the French Foreign Legion, possibly in Algeria.
The Congress in Berlin is to rewrite the terms of a treaty between Russia and Turkey, following the conclusion of a recent war that threatens to roll back the Turkish presence in the Balkans far further than the rest of Europe feels comfortable with, and give the Russian Empire a much stronger hold. Blowitz intends to be first with the Treaty.
Flashman’s part is simple and engaging. Blowitz’s contact is Caprice, a delightfully gamine seductress, who will seduce details out of a loose-lipped Russian diplomat in bed, and then pass these on to Flashman – also in bed – for exchange with Blowitz.
A splendid time is had by all, and Blowitz gets the Treaty, as well as the mutual enjoyment for himself and Flashman of knowing that it’s bugging the hell out of Bismarck as to how it was done. Which leads us to the second and larger part of the story.
It is now 1883. Flashman has been out in Egypt, at war under Sir Garnett Wolseley, in what seems to have been the most insignificant and completely incident-free campaign of his life. Now he’s back in England, but trouble is brewing in the Sudan, under the Mad Mahdi, and General Gordon is being sent out there. Flashy knows that if he can be found, he’s going to be impressed, so he’s looking for something to get himself clear, when a letter arrives, summoning him to Paris, where a titled woman of whom he has never heard desires his company.
Hang on a minute. Haven’t we seen this before? Isn’t this a re-run of Royal Flash? To which the answer is, it bloody well is, and in too many details for this to be at all comfortable.
Now Blowitz is involved, and delighted to be repaying Flashman for his assistance at the Congress of Berlin, because Blowitz is also setting up Flashy with a berth on the Orient Express, on the occasion of its inaugural run (not that Harry’s impressed in the least). But the Austrian Princess Kralta is waiting for him on board, and splendid carnal company she proves but there’s a hitch, and when that hitch becomes a snag, you can almost check off the correspondences. Threat of blackmail over the supposed rape of that Bavarian Countess, yes, plot by Bismarck, yes, Rudi von Starnberg, well almost yes, this time it’s his son Willem Rupert (‘Call me Bill’) who combines all the characteristics of old Rudi with a high leavening of Public School banter, having been educated in England.
Unfortunately, Fraser is once again repeating himself, albeit to a different end, but just as the first time round, with treachery in the mix and Flashman as the intended scapegoat once more.
What Harry is doing is, ostensibly, preventing the First World War happening thirty years ahead of history. A group of Hungarian patriots plan to assassinate Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in order to win Hungary’s freedom, despite the inconvenient fact that this will precipitate nationalist fervour throughout the Balkans, leading to the overthrow of the Turkish Empire (the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ as it was referred to in my A-level history books): the very thing that Berlin Congress at the start of the story was designed to avert.
Relying on how Flashy is known to Emperor Franz-Joseph over his unavailing service to his brother Maximilian in Mexico, Bill and Flashy will inveigle themselves into the Emperor’s Summer Lodge to act as silent bodyguards. It’s all in a good cause, even if it is being orchestrated at the behest of Chancellor Bismarck (which worries Flashman enormously: he has read this story before, as well).
And just like before, it’s a fraud intended to do the exact opposite of rescue, and leave Flashy to hold the bag, exactly as before. The variation on the first story is that Bismarck and his agents are completely genuine and it is only Bill von Starnberg who’s false: a Hungarian patriot using the opportunity to get to Franz-Joseph and assassinate him.
As usual, a combination of funk, paranoia and the familiar unlikely coincidence combines to alert Flashy to how he’s being had, well past the eleventh hour but not quite at midnight, and this is where we see the effects of years that have softened Flashman from his original creation as the complete poltroon. Whereas the Flashy of Royal Flash would have run screaming from the scene, by ‘The Road to Charing Cross’, the older Harry runs screaming towards it. True, Fraser convincingly wraps it up in time and experience and understanding that sometimes you have to take the slightly longer term view, but we’re still a long way from the unvarnished Flashman. Like all series, it’s inevitable: anti-heroes can only go so far before they need to ‘grow’.
So Flashy foils the plot but at the cost of his own safety. He’s dragged into some nearby caves, with an icy lake, a bottomless crevasse and a Bill intent on honouring his promise to the old man that he’ll run Flashman through. It’s not really a contest, given the difference in age and stamina, not to mention swordsmanship, between the duellist, and Flashy can’t even coward his way out of it because his fame as a hero has impressed itself upon Bill, via Rudi, who just writes it off as all gammon, meant to confuse.
And he runs Flashman through.
It’s not a fatal wound, though it’s good enough given enough time, and there’s that crevasse at hand. But before Flashman can get pitched down this natural oubliette (once again echoing Royal Flash and the Strakenzian dungeons), enter a Guardian Angel, another sword-wielding duellist who proves to be von Starnberg’s equal, who first disarms him, then runs him through with rather more finality than the hapless Bill did with Harry.
And who is this Angel? Why, none other than French Intelligence Service Agent (retired but on temporary re-enlistment), Caprice, the gamine girl. Did I overlook mentioning that, whilst he’s been kidnapped and blackmailed into the original scapegrace plot, Flashy discovered that it was known to and had the blessings of both the British and French Intelligence Services. So there was no backing out? Ok, I mention it now.
All is well, Flashman is saved, Bill’s dead and everybody’s looking the other way over the obvious evidence that sweet, innocent Caprice executed a helpless man, and there’s an unusually long coda to the tale, because Fraser needs to spin Flashman’s wheels for a considerable period so as to fit in his punchline. Some of this is taken up by the genuine fact that Flashman, now in his Sixties, needs an extended period to regain his strength after his quite serious wound.
And Fraser uses this section to try to re-blacken Flashy the cad: though she’s saved him, the now-married Caprice won’t shag him, so Harry plots to disturb her marital bliss. It’s disgusting and vile, but it backfires by making Flashy look petty in his old age.
But more time is needed yet, so once he’s functioning again, Flashman accepts Princess Kralta’s invitation to Vienna, to bull her all over the shop all over Xmas, with the complaisance of, and in the home of her husband, who’s bouncing his own mistresses around under the same roof. |the decadence of it all, besides the fact that it’s much less fun screwing another bloke’s missus if he’s waving you on, gallantly, eventually palls and Harry decides it’s time to offer his attentions to Elspeth again, and heads home.
Just in time, as Fraser needed, to disembark at Charing Cross Station (you wondered about the title?), have his trunk lost by a drunken porter, wander curiously in search of it and walk smack into a leaving party. General Gordon’s leaving party, for the Sudan. The very thing Flashman left the country to avoid, and here he is, being swept straight back on the train, to head Chinese Gordon’s Intelligence staff. At Khartoum.
That, sadly, was another story we never got to read.

‘The Subtleties of Baccarat’ is, by comparison, a very short and very slight thing. It treats with the infamous Tranby Croft affair, an allegation of gambling at a Yorkshire country house, which led to scandal at it involving the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.
The scandal is now an historical footnote: Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Gordon-Cummings was accused of cheating, over two nights, at baccarat. Despite defending himself vigorously,  Gordon-Cummings eventually signed a declaration that he would never play cards again. This seems to have been done to keep things secret and keep the Prince of Wales being affected by the scandal (Edward was the dealer/banker).
In this it failed: the story came out, Gordon-Cummings sued for libel, the Prince was questioned in Court to much public opprobrium, Gordon-Cummings lost and was ruined.
The short story involves both Flashmans. Harry knows Gordon-Cummings from the Army, and the pair cordially detest each other: Flashy suggests the ‘no cards’ letter out of devilment. After the trial, Elspeth confesses to him that Gordon-Cummings was innocent: it was she who created the appearance of cheating, out of spite at Gordon-Cummings having, years earlier, traduced her husband’s courage!
Which leaves Flashman once again doubting his spouse’s fidelity, given that such accusations are not made in ordinary conversation over afternoon tea. But he still can’t come to a decision.

‘Flashman and the Tiger’, though short, was the highlight of the book, the long overdue chance to read the 1972 story, and it is a bit of a gem, the best thing here. Once again, the tale is solid between two periods, this time widely-separated, but linked by the Tiger of the title. Tiger Jack, Colonel Jack Sebastian Moran.
Not being a Sherlock Holmes fan, the name, and its occasional passing references elsewhere in the packets, had no connotations for me, so I began the story as a complete novice. For once, Fraser began in situ and in media res: Flashman is in South Africa (inspecting a mine that Elspeth has inherited from a cousin, according to a line in ‘The Road to Charing Cross’) and has somehow become involved in the Zulu War.
In fact, we start with Flashy hightailing it out of Isan’lwana the moment the Zulus break through. His flight only takes him to Rorke’s Drift, where a badly outnumbered and under-provisioned British Force defeats the Zulus, And that’s all we get of the Zulu War, not even the oft-mentioned Welshman in a top hat leading a Zulu impi, because that’s not what ‘Flashman and the Tiger’ is about. That’s just the set-up, the MacGuffin, for Flashman’s meeting, en route from one famous battle to another, with a laconic but sharp-shooting English Major, who helps Flashy escape, hair-raisingly, and whose name Flashman doesn’t learn, nor Moran his, until its all over. And Flashman’s name means something to Moran, not that Harry can guess at it.
That’s all we get of the Zulu War, and it’s unusually thin gruel for Fraser and Flashman, but that’s because the point of the story lies not in South Africa but London, in 1894, the absolute furthest point we get of Flashman’s career (discounting his involvement as a supporting character in Fraser’s novel, Mr American). Flashy’s now in his seventies, settling into old age, his reputation secure and doting upon his grandchildren, in particular sweet Selina, who’s engaged to be married. All is serene, he’s off the active list, enjoying his old age, teasing Oscar Wilde at the theatre over the younger men clustered round him – except that one of them isn’t so young. In fact, he’s nearer Flashy’s age, and it’s Colonel Moran.
Sherlockians will have already picked up on where we are, as Flashman has mentioned a Society rumble over the death of someone called Ronny Adair, which places us in Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty Room. But Flashy is more concerned with the fact that, a few days later, his beloved Selina turns up in tears.
It appears that her empty-headed fiancé has been led into deep gambling debts by Colonel Moran, to the extent that he’s gambled away Regimental Funds in trying to recover them. It’s a stupid move and if it comes out, it’s an invitation to take a pistol into a quiet room time, that is, unless Selina surrenders herself to Colonel Moran.
Sir Harry’s first thought is to buy Moran off: it’ll be damned expensive but for his little Selly, nothing’s too much. Except that Moran isn’t after money but revenge, against Flashman, in the most painful manner possible.
Why? Because Colonel Jack Sebastian Moran was once a cabin boy on a slave ship, back in the 1840s. A slave ship commanded by John Charity Spring. Which left a cabin boy behind with King Dahomey of Gozo. And Tiger Jack is looking for revenge against the men who abandoned him.
Which leaves Flashman with only one option, dangerous though it will be: he will have to kill Tiger Jack Moran. At his age.
So Flashy sets out a murderer to be, but Fraser, having tickled the Sherlockians’ expectations, plays Flashman into the Holmes and Watson story: Flashman trails Moran to a seemingly empty house in which, concentrating upon his own murderous plans, he is right in Flashy’s sights. But at the last second, Flashy senses other people around and withholds his shot, just in time for Holmes, Watson, Lestrade et al to leap out and arrest Professor Moriarty’s chief assassin.
There’s still one big snag to overcome, namely getting out of a police-filled empty house without being identified and this is the bit for which it’s obvious Fraser has written the story. Flashy, who has dressed down for the occasion, slumps in a corner, pours brandy down his jacket and plays drunk. Watson, the doctor, shows concern and almost recognises the General, but it is Holmes who applies his methods of observance to make detailed deductions about Flashy’s class, character, nationality, employment and criminality that is in every respect completely wrong.
You could say it’s funny, which it is, and you could say it’s entirely disrespectful, and you wouldn’t be wrong there either.
Anyway, the sting in the tale is that, on his way home, Flashy passes the little set of rooms he keeps for assignations and which he lends out to the Prince of Wales. Who is in residence, awaiting his latest popsy. Who is just arriving. And who is Selina.
Once a Flashman, always a Flashman, eh?

History and Memories
This little section follows each blog. It focuses on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P6. Flashman’s vastly expanded Who’s Who entry intrigues. Most of his military career is familiar to us, if some of the more unofficial posts are somewhat gilded, and no campaigns of which we do not know are disclosed. It’s made clear that Flashman joined the Union Army in the American Civil War as a Major in 1862, but that he was a Colonel in the Confederate Army the following year: his return to the Union ranks in 1864 is not specifically referenced. Equally, his role in Mexico with Maximilian is dated to 1867, indicating a short involvement. The Zulu War, Egypt and the Sudan, all of which appear in this packet to one extent or another are also included.
Of more interest are the gaps. The final Packet places Flashman on military duties in Abyssinia in 1868, omitted from this account so we can’t safely take unreferenced periods as evidence of Flashman enjoying some long overdue rest and recuperation.
There is also reference to Flashman’s variegated roles at one time and another, suitably varnished. Again, we recognise most of them, whether they are detailed or not, but one or two are suitably mysterious, such as lottery supervisor in Manila, and ‘trader and missionary’ attributed to Solomon Islands, Fly River etc. This puts Flashman in the South Pacific, in and about Papua New Guinea, and not a million miles away from either the Philippines or Australia. I will be giving a theory about these entries in a near future post.
P14. Flashman first met Blowitz at the time of ‘the Franco-Prussian farce in ’70’. It’s long been rumoured that Flashman was trapped in Paris during at least part of the siege, but this is too unspecific to justify that.
P19. Flashman confirms that at some time he had served in/with the French Foreign Legion, as had Macmahon. The latter describes himself as an ‘old Algeria hand himself’, which could be taken to mean that Flashy’s service had also been in North Africa, though Fraser speculates in a foot-note – and he should know – that this may have been part of his Mexico service with Maximilian in 1867.
P28. Flashman has not been in Germany since 1848: wherever his missing periods were spent, it was not there.
P47. Flashman confirms that he was once more in the public eye over supposed heroics in South Africa – the Zulu War – in 1879, though he was only in the country due to Elspeth’s cousin’s supposed mine. He also confirms that he soldiered with Sir Garnet Wolseley in Egypt in 1882 against the Khedive, though this appears to have been his only painless campaign.
P84. Flashman met Emperor Franz-Joseph on his yacht off Corfu in 1868, after returning from Mexico having failed to rescue Maximilian from the firing squad, for which he received the Order of Maria Theresa. Apparently Maximilian refused to be rescued, and Flashman escaped thanks to the combined (?) efforts of Princess Aggie Salm-Salm and Jesus Montero’s bandits, who thought Flashy knew the whereabouts of Montezuma’s Treasure. Clearly, Fraser had seriously considered the Mexico adventure as a subject, though only its ever tail-end would be utilised to set up the final Packet.
P89. Amongst those who have press-ganged Flashman into desperate schemes he would have preferred to avoid are several familiar names, including Lincoln, but now extended to Ulysses Grant and Wild Bill Hickok.
P195. Flashman bumps into General Gordon at Charing Cross station and is whisked off to the Sudan, and Khartoum.
P223. Flashman reminds us of his affair with Lily Langtry which, having begun before she became the Prince of Wales’ mistress, continued after that time, unbeknownst to the future King.
P224. Flashman addresses his suspicions that Gordon-Cumming had had an affair with Elspeth in the 1860s. He also soldiered with Gordon-Cumming in Zululand.
P262. Elspeth cut Gordon-Cumming because he had accused Flashman of cowardice, of running away at Isan’lwana (which he did).

The Flashman Papers: 1849/1850 & 1875/1876 – Flashman and the Redskins


Like George MacDonald Fraser, I don’t have a favourite Flashman book, but if I were to apply the desert island test, this would be the volume I would take into solitary retirement. Flashman and the Redskins, the Seventh Packet, is the longest novel in the sequence, and it carries other distinctions that set it apart from those around it.
Again, Fraser chooses to disrupt the chronological flow, going back to a gap in Flashman’s history, this time in very vivid manner. But he also chooses to leap ahead in Flashy’s career, nearly twenty years beyond the end of the Indian Mutiny. For Flashman and the Redskins is not one novel but two, tied together in a single book, linked as much as Fraser makes them out to be. But he could have published ‘The Forty-Niner’ and ‘The Seventy-Sixer’ as separate books without a single Flashman fan turning a hair.
Let us see how the trick was done.
The first surprise about this Packet is that it overturns our reading of the earlier Third Packet, Flash for Freedom. That ends on a New Orleans street, with Flashy’s outrageous proposal to Captain John Charity Spring that the latter should carry him home to England. Everybody who read that assumed that a deal was struck, and Flashy’s return was secured. Now Fraser reveals that it wasn’t.
‘The Forty-Niner’ picks things up from that point, and affairs go rapidly wrong. Spring wants the papers off Flashy upfront, which has the effect of exposing our hero to discovery by the slaver, Peter Omohundro, who knows him as the slave-stealer, ‘Tom  Arnold’. After having harped on about his honour, Spring is stupid enough to play Flashman false, which leads to a fight during which Spring runs Omohundro through. Nobody’s sailing out of New Orleans now.
But Flashman – or, rather, ‘Beauchamp Comber’ – has one friend left in New Orleans, in Susie Willinck, the bawdy-house madam who put him up (in both senses) before. And she’s glad to take him in again (stop it), even if it means accommodating Spring, who is hot on Flashy’s trail. There’s just one complication.
Actually, there’s more than one, but the first of these is that Susie’s shutting down. Gold has been discovered in California, and everybody is heading west. So’s Susie, intent on running the best-equipped and most sophisticated House in Sacramento. It’s a novel thought, but Flashman recognises it as a way out, heading in a direction no-one can foresee, and under some fairly blinding cover too. It’s just that Susie would like to be made an honest woman of, by her Naval Lieutenant.
For a moment, that looks to be a step too far for John Charity Spring’s sensibilities. Until Susie slips a very effective Mickey Finn into his blancmange, shortly followed by Spring landing beard first in his food, prior to being shipped off to Cape Town. It will be a long time before we see him again.
Thus begins the great journey westward, into an America of great emptiness, apart, that is, from Indians. In his buckskin shirt and fine whiskers, Flashman looks the part of a wagon-captain, although he’s sensible enough to know that a real good trail guide is needed, and his train has one in Richens ‘Uncle Dick’ Wootton – a name long forgotten but in the class of Kit Carson.
Wootton leads the train – which includes a band of young men looking for fame and fortune and a party of invalids going on a health tour of prairie air! – through the wilds, recognising and steering around parties of Indians, though he can’t avoid an encounter with one Spotted Tail, who will have much to do with the story later, as will Spotted Tail’s nephew, a six year old whom the world will come to know as Geronimo.
Though Fraser keeps the pot boiling with little incidents, including Flashy dipping his wick with a couple of the whores, one of which, Cleonie, becomes his regular lover, and one of his favourite ever woman, a large part of this section of the story is a travelogue. Neither Fraser nor Flashy usually do this sort of thing, but for once the traveling is part of the story, as opposed to an interlude between events.
Besides, one of Fraser’s great skills is his gift for evocation. There are passages in each book where Flashman effectively does no more than lie back and absorb a scene, a vast, often confusing scene, and brings it to life in an impressionistic whirl. Much of the story is, for once, given over to envisaging the West in the year of 1849: the times, the people, the talk, the places, the emptiness and the beauty we can no longer understand except in stories like this. That Fraser openly expressed a complete lack of interest in the American Civil War when he writes so well about America, and will indeed bend Flashy’s history to squeeze in one last American tale after this book, is a mystery.
The tone of the story changes when the train meets a party of Indians who are sick and seek help. The disease is cholera, and four of the wagon train are affected: one is Wootton. Flashman has to take command, and the situation worsens when there is a dispute over choice of trails. Harry adheres to Wootton’s advice to make for Bent’s Fort, but over half the train rebel and take the seemingly shorter route.
We later learn that they were more or less slaughtered, and that fate damned near overtakes Flashy’s train. They are chased, literally, into Bent’s Fort, an incongruously magnificent castle on the plain, a kind of trading post megastore, by Indians, and surrounded.
Unfortunately, they’ve come at a bad time, for literally days earlier, Bent had abandoned his Fort. What’s worse, he’d meant to blow it up with liberal amounts of gunpowder, but the fuse had failed. The gunpowder was still there, making the entire Fort into a powder keg. All it needed was one flaming arrow…
It’s a tight situation, and whilst this is still early in Flashy’s career, we’re over half a dozen books strong, and Fraser can’t have him running around in panic any more. Increasingly, our man is finding himself having to turn and fight, and reasonably competently too. It doesn’t stop him planning to give himself the best options, and of course, he winds up with the greatest danger and the unnecessary injuries as a troop of Mountain Men, trappers, hunters etc., arrive in timely fashion.
It’s an opportunity, well taken, for Fraser to demonstrate his facility with dialect, as the Mountain Men, with their odd, linguistically fascinating ‘plug-a-plew’ style reminisce about the Fort and the peculiarities of their lives in a manner that belies any suggestion that they are simpletons, ignorant rustics.
So the caravan gets through to Santa Fe, where the recovered Wootton is met and paid off, and the slightly sleazy, ex-Army, half Irish rider Captain Grattan Nugent-Hare absconds with a few thousand of Susie’s funds. And how does this come about? Because Susie has sniffed the wind, liked what she found and put a massive crimp in Flashman’s plans by deciding to set up here for a good long while, take the industry.
It’s here that Fraser has Flashman do the absolute most contemptible, damnable and plain evil action of his entire life, and it’s slipped by the reader in such a way as to barely bring it to anyone’s attention. Flashy plans to head westwards alone, but in order to finance his journey, he pretends to be taking the besotted Cleonie with him. Except that he has agreed for her to be sold to an Indian chief who wants her as his wife, for which he receives $2,000.00.
It’s a breath-takingly horrible move, yet Flashman treats it as just one of those things. It will, and does, come back to bite him, in the second part of the novel, and we’ll come back to that in its own time, but it has to be said that, excluding his purely temporary terror at the consequences, he pays no long-term penalty that anyone would recognise as retribution (but then, if Flashy were to get his just desserts, this would be an entirely different series of books).
This really is a difficult moment, one that it is impossible to justify as appropriate to broadly comic fiction, and I wouldn’t even think of offering the context of the era as any kind of excuse for it. It is one really shitty thing.
For the rest of ‘The Forty-Niner’, we have to forget this moment, for Flashy still has far to go in his American odyssey. Nor is the next hurdle long in coming: Flashy falls in with a travelling party of gentlemen headed by one John Gallantin, whose name he does not recognise, and including the aforementioned Grattan Nugent-Hare who, in due course, he ends up duelling and, fortunately, killing.
The problem is that Gallantin is a scalp-hunter, and his men are all scalp-hunters and there is no such thing as a polite withdrawal to pass by down the other side of the street. Which is manageable so far as massacring an Indian Village, capturing its squaws and planning to mass-rape them is concerned, but a man of Flashy’s tastes finds seduction – in private – to be far more entertaining, and by such refinement, he ends up a prisoner of the Apaches, instead of their horrifically slaughtered victim (one can’t feel too much sympathy for the fate of Gallantin’s men, not really).
The thing is, Flashy’s gentility has been practiced upon Takes-Away-Clouds Woman, the sixteen year old daughter of Mangas Colorado, the Apache chief, who has decided to marry Flashy (it’s his year after all, this is his third marriage of the past twelve months, counting Duchess Irma).
So Flashman becomes an Apache and winters with them, into 1850, and becomes best friends with the Grabber or, as the world would later know him, Geronimo.
The Apaches make the assumption that Flashman is settled with them. he’s happily making Takes-Away-Clouds Woman’s bells ring and who could imagine a lifestyle better than this. It takes until the following spring before the chance arises for Harry to make a break for it, seemingly unseen but, inevitable, not untrailed. For him there is the torturous journey along El Jornado del Morte – literally the Valley of Death – which he manages to survive. But at the last, he faces tomahawks from his pursuers until the intervention of the legendary scout, Kit Carson.
Carson is yet another of the utterly straight-shooters who nevertheless see through Flashy, yet he never denounces him man: after all, he got the wagon train through and that counts in Kit Carson’s world. And it’s enough for Carson to see Flashman safely west, and eventually to San Francisco and the chance of a boat home.
Thus ends ‘The Forty-Niner’.
A quick question, interrupting the narrative flow: does Flashman leave America this time? Once again, he implies it, and when he resumes the story, a page or two later in ‘The Seventy-Sixer’, at no point does he suggest that he spent any more time on the American continent in 1850, but here we are at the beginning of the greatest in-continuity gap in the Flashman Papers with only his offhand references to the Australian Gold Fields (their Goldrush coming in 1851) to point at until the start of Flashman at the Charge and his inexorable slide towards Balaclava.
So the scene is reset for the then furthest point of the Flashman career, 1875 – 76, with Flashy at his oldest to date, his early fifties, but still a fine figure of a fornicator.
We’ve had a reference to this period before, an offhand comment from Flashman about squiring a half-breed Hunkpa squaw to a society ball, but that reference obviously slips Fraser’s memory. What we have is a very carefully built-up scenario, beginning with not a single intimation of danger, and a considerable amount of high-class American society.
In her own fifties – and still a fine figure of a fornicator’s lust – Lady Flashman has developed a taste for travel, which is what brings the Flashmans to the East Coast of America. Flashy is enjoying himself mingling with old acquaintances from the Civil War, including President Ulysses S. Grant, and Elspeth is basking in his reflected glory. A good time is being had by all.
Of course, you know that Flashy’s career has too many skeletons rattling around in it for that to last any length of time, and two blows to Harry’s general peace and quiet fall almost simultaneously.
The first of these is an astonishing encounter with a tuxedoed Indian chief in a Washington Theatre Gents. This is none other than Spotted Tail, a leader of the Sioux Nation (and incidentally the godfather of Crazy Horse) with whom Flashy was acquainted in 1849. Spotted Tail is in Washington for negotiations over the Black Hills of Dakota, where gold has been discovered and treaties with Indians as to their sacred nature are about to be burned up.
Spotted Tail may be dressed to the nines, but the two braves and squaws with him, including one Frank Standing Bear, are in native costume, which attracts Elspeth. A small party is made up and Spotted Tail makes his interest in Elspeth quite clear!
The second blow is that Grant learns of Flashman’s prior relationship with Spotted Tail. There’s a big Indian Conference coming up, peace talks, and Grant talks Flashman into attending, despite his lack of any official standing. If nothing else, the fact he can speak Spotted Tail’s language means he can ensure the translation is accurate.
The conference is a failure, on many grounds, and Flashy’s considered opinion, which isn’t all that controversial, is that it was never meant to be successful, that it’s failure was required as a necessary step on the road to all-out War, which both sides wanted and expected.
That behind him, Flashy can concentrate upon a civilian life in which the need for a bit of vicious living is once again rising. Elspeth has got herself co-opted onto various social committees and is effectively out of the picture, leaving Harry with two people to be concerned.
The first, and most pleasurable of these, is Mrs Arthur B. Candy, a well set-up, indeed buxom woman in her forties, wearing very tight clothing and an eye-patch of a matching shade. Mrs Candy turns out to be a business woman, with a business proposition to present to our man. Her company is developing holdings in Bismarck, Dakota, and will pay Sir Harry good money for a letter of interest in any form from the great Otto, currently Chancellor of the newly-created Germany and, of course, an old acquaintance of Flashman.
You and I and Harry know that there isn’t a hope in hell of anything coming from an appeal to the Chancellor from Flashy’s direction, but it suits his own proposition to play along, since he’s after stripping Mrs Candy down and putting her through her paces and if he’s any judge of female character, the feeling’s mutual.
His pursuit is certainly more fun to him than the pursuit being made of him by George Armstrong Custer. Wars against the Sioux are coming, and the over-romantic, unstable, histrionic Custer is anxious to get his one and only chance at fighting, whilst his very volatility and instability presents a very strong argument for his being stripped of his command and prevented from getting anywhere near an Indian.
Flashy doesn’t care, it’s just fun to watch Custer squirm, but ironically it’s his air of detachment, his open lack of partisanship that speaks most with Grant and which may, after all, tip the balance and let Custer command the Seventh Cavalry.
Either way, Flashy’s going to be on the spot, on his field trip with Mrs Candy to inspect Bismarck, her plans and what lies underneath that tight dress and corsets. A splendid time is had by all, as Mrs Candy strips down very well (though she keeps the eyepatch on) and performs enthusiastically. Oddly, after it’s over and she’s returned to her cabin, Flashman believes he hears her crying, but that can’t be the case. Not after a dose of old Flashy, eh?
So Flashman ends up attending the Army meeting as General Terry, who is in overall command, tries to establish orders that will keep Custer under control whilst not impairing the vital ability to react to changing circumstances. By now, we have seen enough of Custer to know that no form of wording under the sun will keep him from doing whatever he decides to do. We not only know what disaster is coming, but can see for ourselves that it could never have been averted. Not with Custer involved.
Still, at least Harry won’t be directly involved. Until the chickens come home to roost. He hasn’t recognised her, not for a second, but Mrs Arthur B. Candy is Cleonie, the girl that, a quarter century before he sold to the Indians. Who loved him, deeply and truly, and who has hated him ever since.
How she’s come to know he was back in America is not immediately revealed, but know she does and the revenge she’s long planned is now to come to fruition: Flashy himself is kidnapped by the Indians and he will be taken to their village, to await the Grabber, who will torture Flashman as only an Indian can.
You might think that this fate is only to be deserved, for what Flashman did so long back, and the only thing lacking that it was not more proximate to the cause, but we know that revenge will not be visited in the manner that Cleonie intends, the only question being how Flashy will cheat fate. Especially as that Indian village is on the banks of the Little Bighorn River.
We’ve known all along that Flashman would find himself in the midst of that battle. Now we know how he gets there. But how will he escape? That I’ll leave for you to discover for yourselves, but I will mention this, as a token to the extent of Fraser’s research and historical fortuity. All the Indian accounts of the battle have been rigorously combed and the individual fates, and places of death of the whole Seventh Cavalry that galloped, after Custer, into that death trap, identified to a high degree of precision. Except for one man, on a horse, roaring around and trying to break free. The fit of history isn’t exact but it’s close enough for Fraser to insert our hero into the true picture.
How does he survive? With the aid of an Indian who, instead of killing him, partially scalps him, conceals him as a corpse and, after removing him from the battlefield, nurses him back to health. What Indian would do that, and why? Well, he’s actually the Grabber, and he’s Cleonie’s son.
It might well have been out of the frying pan, but Frank Standing Bear, alias the Indian Scout Frank Grouard (allegedly, Fraser plays fast and loose with Grouard’s actual, albeit mysterious history to fit in this parentage) isn’t just Cleonie’s son, but Harry Flashman’s.
Though Flashy has two official children in the Flashman Papers, one of whom a son who grows up to be, of all things, a Bishop (!), this is the only time we see our hero with an offspring, and a most unlikely, but still plausible one he is. Fraser concludes that Grouard is very much a Flashman, except for the little uncharacteristic matter of his being brave.
Incredibly, after Flashy parts from his splendid but, when you really start to think about it, incredibly inconvenient son, the time and the geography allow him to arrive in Deadwood for an overnight stay before catching the stagecoach back to civilisation. And who is there but one Marshall James Hickock, Wild Bill, to whom Flashman was Deputy Marshall in Abilene in an unrecorded episode. Flashman abandons his usual caution and tells Hickock the whole story, the unvarnished story, just as we’ve been reading for the past 420 pages.
And Fraser ends the story on the stage, the next morning, just as there’s a commotion in the saloon. Where Wild Bill Hickock has just been killed by a bullet to the back, though this information is only conveyed in Fraser’s footnote at the back of the book.
What to say? A splendid, sprawling epic, covering twenty-five years plus, a long dose of Americana that, in its affection for, and fascination with the West, the old West, not the Wild one of legend but its real-life forefather, its relaxed enjoyment of America, does make the Flashman fan wonder why Fraser was so dead set against writing the Civil War adventure. Yes, it’s been done to death, yes, it has no relevance to Flashman’s career, but wasn’t the point of Flashman’s career that the inveterate coward got dragged into everything physically possible? After all, we will see, in the Tenth Packet, just how far Fraser was willing to bend probability and believability to give Flashy another American adventure, not so far removed from the great absence.
I said above that Fraser could have published ‘The Forty-Niner’ and ‘The Seventy-Sixer’ as separate novels without any Flashman fan even thinking ‘foul’. After re-reading the whole book, is that reasonably feasible?
As to ‘The Forty-Niner’, undoubtedly so. That part of the book runs to 254 pages which, when supplemented by twenty pages of Fraser’s footnotes, gives us a substantial book in its own right. That leaves 185 pages for ‘The Seventy-Sixer’, including two Appendices relevant to that half of the story, and a further twelve pages of footnotes, taking us to just under 200, all told. A little slim, but nothing that couldn’t have been worked up.
I still think it would have worked, but then it wouldn’t have been so splendid a tale overall, and at least Fraser didn’t play the same trick on us twice, leaving us to believe a tale was done.
As for Flashman and The Redskins, though these days the selling of Cleonie is a great, wholly unjustifiable bar across the whole thing, it is what I would choose as my favourite Flashman, should anyone press the point upon me in a sufficiently vulgar manner. In many ways, it could be said to be the peak of the series, as I will endeavour to suggest in the remaining instalments of this series.

History and Memories
This little section follows each blog. It focuses on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.

P22. Flashman lists his various occupations in the West, each of which can be accounted for in this Packet, except for ‘reluctant deputy marshal to J.B. Hickock Esq.’ Hickock was Marshall of Hays in Kansas from 1869-70, and Abilene, Kansas in 1871. Elsewhere in his memoirs, Flashman refers to the gunman John Wesley Hardin, who went up against Hickock during this Marshalship. How and why Flashman turns up in Kansas after being besieged in Paris in 1870 is a complete mystery.
P75. Another reference to Dawns and Departures of a Soldier’s Life where the description of the journey across the Plains that Flashman omits from the Packet is to be found, though he recommends the third volume as containing all the scandal about Disraeli and Lady Cardigan.
P75. Flashman refers to a later, presumably pleasure trip to America, in 1908, travelling New York to San Francisco by train, crossing land that he crossed by wagon, and taking tea in Colorado, in a town built on the site of a burnt-out wagon and a scalped family.
P92. In comparing inconvenient places in which to have illicit sex, Flashman names several intriguing possibilities, but confesses defeat only once, in a lifeboat after a shipwreck. Where and when Flashman suffered this experience can only be guessed at.
P93. Flashman adds the name of Alice Keppel to those of his most memorable lovers. Mrs Keppel was a prominent Society hostess of the 1890s, and mistress to the future King Edward VII from 1898. Flashman was, by then, in his early Seventies.
P133. Flashman’s pleasure tour of America included the ruins of Bent’s Fort.
P186. And the aged, spent Geronimo.
P223. Flashman compares odd companies of irregular cavalry he’s ridden with, and makes a Civil War reference, to Custer and ‘that maniac J.E.B Stuart’, who fought for opposite sides.
P239. Flashman rides north with Kit Carson, ‘whereby (he comes safe) to England eventually’. Very few Flashman readers believe he got straight back from San Francisco.
P252. Another Civil War reference: Flashman’s testimonials include a pardon from Abraham Lincoln (presumably from all his offences as Beauchamp Comber). No mention is made of exactly when this pardon was issued but presumably, given Flashman’s earlier reference to Lincoln blackmailing him, this came between Appomattox Courthouse and Ford’s Theatre.
P257. Flashman refers to Tiger Jack Moran, who he encountered at Rorke’s Drift, and who came back to almost get him indicted for murder in his old age. Though this incident is formally published as part of the Eleventh Packet, it had appeared in 1972 as an exclusive short story from the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, this is the first canon reference.
P258. Flashman’s pleasure trips with Elspeth take in the Black Forest, the Pyrenees, the Italian Lakes, the Holy Land, the Pyramids and Greece. With the exception of Disraeli and the Suez Canal, of which Flashman has claimed knowledge, none of these sites, nor Flashman, imply any adventures. It is no more than guesswork to suggests that these take place at times between, say, 1871 – 1874, giving Flashman some easy times at least.
P260. Flashman makes extended, if cryptic reference to his Civil War service: being blackmailed by Lincoln, meeting General Phil Sheridan both in the Union Army and in the ‘recent’ Franco-Prussian War of 1870, serving both for and against the Union, Jeb Stuart, Libby Prison, Annette Mandeville and winning the US Medal of Honour. Flashman adverts to writing this memoir one day, which we know he didn’t, and states that Lincoln was the only other man who knew the whole truth. For all Fraser’s opposition, it would clearly have made a splendid tale.
P301. Flashman compares ‘cool customers’, mentioning General Gordon and the Italian patriot Garibaldi, though when he can have fitted in that meeting is indeed a mystery.
P308. Flashman renews a previously slim acquaintance with George Custer, with whom he exchanged sword cuts at Audie.
P312. Custer has read Dawns and Departures of a Soldier’s Life, volume 1.
P317. Custer quotes Lincoln: ‘When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman.’
P320. Flashman holds the rank of Major, retired, in the United States Army.
P419. Flashman’s daughter, Jo, is stated to be 18, putting her year of birth in 1858. According to later Packets of the Flashman Papers, Flashy doesn’t get home to Elspeth in London between 1856 and at least 1860. Hmm.

The Flashman Papers 1842-1845: Flashman’s Lady


With Flashman’s Lady, the Sixth Packet of The Flashman Papers, George MacDonald Fraser sprung a couple of changes on the series. The first, and more important of these was to break the strict chronological sequence of the Packets to date, by going back to fill in part of one of those two substantial gaps left in Harry Flashman’s career to date, and the second, via the mediation of the Packet’s first editor, Elspeth Flashman’s sister Grizel de Rothschild, to introduce a running commentary in the form of excerpts from Lady Flashman’s own diaries.
The first of these changes overlaps with the first part of Royal Flash but goes on to extend Flashman’s career as far as 1845 (up until the beginning of his service in the First Sikh War) by taking him far away from England, Elspeth at his side (at least metaphorically) all the way.
Once again, Fraser (or Flashman) is presenting two ‘heroic’ adventures into one story which, together with the long and gently enjoyable introduction to Flashy’s unexpected sporting career, breaks the story down into three phases and environments.
The first of these leads us into the long-gone world of early-Victorian cricket, in which Flashman briefly but brightly shines. We’re back in 1842, with the ‘Ero of Jooloolabad enjoying life on Morrison’s money, or such of it as can be distributed via Elspeth. This leads one day to a chance encounter with a tall, well-set-up brown-haired stranger who recognises Flashy even as our favourite cad has no idea who he is.
Appropriately, given the end of the previous adventure, this strapping young man is none other than Tom Brown, full of Christian admiration and forgiveness towards Flashy the hero, and complete with invitation to play for a Rugby Old Boys against Kent. Flashman’s about to turn it down with disdain until he learns the match is to be played at Lords’.
On the great day, Flashy finds himself frozen out (after all, he did tell Brown he was going to do his training down the Haymarket, among the hem-hem ladies) but the crowd recognises the great hero and after some uncricket-like chanting, Flashy’s given an over.
This is not cricket as we know it now. Overs consist of four balls, and round-arm bowling has not long since come in. Flashy bowls fast, seriously fast, seemingly unscientifically. But in amongst his abiding cynicism towards the world, Flashy genuinely loves the game, and off the second ball of his second over, putting his heart and mind into it, he bowls Felix, one of the legendary batsmen of the era.
Felix was skill but, the very next ball, luck enables Flashy to dismiss Fuller Pilch, another giant of a batsman, caught and bowled. Which leads Flashy facing Alfie Mynn, a third legend. And Flashy duly completes the first recorded instance of a hat trick (and it’s both a hat and a trick) by appealing for LBW against a ball going well-wide, whilst leaping across the Umpire’s view!
Nevertheless, it does gain Flashy invitations to play the following summer, and he does secure two very respectable sets of figures against two highly respectable teams.
That’s where Flashman’s problems start. The lovely Elspeth has accompanied him but when Flashy wants to share his triumph with her, she’s nowhere to be found. Eventually, he locates her in the archery alleys, being shown how to draw a bow by a rather dark-skinned gentleman who has his arms round her. All very innocently of course.
The newcomer is Don Solomon Haslam, a very wealthy merchant from out East, who is also a cricket fan and devastated to have missed Flashy’s feat. On the other hand, he’s more than somewhat infatuated with the golden-haired Elspeth.
Haslam’s about all winter, hosting with generosity, always in with the news, enough so to impress old Morrison. The Flashman’s become especial favourites of his, though Harry’s got a very keen eye open for reasons why.
Things come to a head in the early summer of 1843. Having offended both Lola Montez and Otto Bismarck, as we already know, Flashy’s happy to be out of London at a Cricket week, by Alfie Mynn’s invitation. He and Elspeth are guests of Haslam. Meanwhile, Uncle Bindley (who has definitely travelled to the Paget side of the family) is arranging a substantial and prestigious position at Horse Guards. All is sunny.
Of course, there’s the minor matter of the London bookie whose money Flashy has very unwisely taken, and Mrs Leo Lade, mistress to some elderly Duke who Haslam catches Flashy shagging in the dressing room. And Haslam’s got to go back east to check his estate and he’s got this brilliant idea about taking Elspeth with him (with Morrison as chaperone) for a jolly sunny cruise.
Elspeth’s ecstatic, if her brave Hector approves, which he very firmly doesn’t. So Haslam inveigles Flashy into a game of single wicket, with £2,000 if Flashy wins, and Elspeth in her sunbathing corsets if he loses or ties.
It ought to be a doddle. Except that The bookie, Tighe, wants Flashy to throw the match, seeing as how he’s red-hot favourite and all the betting’s going that way. It’s a tremendous pickle, with social devastation and Tighe’s bully-boys on one hand and his wife disappearing for a year or so with some damned n****r (Flashman-speak), and with some vigorous cheating on both sides, given the number of stools, it’s no wonder Flashman falls between all of them. There’s only one solution: Harry’s going East as well.
Neither Flashman nor Frasier do travelling, which is just as well, so several months elapse whilst the happy couple, and her miserable (in both senses) Scots father sail east under Haslam’s command, and a deuced dodgy-looking lot they are, with never an English voice nor a white face amongst them. And Haslam’s growing more native by the nautical mile.
Still, there is nothing but the coward’s paranoia to concern our boy Harry, until the party reaches Hong Kong, and there finally exists an opportunity for vicious living. It’s not to be found amongst the merchant class which, despite sporting eccentrics such as the sherry-sipping Chinese, Whampoa, and the excitable Jew, Catchick Moses, considers cards after seven to be dangerously racy. Indeed, Flashy needs Haslam himself to point him across the tracks, into the Chinese section, where ladies in tight dresses that can nevertheless be removed by an expert may be found.
As can ninjas.
Fraser doesn’t name them as such, though by this time Bruce Lee films had been all the rage for a few years, but it’s pretty damned obvious who the assassins Flashman is desperately fleeing from are meant to be. And as usual, it would be all up with Flashy if not for that significant moment of luck that comes to his rescue at such times.
For a group of Englishmen, some naval, some civilians, some native bearers, but all very handy, happen up the scene, and pull Flashy’s chestnuts out of the fire. He hears names that mean nothing to him, that mean nothing to readers that are not students of British Nineteenth Century history to the degree of George MacDonald Fraser even before he began these books. Because the leader is one James Brooke, or  J.B. And he is one of the strangest and most unbelievable real-life characters Flashman has ever or will ever meet.
Do you know the name? I didn’t. Even now, almost forty years later, I cannot recall ever hearing of Brooke outside the pages of this novel, unless I have deliberately searched for his name and his history. Who is he? Wait a moment longer, because this is where the roof falls in on Harry Flashman. Don Solomon Haslam’s boat has sailed. It has Elspeth aboard but not John Morrison. Haslam has, during the past week, very quietly sold up all his holdings. His departure, and his taking of Elspeth Flashman, is deliberate. It is worked out that his true name is Sulemain Usman, and that he is a notorious Borneo Pirate. And he has kidnapped Flashman’s wife.
At that point, J.B. takes over the operation to rescue Mrs Flashman, with his men about him and, given Flashman’s reputation, assuming his enthusiastic participation. It is a romantic task, made the more pointed by Brooke’s excited, often florid and in Flashy’s eyes, decidedly schoolboyish responses, and it’s not until he queries why J.B. is getting himself so worked up that the others’ incredulity at his ignorance leads to his being told that James Brooke is who he is because he is the White Rajah of Sarawak, one of the two principal states of Borneo. He governs as absolute ruler.
Brooke has to be read to be believed. Flashman finds it difficult to credit that Brooke and his rule, colonial and paternal to a fault, really exists, and despite our respect for Fraser and his meticulous accuracy that has carried us through five and a half books thus far, I cannot be alone in finding Brooke to be so difficult to accept. He is so much the archetype of the least-convincing and most swash-buckling of Victorian schoolboy Empire fiction that the very idea that there could be a real avatar is so hard to swallow.
Part of it is a generational thing. Fraser was thirty years older than me, born and brought up under an Empire upon which the sun never set, and taught to believe in this as a good thing. I am a child of the mid-Fifties, when the Empire had already gone a long way towards extinction, in fact if not mind, and my education, my upbringing, all the liberal instincts by which I live lead me to an automatic rejection of the notion of Empire.
Both of us are too intelligent to believe that either extreme is the sole truth, even though I am far less well read than the late author. For Fraser, the chance to introduce Brooke, to illuminate his story in a manner that acknowledges the implausibility of it yet reflects its actuality, is probably the major reason for this book, and the middle section, in which Flashy joins Brooke’s actual expedition against the river pirates, is the longest part of the story of three tales.
Fraser instinctively applauds – as does Sarawak history and the country’s memories, for Brooke began a dynasty that ruled until 1946 and which Sarawak looks back on his favour – and I instinctively shudder with embarrassment at the cultural imperialism. That was directed at eradicating brutality, exploitation, murder and torture. There are no easy answers.
Ultimately, the river expedition achieves partial success. The pirates are beaten but not broken, and Harry is reunited with Elspeth. Unfortunately, this happens to be on Usman’s ship, steaming away from Borneo at a rate of knots, with Flashy recovering from a gash in the ribs that Elspeth’s unfettered joy in being with her paladin again threatens to tear open once more.
Where do we go from here? Usman still loves and venerates Elspeth and loathes Harry as an unclean beast, unfit to worship his golden vision, let alone roger her senseless, but once he has allowed Elspeth to know her beloved is alive and there, he has removed his own power to kill Flashy. Nevertheless, they are still his prisoners, with no sign of release unless Harry does something about it.
Which, when the ship strikes harbour, on an island of black subjects, he does, breaking free, swimming ashore and demanding to be taken to the British Consul. Usman is panicked off his head at this development, but not for the reasons you’d think. Despite Flashy’s assumptions, this is not the British possession, Mauritius, but the independent island Kingdom of Madagascar.
Where Britains – where whites – have no status, no authority, no rights. They are slaves. They are Lost.
Madagascar is ruled by the mad Queen Ranavalona, who Fraser portrays in accordance with contemporary opinion and historical conclusion that was only just beginning to be reinterpreted, as a literal madwoman, and a homicidal maniac whose only apparent interest in her rule is the opportunity presented to her for an ongoing wave of mass murder in brutal terms. Flashy becomes her salve, a indeed are all the very few Europeans in the country which, in his case, means becoming Sergeant-General of her Army (a gloriously over-promoted Drill Instructor) and her lover.
Though this latter really is a case of the biter bit since Ranavalona’s regard for Flashy’s, er, staff is no more profound or personal than his for a prime pair of bumpers, heh?
If you are a trifle uncomfortable about this same story containing both Brooke and Ranavalona, with no other connection between them than that Harry Flashman serves under both in a most contrived manner of succession, then you may care to reflect that this strange pair of historical mysteries are ironic shadows of one another in the contrast between how they treat their respective subjects.
Or you may as well accept that one of the names of the game that Fraser plays over this sequence of novels is that Harry Flashman’s long career involves him getting involved in most, if not all, of the significant trouble-spots of the middle-to-late Nineteenth Century, no matter how remote one is from another and especially how utterly unbelievable it is that any one man should have even a tenth of them in common.
It is a mark of Fraser’s skill that he is able to make so many of such transitions not just believable but plausible. Sometimes, however, the contrivance has to become a little bit too obvious for the good of the story. There is no true way to place the White Rajah and the Mad Queen side by side. This is just something that we shall have to grin and bear. After all, Flashman at the Charge did something similar, if a lot less hard to swallow, in its cramming together of the Crimea and Russia’s forgotten expansionist wars in Central Asia.
So far as Madagascar is concerned, the Queen’s rule is not welcomed by all. Both Britain and, especially, France had Empirical designs upon the island and its resources, and they had designs towards putting Ranavalona’s much nicer, and considerably more pliable son, Rakota, on the throne in her place. Rakota, incidentally, is keeping Elspeth safe from his mother’s knowledge, and Elspeth is, of course, completely oblivious to any of the Madagascar her petrified husband is facing.
Needless to say, the terrified Flashy is going to be a key component of the plot to get Ranavalona’s army away from her whilst she is deposed. And almost equally needless to say, the plot fails and, in order to ‘prove’ his innocence, our hero has to undergo the infamous, and weirdly creepy tanguin test, involving poison, throwing up and chicken skin.
Flashy survives, but it’s now on the knife edge, and, knowing an English ship to be out there, off the coast, he grabs Elspeth and runs. And this is, to me, quite the finest part of the whole novel. It’s called Flashman’s Lady because she is the springboard for everything that happens, and her naïve observations decorate the story.
But this is Elspeth as wife to, and companion to, a soldier. Not a very good soldier, not in the least. But he is her soldier and whilst her eyes are tinted even more rosy than her absurd ‘diary’, Harry does what any good soldier, any good husband does: he protects her, he rescues her. He is worthy of her, and what makes this last section quietly brilliant is that, in the face of everything we have heard Flashman say about Elspeth, she is worthy of him. When it matters, when it becomes serious, Elspeth proves her fitness, and even the cynical Harry sees that, and values that, and comes closer than ever before, or ever since, to shame in the face of it.
That’s what makes this book into Flashman’s Lady: Elspeth’s courage, her calmness, her grace that shows her as much more than a Glasgow grocer’s daughter, her determination not to let down her true knight, touches the ending of this rather clunky and awkward story with a peculiarly private glory.
Of course it can’t end like that. It’s barely 1845, and Elspeth’s final extract shows a most unwilling Harry being hauled off to the First Sikh War, where we already know he attains more military glory, though we will have to wait until the opening of the Ninth Packet before we can find out just how he does it this time…

History and Memories
This little section follows each blog. It focuses on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P23. Flashman compares his feelings for Elspeth to those for several of his (then-) future lovers. The list includes two women we have yet to meet. Takes-Away-Clouds-Woman will be explained in the next packet, but though Flashman will mention her name again in future, we regrettably never become acquainted with his liaison with the famous Lily Langtry.
P114. Flashman experiences a rare nightmare in Singapore on the eve of Elspeth’s kidnapping, leading him to reminisce about how his worst nightmares usually occur in prison. After referring to those from Fort Raim (Flashman at the Charge) and Gwalior (Flashman in the Great Game), he names the worst one as occurring in Mexico during ‘the Juarez business’. Flashman does have a prominent role in at least the latter stages of the French invasion of Mexico, which took place whilst the United States was distracted from the Monroe Doctrine by its Civil War. This adventure is also hinted at in later packets, but the closest we will come to it is the opening pages of the Twelfth and final Packet, as Flashman leaves the country, escorting the body of the deceased Emperor Maximilian
P161. James Brooke, planning the river expedition to recover Elspeth, reminds Flashman of other charismatic mad-men who could sweep a crowd along with them. We have seen Yakub Beg in action, and will see something but not the charisma of ‘Chinese Gordon’ in the Eighth Packet, but J.E.B. Stuart and George Custer belong to the American Civil War adventure that everyone but Fraser himself wanted to see.
P191. Flashman refers to passing through the river village of Patusan ‘a few years ago’. Flashman experts relate this to Flashman’s known presence in Pekin during the Boxer Rebellion (another unwritten adventure) as part of  a deservedly leisurely – and peaceful – return voyage.
P265. Flashman compares Ranavalona’s improbable personal secretary, Mr Fankanonikaka, to other eccentrics he has met in his lifetime. The Oxford Don commanding a slave ship is John Charity Spring, but the Professor of Greek skinning mules on the Sacramento trail actually fails to appear in the Seventh Packet and the Welshman in a top hat leading a Zulu Impi does not come into the limited account of that War given in the papers comprising the Eleventh Packet.
P273. Flashman lists several unusual roles he has played in his lifetime., only one of which gives any difficulty in identifying, that of gambling-hell proprietor. There is a reference elsewhere to Flashy running a Gambling Establishment in the Philippines, another lacuna in the Chronology, but the first half of the Seventh Packet lays another claim to this recollection.

The Flashman Papers 1856-1858: ‘Flashman in the Great Game’


Flashman in the Great Game is taken from the Fifth Packet of the Flashman Papers and, as both the title, and its historical proximity to the previous volume would indicate, concerns Flashman’s involvement in the Indian Mutiny.
It’s the longest book to date in terms of its history, and in order to keep the book at a manageable length and still include all the various incidents that went to make up the history of the Mutiny, Fraser has to develop a piecemeal approach, with Flashman taken out of action for months at a time, in order to elide the times when there is nothing for him to get directly involved in.
Before dealing directly with the story, I’d like first to comment on the success of Fraser’s approach to these books, which is demonstrated beautifully in both this and the preceding chapter of the Papers. By this point, Fraser is in full flow: his research is comprehensive and convincing, and his eye for stringing incidents together without undue contrivance, to place one individual in all the significant places, is operating smoothly. Flashman in the Great Game covers more than two full years, yet reads as a continuous story, in the way that Flashman at the Charge (for all its merits) fails to do.
But then, the Indian Mutiny was an enormous thing, and an enormity, and Fraser, though Anglocentric by his nature, makes sure to let us see both sides of it.
What most distinguishes this book, and which will remain uninterrupted until the end of the series, is Fraser’s wholesale mastery of Flashman’s voice. We never forget that we are reading private, and honest memoirs, told in a conversational manner by a natural raconteur. Every phrase, every sentence, is characteristic of Harry Flashman, his upbringing, his times, his thoughts and his self-obsessions. There are no ordinary, simple, declarative sentences, confined purely to fact . Every word is written to be read aloud: Flashy may be recollecting from an immense distance in time, but his memories are clear, usually impeccable, and when he walks among them, he is there in his own past.
Older and wiser Flashman may be, but even in his dotage he remains what he has always been, a cad, a scoundrel, an out-and-out bounder, and unashamed. His spirit fills every word. I doubt that any of his imitators, post-Fraser, writing series featuring the historical adventures of other members of the Flashman family, can incarnate time, place or person remotely like Fraser.
Let us then look at what befalls Flashy, both upwards and downwards, in this latest packet.
It begins at Balmoral, where Flashman and Elspeth are welcome guests: Flashy’s golden- (and empty-) headed wife is a great favourite of Victoria, whilst the shooting-obsessed Albert seems to have completely forgotten that our hero was supposed to kept his young cousin, William, from getting his head blown off.
It’s all very comfortable but trust us, that isn’t going to last, and for once – he is almost indignant in his surprise at the turn of events – it’s not Flashy who brings things down about his ears but rather the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. Old Pam is concerned about reports of cakes passing among Indian hands, chapattis, rather, whose appearance is linked historically to periods of unrest and a prophecy that the Raj will end on the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Plessey – the following year.
Flashman might have put paid (temporarily) to Russia’s military schemes through Central Asia, but his old pal Count Ignatieff is still active subversively. Flashman knows Ignatieff, and he knows India, and how to go underground, where Ignatieff is working. Who better a man to go to India, ferret out the conspiracy and put Ignatieff in his place, eh?
Practically anybody but the coward Flashman, really, but there’s no point in trying to even state that case. This is not the junior officer, full of funk, but a seasoned campaigner, who has been lionised in the public eye for fifteen years now (and who has gained certain things from the experience). Flashy’s name is cemented in place: not even he could convince anyone else that he was a coward.
So, India it is to be, most unwillingly but unresistingly. But not before the horrible shock of Ignatieff himself turning up at Balmoral the next day and, during a day’s shooting, trying to mistake Flashy for a stag. Oh yes, the Great Game is afoot.
As the chapattis have started passing in Jhansi, a province now under direct rule by the Raj after shunting aside the widow of the previous Maharajah (and his son who she has adopted), Palmerston directs Flashman to Jhansi. The Ranee, Lakshmibai, is old by Indian standards (conjuring up visions for Flashy of a wizened old woman) and she’ll no doubt be persuaded to moderate her demands for restitution in the face of such a manly hero as our Flash.
Flashy is not convinced, especially as the feather-brained Elspeth has already informed Ignatieff of his destination. India is India, familiar at once, though much changed since Flashman’s early heroics here (he has been back in one of those as-yet-unexplored gaps in his memoirs, but for the reader this is a first return to familiar ground and Fraser makes full use of the contrast between the bumptious nineteen year old tyro and the much more experienced thirty-four year old Colonel.
There are direct reminders of that early time, figures Flashman met fifteen years before, who are still in India and with whom he renews acquaintance, though not without his telling us of how they will not survive the coming conflict. One who does not have this sentence of death hanging over him is Ilderrim Khan, son of a long-deposed Afghani chieftain, blood brother to Flashman from ages gone. Ilderrim has a role to play in this new drama: Flashman does not tell us of his fate so soon…
Flashy’s plan is simple: get out to Jhansi as soon as he can, get himself introduced to the army and politicals on the ground, get in to see this ancient old bint and, at the first sign of trouble, disappear underground, using his ability to impersonate Pathans and Indians to survive. He quickly prepares the ground, lightly talking about going up against Ignatieff in secret, when all he plans to do is lay low and surface when it’s safe with some suitable story about getting so close but the luck running against him.
It’s a fine, Flashy plan, but it runs up against a massive hurdle early on, when our favourite rake actually meets Rani Lakshmibai.
For, whilst Lakshmi may be old by Indian standards, that only means that she’s a luscious, haughty and altogether alluring beauty aged twenty-nine, exactly the kind of woman to make Flashman’s whiskers stand on end and his mind start to run in old, familiar grooves.
Indeed, Lakshmibai is one of the few women of whom Flashman thinks with more than mere lust: even at the end of his life, writing these memoirs, he is still faintly misty at the thought of the Rani, and his adventures with her.
Of course he’s been sent here to seduce the Rani into compliance with the dictates of the Raj, but now Flashy’s out to seduce Lakshmibai in a much more earthy manner. And being Flashy, he gets his way after weeks of patient diplomacy in which Lakshmi reveals herself as every bit as expert as her pursuer.
This is where Flashman’s problems really start. Lakshmibai is passionate about her kingdom, her people, her wealth and India’s customs, whilst Flashy is passionate about her. Whether because she’s responding like any normal woman, or out of political calculation (or both). Lakshmi manipulates Flashman into a bit of snogging and grappling, and late at night summons him to a river pavilion in which the dirty is done in exhausting fashion. And hardly has the Rani slipped out than three Thuggee killers slip in, and it would have gone ill for our hero if his blood brother Ilderrim Khan hadn’t been suspicious and followed.
Now it’s time for Flashy to go underground, and he does so with a vengeance. With Ilderrim’s assistance, he transforms himself into Makarram Khan, a former India police officer but lately despatched by Ilderrim and, to occupy his time, he joins the British Army!
This shifts the scene to Meerut City, and places Flashy on the spot for the beginning of the Mutiny itself. There is still some time before this happens, time that Flashy occupies in his regiment along with his fellow sepoys, listening and learning their concerns and the ever-advancing rumours of things being done that will ultimate lead to the uprising, things that he (privately) dismisses.
It’s a fantastic deception, but Flashman is aided by it being immediately obvious that Makarram Khan is no new recruit, and has considerable army experience. Having caught Flashman out in a small deception – which the army doesn’t care about – they are far less concerned in exposing the bigger deception.
Indeed, one of Flashy’s slips leads to his being taken up by Colonel Duff Mason and made major domo (effectively, head butler) of his home, a position that, involving kicking backsides and sleeping with the prettiest chambermaids, is up Flashy’s street. He even attracts the attention of Mason’s widowed sister, Mrs Leslie who, once assured that Makarram Khan is practically Jewish, shows an inordinate interest in the ruined temple with the erotic friezes and an enviable appetite for emulating them, one-by-one.
It all makes for a long, slow, confident build-up to the meat of the story which, when it happens, comes overnight and is horrendous on and on until the end of the story.
What it boils down to is a lack of confidence between the men and the officers. The proximate cause is a new issue of ammunition, a paper cartridge issued to the troops, which is to be ripped open and poured into their rifles. The cartridge is waxed, but the men have come to believe, immovably, that it is greased, and greased with animal fats and bones that will break their castes. Added to this a pig-headed insistence on trying to convert the men from Hinduism to Christianity, and India is ripe for a rising against their British masters.
The cartridge in the flashpoint. The doctrinaire Colonel Carmichael-Smith insists on issuing them. Ninety-five percent of his men refuse it and are court-martialled and broken. The Mutiny begins as an uprising to free the prisoners: it rapidly becomes a shocking atrocity. All the Britons – including wives and very young children – are slaughtered with terrible viciousness. Flashman, forgetting he is in native garb, attempts to assist his kind but is mistaken for a rebel, and receives a head wound that incapacitates him.
This is the first of a number of hiatuses. The injury addles Flashman’s wits for long enough to get him away from doomed Meerut and, slowly, back to Jhansi and Ilderrim’s protection, and the delay is long enough to cover the dramatically uninteresting developments of the Mutiny, until its next flashpoint, in Jhansi.
By the time Flashman reaches Jhansi, its terror has already taken place, and Lakshmi has placed herself, with finality, among the rebel leaders. Flashman refuses to believe her part in the Massacre, which equals that already experienced at Meerut, but there is nothing for him here. he and Ilderrim set off with a small band to contact the Army (though Ilderrim’s men quickly slip off to enjoy the chance to play bandit in this now lawless country).
This leads to an amusing, but at the same time extremely telling interlude when Flashman and his companion fall in with Rowbotham’s Mosstroopers. These latter are a band of civilian horsemen, under the command of the eponymous Rowbotham, touring the country and killing mutineers. They are ordinary men, with no military background, and no real discipline: just ordinary men who have seen horrors no-one should experience, and who have reacted with their own horrors.
The Mosstroopers are based off Cawnpore, which they regard as a safe stronghold, but this is a colossal delusion: their approach coincides with a night raid by the sepoys, the Mosstroopers are slaughtered, and Flashy gets behind the lines with a severely sprained ankle that would normally mean days of immobility but which here gets him fifteen seconds grace before he’s firing back. Cawnpore is under siege, and its defenders are dying by inches.
There is an immediate shock for Flashman when he recognises one of the other trapped defenders: it is ‘Scud’ East again, part of the reinforcements transferred from the Crimean area once the Mutiny began. And it is a very penitent East, seeking absolution from Flashman for abandoning him in the previous book, and confessing that, yes, indeed, he would not have cut out on Flash without the spur of hatred of the latter’s treatment of blonde and naked Valla.
This flabbergasts Flashman, and he is cold and cutting with East, despite the probability that both will soon be dead. East wants to be forgiven for something Flashman has no reason, nor intention, of forgiving him. Indeed, in his usual manner, Flashy quickly lets the encampment know that he was abandoned, left to the Russians.
Death is inevitable but, mysteriously, the Mutineer’s leader, Nanna Sahib, offers a truce, a chance for the British to leave, unharmed, their wives and children untouched. It is a suspicious offer, but Flashy strains every sinew to have the offer accepted: trusting the Mutineers is extremely doubtful, but refusal is certain death.
And the truce is a trap, a deceitful, horrific trap. Ilderrim Khan, insisting on wearing his uniform, is slaughtered before ever getting near the boats, one of many picked off by unanswerable treachery. And then, with everyone of the banks of the Ganges, the Mutineers open fire.
One of the four boats gets away, only one. Flashman is aboard, still in native dress. So too is East, but East has been bayoneted in the back, and is dying. His end is the same that Thomas Hughes wrote for him. His final words are delivered to Flashman, and they are ‘Tell the Doctor…’, but it is a doctor a long way away and no longer of this life, and whilst Flashman has no time for East or his kind, he too feels the loss of someone he knew as a weakling schoolboy, forever trailing gamely behind…
The treachery of Cawnpore, and the news of the utter massacre that followed, is another flashpoint in the story. Flashman’s escape accords with the actual events that that boatload experienced, but his reward is to spend several months recuperating in the house of a loyal Prince: recuperating mentally as well as physically, as the daily events of the Mutiny move forward, and the Army begins the long process of rolling back the rebels and restoring the control of the Raj (though this time it is of the British Government, not the East India Company, a point that Flashman (understandably) and Fraser (surprisingly) more or less omits.
He returns to the fray at Cawnpore again, after it has been recaptured by General Havelock (whom Flashy has nicknamed the First Gravedigger). It’s a time of general security for him, busying himself with intelligence and avoiding the fighting, which has now begun to swing decisively in the British favour. The hiatus is furthered extended after the Army moves on to retake Lucknow, where Flashy is laid up for months with cholera, and for once genuinely too ill to participate, or even take in what’s going on around him.
By the time he’s up and about again, typically slowly, Lucknow is under siege but, unlike at Cawnpore, awaiting relief from the main forces led by Colin Campbell, the commander-in-chief. Flashman finds himself conscripted to take part in a wholly unbelievable, but completely accurate incident where Irish Civilian  T. Henry Kavanaugh, a supposed expert on Lucknow street geography, blacks up (literally) and passes through the crowds to guide Campbell’s men in by the best route.
It’s a comic interlude of jaw-dropping fatheadedness, and all of it true, except perhaps for Flashman getting a quick screw out of it from a compliant young lady, for five rupees (provided by Kavanaugh).
But the tide has now turned with a vengeance. The Mutiny is being swept backwards: it is only a matter of time, and Flashman will be allowed to go home. But the story isn’t complete. Flashy was sent to India to deal with Lakshmibai, and at the last he still has to face that task. Leaders like Tantia Tope and Nanna Sahib can, and will, be killed or executed, but Britain wants the Rani alive. She’s young, she’s famous, and despite the intensity with which she has fought the British, there is a British squeamishness about making war on women.
So Flashman must go underground in Jhansi, and contact Lakshmi, to offer a chance to live with honour. An attack can be made, but it can be undermanned by a specific exit, out of which the Rani can escape into protective custody.
Flashy’s perfectly willing to renew acquaintance with the lovely Lady, though not under these specific circumstances, thank you very much. Nevertheless, his reputation depends on tackling the commission, and he gets in easily enough and gets a suitably cryptic message taken to the Rani. Or so he thinks, until the message is interrupted. By Count Nicholas Ignatieff.
Within moments, Flashman is being stretched on the rack, but his torment is only momentary: he has not even had chance to blurt everything out when Lakshmi herself intervenes, ordering his release, castigating Ignatieff and dismissing him, never to cross Flashman’s path seriously again. As soon as they’re alone, she’s all over our hero, kissing him, weeping on his limbs, the full works, but as soon as he’s stumbled out his message, he’s imprisoned, and held again for several weeks, wondering what the hell is going on.
Ultimately, he’s released, but he remains a prisoner, part of the Rani’s party as they use the escape loophole provided by Flashman’s plan. But there is no rendezvous with British pickets: Lakshmibai has used the pot to her own ends, going on the run with Flashman still her captive.
Not for long though. There is little room for manoeuvre: Lakshmibai releases her English captive, her may-have-been lover, freeing him to go back to the Army. Half in love with her, Flashman pleads with her to come with him, to surrender and spare herself. But the Rani cannot and will not surrender, and Flashman does not leave: the camp is attacked by British cavalry, and Lakshmi is killed before his eyes. He is holding her body when he is knocked unconscious.
Flashman wakes to find himself in the single most perilous moment of his life.  His arm is broken, and his scream of pain sees him brutally gagged, but that is far from the worst of it. In his native dress, he’s been mistaken for a rebel, and he is strapped to the mouth of a cannon at Gwalior. When it is fired, the ball will smash him to pieces.
It’s the most desperate moment of his life, but this is no longer the panicky tyro. A memory of Rudi von Starnberg helps settle Flashman’s mind into a cold calmness, and he is able to attract the attention of an officer, who halts the firing, removes the gag, and goggles at what Flashy tells him. Yet Fraser is able to end this mercifully short sequence with one of his most uproarious jokes: as soon as he is free, Flashman – who outranks everyone as Colonel – orders the other rebels strapped to cannons to be freed. This provokes a manly tear from those around, at the Colonel’s compassion: not a bit if it, Flashy says, the way things are being run around here, one of them’s bound to be Lord Canning.
It’s all but over now. Flashman has once again survived. His service is over, he’s gathered enough loot to build himself a country house in Leicestershire, and had a gushing letter from Elspeth, though that’s clouded a little by her enclosing a book gifted by the odious Lord Cardigan. Apart from that, Flashman’s not got a lot out of his Indian adventure, not when you look at the honours being handed out to all and sundry.
But that’s before a presentation from Lord Canning, the Governor-General, of the Victoria Cross. On top of which, though it’s not official until he gets back to England and is properly invested, Victoria has been tasteless enough to knight him! Two in one go: Sir Harry and Lady Flashman, hey?
All in the garden is well, but Flashman adventures don’t end like that, do they? After all, there’s that book, very popular in London it is. Which book would that be, pray? Why, none other than Tom Brown’s Schooldays, by ‘an Old Boy’. Featuring, who’s that? Notorious school bully Harry Flashman?
With a shriek of outrage over this traducing of his reputation, the fifth Packet ends.
It’s a lovely, gorgeous book, steeped in the details of the infamous Mutiny and, within and even above the limitations of Flashman’s British viewpoint and obvious prejudices, is as fair as it can be to both sides. Flashman’s lack of any real concern about anything not directly affecting him underpins his often scrupulous honesty and accuracy, and whilst I can’t see the story finding favour with a sub-Continental audience, Flashman in the Great Game wears no open prejudices on its sleeve, and is careful to point out how and where British reactions to the Mutiny could have been far less restrained than, in fact, they were.

History and Memories
This little section follows each blog. It focuses on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P14. Flashman explains the lapse of time between the conclusion of his activities in Central Asia as being down to contracting cholera from the cooking of an Afghan lover, which put him on his back for several months, bringing us to summer 1856.
p57. Flashman refers to ‘tight corners’ in Afghanistan, Madagascar, Russia and St Louis. The Madagascar reference is yet to be explained.
P126. A list of impersonations Flashman has performed includes Danish Prince, Texas slave-dealer, Arab Sheikh, Cheyenne Dog Soldier and Yankee navy lieutenant. The first two of these have been featured in the Second and Third packets but none of the others will be explained. At no point does Flashman ever get near Arabia, although the Cheyenne reference may be accounted a slip in light of the Seventh Packet. Improbable as it may sound, Flashman’s term of navy duty may be yet another element of the great and much-regretted American Civil War adventure that Fraser had no interest in writing.
P258. ‘Hellish experiences’ – Flashman ranks the Siege of Cawnpore alongside Balaclava, Kabul, Greasy Grass and Isandlwhana. The first two we have seen, Greasy Grass will be recounted in the Seventh Packet but Isandlwhana belongs to the Zulu War, only a fragment of which (excluding that experience) was written, in the title story if the Eleventh Packet.
P261. ‘the slow boom-boom of drums’ in the forest night. Flashman recalls hearing it in Dahomey, South America and Borneo. The first of these refers to the Third Packet and the last will be disclosed in the Sixth but there are no references to assist us in determining where, when or why Flashman was in South America.

The Flashman Papers 1854/55: Flashman at the Charge


Flashman at the Charge was my first Flashman book, borrowed on one of my first visits to Manchester Central Reference Library General Readers section. It was published in 1974, and I probably read it the same year, or at worst the next.
I was still fairly new to the world of Adult Fiction, thanks to my rather restrictive parenting, and one of my key factors in exploring fiction I might like was people having sex. Very shallow, but then I had had very little opportunity to develop depth. I was vaguely aware that the Flashman books were on the sexy side, but I was unclear as to the level of explicitness George MacDonald Fraser offered.
This proved to be not as explicit as my teenage self would have chosen. On the other hand, I recognised a writer I was going to follow for the rest of his life.
The title of this fourth volume of the Flashman Papers should make its setting clear to anyone with any half-knowledge of British Nineteenth Century history, or poetry, come to that. The Charge can only be the famous/infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, which means the Crimean War, which means a bit of a leap in time for Flashy, last seen bartering a lift back to London from the New Orleans docks, from Captain John Charity Spring in 1849: the Crimean War didn’t start until 1854.
But despite the title, only a small part of this book is concerned with the Crimea, and whilst Fraser is generous in his attention to detail as to the background to the War, the societal pressures that drove the British Government to hostilities and the machinations that get our pal Flashy put there, once in the Crimea, Flashman attends only one military engagement before Balaclave itself, where he is captured and the book immediately heads off in a completely different, and unexpected direction.
Once again this makes for a book with an inelegant, yet very entertaining and informative structure, as Flashman plays an unexpected part in a forgotten, indeed almost unknown war, in a corner of the world he might never have visited, if it weren’t for a crateload of stale Russian champagne.
Oh yes, Flashy is on form again!
It’s the second time-jump we’ve experienced in the Papers, and once again Fraser is characteristically vague as to what Flashman has been doing since we saw him last. Some of the gap will be filled in in the seventh Packet, though that by no means covers all of the intervening period. He’s now a father, though obviously not having been present at the birth (and still having his doubts as to whether he was present at the conception). Still, his old Rugby crony Speedicut assures him that from the way the baby was grabbing at the midwife’s tits, he’s clearly a Flashman, and Elspeth has named him Harry Albert Victor, after his heroic father, and the Royal Couple.
Flashman is now in his mid-thirties and has had enough experience to be able to tell when war is coming. To avoid being caught up in active service, he’s used the good offices of his Uncle Bindley (who is here credited as being from the Flashman side of the family whereas in later books Fraser will transfer him to the more upper class Paget side) to get himself installed at the Ordnance, a sinecure of a post a long way away from any fighting. To those who wonder why an old warhorse such as Flashy isn’t hellbent on thrashing the Russkies, our hero talks portentously about the need for men of experience to ensure the troops are properly supported.
However, all this good work goes to waste in a single evening of vicious living. Flashman and Speedicut happen upon a naive young shaver with something of a German accent being fleeced by a pool sharp. Seeing in him a source of amusement, they adopt him, run him around and abandon him in an alley, having painted his arse with bootblack, and the Police approaching.
All good fun until someone loses an eye. The lad turns out to be William of Celle, a young cousin of Prince Albert, in England to make his way in the British army. After this escapade, Albert decides his cousin needs a mentor, an experienced and popular soldier in the public eye, rapidly promoted from Captain to Colonel. Colonel Harry Flashman.
And William is going to war. In the Crimea.
Even so, the newly-promoted Colonel takes his time about getting himself and his new ward to the war. Flashman has already met his new Commander, the one-armed Lord Raglan, in whom he has no more faith than Elphinstone, in Afghanistan, and he’s most reluctantly renewed his acquaintance with Lord Cardigan, still as imperious and offensive as ever, but now in hot pursuit of Elspeth, who isn’t being as discouraging as she might be. By the time orders are received to travel to the Crimea, Flashy is ready to do a lot of things to put Milord Cardigan in the way of Russian fire.
As for young Willie, he is still naïve and adolescent about war, honour and glory, but he has grown up in one sense: he has a great liking for a blonde St John’s Wood whore with black boots ties up to her thighs with satin laces (I say, what, corks!).
Unfortunately, this is William of Celle’s only area of mutiny. Once in the Crimea, at Alma, Willie is too enthusiastic to be restrained and, despite being a ‘galloper’ (deliverer of messages), yanks out his sabre, chases the infantry and promptly gets half his head blown off.
This leaves Flashy in seriously bad odour, for his lack of diligence in not getting his head blown off at the same time, and his disgrace is compounded when he loots a crateload of stale Russian champagne, which gives him a massive case of dysentery, confining him to the sickbay for months. Of course, this hiatus is extended as far as Flashy can possibly can manage it, but even he has to go back on duty at some point. It’s merely the traditional Flashman luck that the day he resumes his duty is the day of the Battle of Balaclava.
Thanks to Tennyson’s famous poem, the only thing associated with Balaclava is the Charge of the Light Brigade (and those horrible knitted helmets kids in the late Fifties were forced to wear). But Fraser didn’t need his customary extensive research to identify two other famous moments from the battle that have been overwhelmed in the public gaze by Cardigan’s infamous Charge.
So Flashy arrives at Raglan’s commanding position along with the other gallopers, including the infamous Lew Nolan, whose communication of Raglan’s orders have been debated for a century and a half. It’s not a good day for Flashman: apart from being near a battlefield again, he is suffering from broiling guts, the after-effects of his champagne-induced dysentery. And he’s constantly being sent where the action is thickest.
Thus he is with Sir Colin Campbell’s Highlanders when they are attacked by Cavalry, and is forced to take his place in the double-line of rifles that, with the cavalry less than fifty yards away and galloping at full speed, fire two volleys that cut the Russians down and send them flying. Flashy is part of the famous Thin Red Line.
From there, carrying Campbell’s report back to Raglan, Flashy is ordered to swing by General James Scarlett’s Heavy Brigade of Cavalry, to update him. Flashman arrives just as a brigade of Russian cavalry appear on the brow of the hill and, against all military logic, history and common sense, the excitable Scarlett orders a charge – uphill! It routs the Russians, and Flashy adds the Charge of the Heavy Brigade to his list of reluctant honours.
Two such dangerous actions leave Flashy longing for the peace and quiet of Raglan’s redout, but just as his vicious nature has wound up sending him to the Crimea in the first place, his hatred of Cardigan, and his eagerness to send the objectionable Lord into the way of danger, is his more proximate undoing.
I’m not going to layout the Balaclava battlefield, which is the source of the entire controversy. But the sight of British guns being hauled off by the Russians enables Flashy to put in a spiteful stage-whisper that prompts Raglan into sending out Nolan with that ambiguous message.
Unfortunately, no sooner has Nolan set off than his habitual caution has him send the next galloper with a message to act defensively. And that rider is Flashman.
Which is why he winds up heading into the Valley of Death, half a league, half a league, half a league onwards, and by now farting explosively to boot. In amongst the cannon and shot, Flashy makes it to the Russian battery, but is unhorsed: Lord George Paget helps him to a riderless mount and by now Flashy has had enough. Damn his reputation, he is hightailing it, hell for leather, despite Lord George’s screams for him to come back.
Unfortunately, which we might all have guessed by now, Flashy has gotten completely disoriented, and is re-charging the Russian battery. Where he is captured as fast as he can surrender.


What follows is a lengthy and mainly peaceful middle section. being an officer and a gentleman, to outward appearances, Flashman looks forward to decent, if short-lived treatment, until he is exchanged for an equivalent Russian prisoner. However, it appears that the English hold no-one of Flashy’s status, so until a suitable captive is taken, Flashman will be taken a good distance into mainland Russia, to be held as a gentleman prisoner at Starotorsk, on the Estate of the former Cossack General, Count Pencherjevsky (think Brian Blessed, but without the delicacy and self-restraint).
The Count lives with his unmarried sister, Sara, and his married daughter, Valla, whose non-Cossack husband has failed to beget a son on her to date, or any child, come to that. But Pencherjevsky is also billeting another English officer, of much less fame but far greater patriotism, Christianity and intelligence than our hero. To their mutual shock, Flashman finds himself confronting Harry ‘Scud’ East, formerly of Rugby School and Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
It’s not the easiest of relationships, a factor not assisted by East having generally avoided the family as much as possible (he has a raging crush on golden-haired Valla), whereas Flashman is happy to accept hospitality, especially so far away from the War. He and Pencherjevsky, being simple souls, get on extremely well.
So much so that, after a trial run with Aunt Sara in the sauna with the birch twigs, Pencherjevsky takes Flashy aside to put a proposition to him. Since his wimp of a son-in-law is highly unlikely to father an heir to Starotorsk on Valla, would Flashy consider rogering her every night until she gets one up the spout?
With the innocent east completely unaware of this nocturnal arrangement, to which both parties give full measure, the winter months pass in 1855. There is only one fly in the ointment.
This comes one late night when Flashy, wending his way back from Valla’s bedroom, stumbles (literally) over East, out on the landing, eavesdropping on a secret meeting in the hall. It is a portentous meeting, discussig a Russian plan (based on a series of military plans from the period) to take advantage of Britain’s distraction in the Crimea to send a Russian Army overland through Central Asia, to invade India from the North West, through Afghanistan.
An unseen, unnamed person is receiving this report. Fraser does not state that it is Tsar Nicholas, merely observes, editorially, that if it is, it is only days before his death. There is no evidence to suggest the Tsar went anywhere near Staratorsk in his final days, but then again, there is no evidence at all of his whereabouts in the final days of his life. Fraser is a master at discovering and utilising such lacunae.
This discovery leads to friction between Flashman and East, with the latter insisting on their duty requiring them to escape towards the Crimea and bring this news back, and Flashman, under cover of not throwing away their lives wastefully, emphasising the impossibility of escape and trying to ensure his cushy little billet is preserved.
And then the chance comes up. An external, pre-Communist agitator (whom Flashman hints was an ancestor of Lenin) provokes a rising of the peasants, who attack the house with fire. Pencherjevsky entrusts Flashman and East with getting Valla to safety, and East realises that they’ve been given their chance on a plate. The trio make for the Crimea.
It’s a fraught journey, with their sled being chased by, first wolves and then cossacks on horseback. After Flashy speeds things up by heaving the naked Valla out into the snow, it looks like he and East will make it, but the sled crashes with only a couple of miles to go. Flashman is trapped under it and East chooses to pursue his duty and abandons him to recapture.
Thus begins the third and final phase of the story, and in its way one of the most interesting and fascinating parts of the entire Flashman series.
Fraser has already introduced the historical figure of Captain Count Nicholas Pavlovitch Ignatieff, one of Russia’s best agents in the Far East. From the moment of his first, cruel and callous intervention, latterly seen as being solely for the purpose of seeing Flashman, he’s an obvious villain, capable, dangerous, controlling, utterly without human feeling. Ignatieff is in a way the anti-Rudi von Sterberg, for he is ice and contempt.
He also takes charge of Flashman, who has forfeited all honour, and right to be treated as a gentleman by his attempt to flee. Nor will it do any good if East does get the news through: the Russian Army will set off now, and be at the North West Frontier long before British Army can reinforce. And Flashman will travel every step of that way, in filth and degradation, and stand as an emblem of the Empire’s decay and fall.


Thus begins the most fascinating and strange section of the Flashman Papers. I have obviously done considerably less research into this sequence than did George MacDonald Fraser, but unlike any other ‘public’ adventure in the series, it is impossible to easily verify any of the factors in the remainder of the book. Nothing to verify Ignatieff’s presence in the Crimea or Central Asia, nothing to verify that a Russian Army set off towards India.
More than anything else in this series, I suspect the final third of this book has been made up out of whole cloth. The adventure bears that sensation. It is in the form of a journey that probably no European had ever undertaken, into and across an obscure and unknown part of the world that feels like a departure into a land not of Earth. Flashy crosses the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea, visits strange cities, strange countries, all the time approaching Afghanistan from the back. Nothing is real, nothing certain.
Ultimately, it brings him to Fort Raim, on the eastern shore of the Aral Sea. This is the land of Sohrab and Rustum, the far-distant Oxus, a piece of the world utterly strange to us. But, on a prosaic level, it is also the land of Yakub Beg and Izzat Kutebar, brigands, rebels, pirates, guerillas, fighting the long and ultimately fruitless resistance to Russian Imperialism.
Flashy is thrown into a dungeon with this newly-captured pair and, against his natural inclinations, takes turns supporting Yakub Beg on his back, as he swings in chains. He’s rewarded with rescue, with being released when the Fort is stormed by Beg’s men, led by his woman, The Silk One, Ko Dali’s daughter.
Between the formal, florid, bantering language used between Beg and Khan, and The Silk One’s allusive, teasing manner, an overwhelming sense of near fantasy, related to the atmosphere of the Arabian Nights, steals over the story, not least so when Flashman suddenly becomes fierce and brave. For whilst messages of the threat will be sent to India, the chance arises to stop the Russian Army’s advance here, in the valley of the Syr Daria. Because the Russians have British Congreve rockets amongst their assets, and Yakub Beg has an experienced British officer, trained in the Ordnance to set them off.
What matter it that he is a lily-livered coward? Only Ko Dali’s daughter sees this but she has her ways. She teases Flashman into having sex with her, feeds him sherbet, and he’s set to go, and in a raging battle, Flashy does eventually succeed in blowing up the fleet. That it took a generous dose of hashish, the Old Man of the Mountain, to stir his bravery is nothing among friends, heh?
The invasion collapses. Yakub Beg’s fight continues a decade until the inevitable, the long defeat that invokes the spirit into wishing it could end otherwise, that this world Fraser has introduced us to should not slip into oblivion. As I said, unlike the rest of the series, I suspect that none of this happened, that it is as wholly fictional as the Duchy of Strakenz in Royal Flash, but I still love it.
George MacDonald Fraser never admitted if he had a favourite amongst the Flashman books, though he did confirm that his agent thought this to be the best. I have only one other novel in the series that I prefer to this, and it is that final, fantastic section that sweeps me away every time.

History and Memories
This little section will follow each blog. It will focus on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P12. Flashman records that his public profile is still high despite not having taken the field for his country for about eight years. This last military endeavour will be recorded in the Ninth Packet. He also credits himself as being ‘about the only man to charge in the right direction at Chillianwallah (a mistake, mind you)’. This is a rare slip on Fraser’s part: this battle formed part of the Second Sikh war and took place in January 1849, when Flashman was acting as overseer on the Mandeville Plantation, in America. One ingenious explanation was that Flashman pretended to have been on active service in India to conceal his disgraceful retreat from England and had gotten so used to his cover story that, when writing his memoirs, decades later, forgot he’d ever been there, but accepting this is to undermine the principle of the series, that Flashman is telling the unvarnished truth. This is the most egregious slip in the entire series.
P32. Flashman’s most recent military action is confirmed by Lord Raglan as ‘against the Sikhs’.
P38. Flashman mentions various of his brushes with royalty, including the as-yet unrecorded appointment as chief-of-staff to ‘that black she-devil Ranavalona’, which will be recorded in the Sixth Packet.
P124. Flashman compares the arrival of the Light Brigade at the Russian battery with other horrific battles he has experienced, such as the Little Big Horn and Chillianwallah. The former will be related in the second part of the Seventh Packet: Chillianwallah has been referenced above.
P135. Flashman visits the captured from the Light Brigade and references their regimental song, ‘Garryowen’ for the first time. This will become a running theme in his memoirs and he mentions hearing it sung and whistled from ‘Afghanistan to Whitehall, from the African veldt to drunken hunting parties in Rutland’, and also hearing it roared out on chorus by Custer’s 7th at the Little Big Horn. We will have to guess when Flashman was on the African veldt, but when it comes to the Seventh Packet, there is no direct reference to the song after the Battle commences.
P197. The besiegement of Starotorsk has Flashman recalling similar affairs at Cawnpore, Lucknow and Pekin. The first two will be addressed during the Fifth Packet, but the Pekin Embassy Siege, Flashman’s last known historical adventure, will never be recorded in detail.
P204. Flashman recalls an incident with Kit Carson, who he will meet, albeit relatively fleetingly, in the first half of the Seventh Packet. This incident is not expanded upon and seems out of both character and context for Carson’s role in that book.
P262. A first mention for Flashman’s official memoirs, Dawn’s and Departure’s of a Soldier’s Life, here referred to as a single volume though it will grown to a three volume work, the last of which being difficult to find for reasons we’ll learn in due course. I’ve always wondered what it might have read like, by way of comparison, you know.
P318. Flashman converts a old song, recited by Yakub Beg, into rhyming English, ending with the poignant line ‘They find the Golden Road to Samarkand’. Though not identified as such by Fraser, this is clearly a precursor to James Elroy Flecker’s verse drama Hassan… The Golden Journey to Samarkand. It is not suggested that Flashman ever knew, let alone influenced, Flecker.

The Flashman Papers 1848-49: Flash for Freedom


The third packet of The Flashman Papers, published as Flash for Freedom in 1972 covers the years 1848/49, and takes up almost directly where Royal Flash leaves off. Once again, Flashman’s adventures involve no military campaigns and gain him no honours, but George MacDonald Fraser uses this book to send Flashman to America for the first time, and to focus his story upon the contentious issue of the Slave Trade.
I say contentious, and I mean contentious. This book was written over forty years ago, by an author who had no truck in later life with Political Correctness. It’s about a subject with very deep racial aspects, and it’s narrated by a man of the early-to-mid Nineteenth Century with an already well-established set of Victorian prejudices, overlaid by an innate lack of concern for his fellow man save as he can serve Flashman’s purposes.
This is not going to be a book in which comfortably liberal sympathies as to the horror of Slavery are going to be expressed.
Yet Flashman is honest, and Fraser is an honest historian. From both of them we get the Slave Trade seen from more practical angles than most contemporary histories are prepared to give. Fraser doesn’t pretend that the Slave Trade was anything but horrific, but neither does he shy away from plain speaking, pointing out that the trade could not have existed, let alone proliferated without the active participation of black chiefs herding and selling their beaten enemies and their surplus young tribesmen and women to the white traders.
And he cannot help pointing out that the anti-slavery campaigners may have been hot against the trade as it applied to poor black tribes, but that they were perfectly willing, and sometimes actively engaged in allowing the working class of their own country to work in conditions of abject poverty, cruelty, misery and despair: in short, an effective slavery that was less escapable than the ‘official’ Trade.
Fraser adopts a similar structure to Royal Flash to set up his story: there is an early phase, two, in fact, one minor, one major, this time without the separation in time, before he finally gets to the meat of his story a third of the way into the novel.
It all starts from Flashy’s return from Europe, where the Revolutions of 1848 have been chasing each other across the continent. In Britain, this doesn’t get further than the great Chartists’ Petition, which has its absurdities that Fraser and Flashman both highlight.
But whereas Flashy can’t take the Chartist Petition seriously, his miserly Scottish father-in-law does. He’s in terror of the revolutionary ingratitude of the working class (oh, he’d have been voting for Margaret Thatcher all right) and he’s thinking of buying himself a dozen MPs in order to be as reactionary as is humanly possible. And he’s considering Flashman as one of them.
Considering his recent experiences, Flashman, despite being wholly apolitical, is perfectly willing to set himself up in the House of Commons, away from being shot at, so Morrison arranges a weekend away at a political house party to set Flashy up.
It’s intolerably boring, the only interest being in the prospective conquest of Miss Fanny Locke (who will shortly become Mrs Fanny Duberly, who will write books about British Army campaigns that are still highly regarded today). But there’s a fly in the ointment in the shape of Bryant, Flashy’s old toadie from the 11th Hussars, who pimped and such for him and who ensured that when Flashy took part in his famous duel, his opponent didn’t have a ball in his pistol.
And over a friendly card game in the evening, Bryant frames Flashy as a card cheat, at which Flashy loses his head, knocks Bryant down the stairs and fractures his skull.
So much for politics: what Flashy needs now, once it’s clear he’s not actually killed Bryant, is to be hied away elsewhere until the scandal dies down. That a furious Morrison, complete with threats to completely cut him off from Elspeth (who is pregnant) and, more importantly, money, undertakes by sending Flashy to the South Coast to await the arrival of Captain John Charity Spring, defrocked Oxford Don with a thirst for the classics (in Latin, naturally), who is to taken Flashman onto his ship, Bailliol College, as supercargo.
It isn’t until Flashy has boarded off Dieppe, off the coast of France, and is under way, that he twigs why the ship has such a large hold consisting of shelves with chains attached…
And Flashman so does not want to be part of any such thing, not for any ethical reasons, because Flashy doesn’t have any, but sheer, naked fear of the potential outcome if they’re caught. And you know that, despite the profusion of testimonials Captain Spring has from all sides as someone who does not get caught, that sooner or later it’s going to happen, simply because Flashy is on the ship.
Fraser has ample time to educate us as to the realities of the Slave Trade as it was being practiced, and even Flashman confirms his disgust at the process, and regards it as hell, though he is also critical of the fact that, by sheer weight of numbers, the slaves could at any time have overcome the slavers and killed them all, but that they lacked the mentality to do so.
Spring himself is an object of fascination: a tyrant, a madman, an obsessive, and altogether someone who simply sails outside the bounds of rational humanity, but who Fraser brings to life as someone as real as any of the madmen he has already portrayed in the series, and who have been historical figures that have been drawn from life. There is no difficulty in taking Spring for what he is.
Two other crew-members ought to be mentioned. One is the ratty little cabin boy, who gets left behind with King Gozo of Dahomey. He’ll be referred to later in the penultimate book, but in a story finally published in book form after being commissioned for the Sunday Times in 1972, making it contemporaneous to this novel.
The other, and of more immediate importance, is third mate Beauchamp Comber or, to give him his full title, Lieutenant Comber of Her Majesty’s Navy, an undercover agent set on exposing the slave trade. Flashy knows the type, one of Arnold’s boys, the little Christian heroes, like Brown and East (whose death Flashman foreshadows without at this point revealing that he was present). But Comber gets a native spear under the ribs and, mistaking Flashman for someone who cares, confides his role, and his papers to him, expecting Flashman to use them to bring the slavers to justice. Flashman’s intention is to use them to blackmail his father-in-law, who is incriminated up to the eyeballs.
On the other hand, when the Balliol College is attacked in the Caribbean by the American Navy, and attacked successfully despite Spring’s record, Comber’s papers and his ID come in very handy to identify H Flashman Esq. as a Royal Navy undercover agent.
Naturally, the US Navy is delighted to welcome Lieutenant Comber, and even more so the information he can give them to enable them to put an end to this accursed trade. So Flashy has the unenviable and hugely amusing task of steering between proper, many, modest acceptance of his lionisation, fear of discovery of his real identity, and honourably refusing to give Brother Jonathan (a pre-Uncle Sam term for the Americans) any concrete information whatsoever.
Being Flashy, he manages it beautifully, though there is one figure in Washington who seems to see straight through him and finger him for a rogue who has never been anywhere near any Navy. This is a Member of Congress, a tall, ugly-looking fellow with deep-burning eyes, a lantern jaw and a cowlick of black hair falling across his forehead. We do not need Flashy’s confirmation of his name to recognise him immediately as Abraham Lincoln.
Still and all, maybe only Lincoln spots Flashy’s pretences but the Navy aren’t letting him out of their sight whilst there’s the chance of him providing any information. Besides, they’ll need him in New Orleans for the trial, eh, which is the last thing Flashy wants to appear at. So, the first opportunity he gets, our hero ducks out and goes to ground.
Here follows a spot of useful advice for handsome young men needing a bolthole in a strange town. Tour the brothels until you find a specific kind of Madam: late-Forties, a bit over-fleshed but still interested in handsome young men. Flashman winds up hanging around in the establishment of Mrs Susie Willinck, who is soon sufficiently impressed with his, ah, stamina, to arrange passage out of town onto a ship for England.
Needless to say, Flashy doesn’t get there.
Fraser is having the time of his life, throwing in obstacle after obstacle to Flashman’s simple return to civilisation. The next one is the Underground Slave Railway, in awe of Lieutenant Comber’s activities, and kidnapping ‘him’ to escort a prominent black slave/philosopher, George Randolph, and run him up the Mississippi to freedom.
Flashy has no recourse but to accept this unwanted burden, which becomes all the more unwanted the moment he sets eyes on Randolph, who is cold, aloof, demanding and self-entitled. It’s a controversial section: Flashy doesn’t start off with any sympathies towards Randolph, and the latter surely doesn’t improve on that basic indifference: he is completely unable to accept that his escape relies upon his playing the part of a subservient slave until he is on safe ground, and his constant demands that Flashy acts completely and exaggeratedly out of his supposed character as a slave owner risks drawing attention at every moment, and ultimately draws exactly the wrong attention from the wrong man, one Peter Omohundro, a former owner.
Randolph is exposed exactly as Flashman warned he would be, and gets a shot in the back. Flashy takes a dive off the Riverboat into the Mississippi, still no nearer to getting out of the South, let alone onto a ship to England.
His next phase is to change his name again (to Tom Arnold), and fetch up as an overseer at a cotton plantation where he stays the winter, into 1849. It’s an easy life, especially for someone with Flashy’s bullying steak, but unfortunately, the plantation owner’s wife, the diminutive Annette Mandeville, decides that overseer Arnold would be better off screwing her than the slaves.
But this is the point where it all turns deadly serious, in a blackly humorous way. Mandeville’s first reaction is to beat his overseer to a pulp, whilst simultaneously denying that his darling wife had any part to play in this: it was a ravishment, d’you hear? His cronies, whilst professing to believe that, have a rather more cynical punishment. One is returning a runaway slave to Alabama: he offers to take Flashy with him – as a black slave.
It’s a moment of doom for our hero, a fate that, once commenced, is literally inescapable and, given his involvement in and around the Slave Trade, however reluctantly, one that’s oddly justified. But all is not yet lost for Flashman: his fellow ‘slave’ is a resourceful young woman named Cassie (Cassiopeia) who is prepared to tempt their transporters into screwing her, so that she can get to a knife and a gun and kill both.
So it’s back to the Mississippi for Flashman, or James Prescott as he now is (names are an ever-changing business in this book). All Mr Prescott has to do is get his slave-girl Cassie upriver but, despite her co-operation and acquiescence in her role, he’s no more successful than he was with George Randolph. By an accident due to inattention and comfort at the fact that he’s screwing his way up the river with Cassie, Flashman manages to book tickets on a downriver steamer, back into slave territory.
The pair head north again, though by now the pressure is telling severely on Cassie. Ultimately, in sight of freedom, but on the wrong bank, she snaps. The pair have to run, and run across the ice, jumping from floe to floe, with slave-stealers on their tails – literally in Flashman’s case as he is shot in the buttock!
It’s all very Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fraser suggests in the footnotes that, like Royal Flash, this is probably the original source for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic book. But the climax is reached when, having got to the town, Flashman and Cassie seek refuge, only for the slave-stealers, as they are legally entitled to do, to invade the house of their helpers, threatening to drag them back.
Until they’re confronting by one of the guests, who faces them down in a stirring manner, showing the force within him: shortly to leave office congressman Lincoln.
It’s a classic confrontation, and in any other book it might be the finale, bringing Flashman’s panicky adventures up and down the Mississippi Valley to a secure end. But of course that’s not it: Tom Arnold, James Prescott, Mr Lincoln knows our hero as Beauchamp Comber, RN, and there’s the small matter of a trial down in New Orleans, for which Comber’s evidence is required…
So all that running around, and Flashy hasn’t got away after all. It’s enough to make you believe in God after all, but the old rogue isn’t dead yet, nor is he identified as his real self either – so long as the evidence he gives in a New Orleans court doesn’t convict John Charity Spring and his ship.
Once again, it’s a juggling match of considerable skill and cunning on Flashman’s part, to only give non-incriminating evidence without arousing the suspicions of the Navy that he’s been nobbled. And Flashy being Flashy, in a brilliant but draining performance, he gets away with it.
Of course, that doesn’t resolve Flashman’s overwhelming problem: getting the hell out of America before anyone asks him a question he can’t answer. On the other hand, there’s a ship leaving New Orleans very very shortly, and if it means sacrificing the precius information he was going to use to blackmail Morrison (he’s always got the knowledge) to pay for his passage, well, it’s worth it. So he asks Captain Spring for passage!
That’s not quite the end, though it would be years and another four books before we would realise how not the end it was, but in the meantime, Fraser, recognising and respecting a gigantic punch-line when he writes one, left it there, but for a ‘clipping’, attached to the final page, setting out the obituary of John Morrison, in January 1949, whilst Flashman was bigging it up at the Mandeville Plantation.
I thoroughly enjoy Flash for Freedom for its fast pace and its ever-extending series of absurd situations that Flashman falls into in his desperate attempts to avoid the consequences of his own failings. It’s a far better structured book in that its separate phases are consecutive, and there is no awkward time-lapse as in Royal Flash. On the other hand, I wasn’t impressed by Fraser re-using the notion that Flashy’s ‘real’ adventures are the basis for a piece of famous fiction.
This was not a trope that would be repeated, for which I am grateful, as it tended to cheapen the books by emphasising points at which Fraser was borrowing from older, more respected fiction.
What’s also very noticeable is a motif that Fraser introduces to this volume, and which he then hammers constantly, and that is that Flashman is the engine of all his own travails. Constantly, Flashy is shown as making decisions, some important, most comparatively trivial, that with the benefit of his considerable hindsight, will lead him into disasters and terrible times. Laziness, complacency, even quaking cowardice, the list of factors is unending, but with an inevitability that suggests the presence of some kind of tutelary deity, time and again, it’s Flashman’s own fault that he is shrieking with terror once more.
But, inevitably, we must come back to the underlying theme of Slavery. In an era when liberal sympathy insists that the depiction of such horrible things not be attempted without a clear, accompanying condemnation of it, usually through the person of the hero himself, Flash for Freedom will inevitably attract harsh words.
I’m not saying that they aren’t deserved: Flashman is not an abolitionist and when he is placed in command of slaves, his worst traits come out like the swallows returning from Capistrano. There is even a moment, when he seduces Cassie, and she gives herself freely, the first man to whom she has not surrendered under coercion, when she describes Flashman as kind, and he mocks her, albeit gently, as being such an innocent that she cannot (yet) distinguish between kindness and the absence of cruelty.
But good historical fiction is an accurate reflection of its time. It does not superimpose anachronistic liberal ideals onto a time that had no conceptions of them, it does not portray the Twentieth/Twenty-First Century as existing long before it came about. It is honest to the times it depicts, and to the thoughts and actions of the men and women of that time, and it should be possible for the intelligent mind to condemn slavery for the abomination it was and still is, without the requirement that the men and women of a slaving society condemn it as well.
Unless you can read Flash for Freedom with that in mind, I would advise you not read it at all. After all, the very title is a complete irony: nowhere in this book is Harry Flashman concerned for anybody’s freedom except his own..

History and Memories
This little section will follow each blog. It will focus on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P75. Flashman compares the meeting in Captain Spring’s cabin, professionally and impersonally discussing the exact requirements for transporting adult slaves across the Atlantic with other, equally astonishing meetings he’s witnessed: General Grant and General Lee at Appamatox farmhouse, Lords Cardigan and Lucan at Balaclava. This latter will appear in his next book, but like the many, myriad references to the American Civil War down the years, we will never learn how these glimpses cohere in a story.
P139. Flashman, not necessarily meaning it as a compliment, comments that the simplistic decency of Captain Abraham Farebrother (who captures the Balliol College) could have been used by Dr Arnold at Rugby School and several of him by ‘Young Chard’ at Rorke’s Drift. Flashman’s adventures in the Zulu Wars are another gap in the Packets.
P194. Flashman, steaming up the Mississippi on a riverboat, refers to many years later, ‘booming’ down it with the Union Army.
P295. Flashman initially meets Abraham Lincoln in Washington, on p147, but their second meeting is of far greater import, as Lincoln’s natural combativeness, not to mention curiosity about ‘Beauchamp Comber’ (beach comber?) leads him to rescue Flashman from the slave-stealers, before despatching him to New Orleans. Flashman comments that he was not to see Lincoln again until that ‘fateful night’, fifteen years later, when, as President, he ‘bribed and coerced’ Flashy into ruining his military reputation and risking his neck to rescue Lincoln’s Union. That would make it 1864. Later references to Flashy’s Civil War experiences will suggest that Lincoln pushed him into service at an earlier stage than this.

The Flashman Papers 1842/3 & 1847/8: Royal Flash


The second packet of The Flashman Papers, published in 1970 as Royal Flash, gave notice of George MacDonald Fraser’s burgeoning confidence as a writer. It’s simultaneously the ‘more-of-the-same-only-different’ that every successful series must embrace, and a completely different kettle of fish. There are no military campaigns this time out, no Wars, no honours, no glory undeserved or public reward. This time, all Flashy gets for his efforts is the one thing really important to him: his own skin, preserved intact.
The first major difference between this book and Flashman lies in Fraser’s whole-hearted acceptance that he has a successful series on his hands. As I remarked, Flashman – a book written entirely on spec – is merely the first in a series in potentia: there are the barest minimum of references to incidences later in Flashman’s career.
On the other hand, just the first section of Royal Flash, the part set in 1842-43, throws up a half dozen references to other parts of Flashy’s career, and by no means all of these hints and asides will come to fruition in full-scale memoirs. From the outset, however, Flashman is placed in the context of his own, long life, a life permanently in motion.
Before going on to discuss the events of this book, I do have to comment upon it’s unusual structure. There is a four year gap between the short events of 1842-43, which exist to set-up the situation that will dominate the larger part of the story, Flashman and Fraser make no attempt to establish what happens during this awkward gap, except that at least part of it was spent in another military engagement, and whilst the book itself picks up almost immediately from its predecessor, the 1847 section starts with one of the great mysteries of The Flashman Papers.
All we know, when Flashy resumes his tale, is that he is but lately returned to London, seeking rest whilst he recuperates from the effects of a pistol ball being dug out of his back. Where he got this, save that it was out of England, who from, why and in what circumstances is not explained, nor will Fraser ever return to this scenario over the next four decades.
It’s an awkward and weak transition, which contributes little to the ongoing story, and given that one of Fraser’s underlying purposes in this novel is to set Flashy’s adventures up as the real-life original for one of the most famous romantic adventure novels of all time, it does undermine the book overall, to me at least.
But what’s it all about, you ask?
The first part recounts, in 1842, whilst pursuing his vicious amusements, Flashy’s meeting with a young Irish woman, Mrs Rosanna James, and a young German Count, Otto von Schonhausen, though his family name is somewhat more familiar: Bismarck. Needless to say, Flashy encounters the unlikely pair when on the run, this time from the Police who have just raided the gambling hell where Flashy and his old Rugby pal, Speedicut, have been frequenting.
The sober, humourless Otto wants to hand Flashy over to the Police, though since he’s the ‘ero of Joolloolabad, the Police are having none of it, and anyway, saucy Rosanna is all for shielding him, all the way to her bed. The pair are lovers only for a week, though, and are driven apart by Mrs James’ temper, and a fortunately inaccurately thrown pisspot.
Nevertheless, it leaves Flashy keen on getting his own back on the pair, which he achieves the following year: Bismark by luring the self-righteous, arrogant Prussian into a boxing match with a former British champion, the latter by prompting her exposure on the London stage when she is attempting to establish herself as the famous Spanish dancer – Lola Montez.
It’s all good, clean vindictive fun from Flashy, and that’s how it stays until that point, four years later, when he’s back in London and already considering a rapid departure on discovering that the Morrisons have practically moved in, and he’s expected to be going to help to find upper class husbands for the two unmarried daughters.
Which is when a fawning letter arrives from Bavaria, on behalf of the Countess de Landsfeld, beseeching him on account of their old friendship to come to her side, to perform a service only he can perform. Oh, and here’s £500 travelling expenses, by the way.
It’s all very suspicious, especially as Flashy can’t remember tumbling any German Countess’s, but the £500 is a powerful incentive and with the Morrisons around…
But, as we all knew it would be, it does turn out to be a trap. The Countess de Landsfeld turns out to be our dear old chum, Lola Montez, the unofficial ruler of Bavaria, and very autocratic about it. She’s lured Flashy into the country, got him all worked up and ready to trot, and then dropped a somewhat plump blonde German baroness on him. Flashy is discovered in flagrante delicto and hauled off to the local copshop, accused of sexual assault, all of which is designed to create a very nice pickle for our hero, as an inducement to carry out the designs of the plot’s ringleader: Count Otto von Bismarck.
And for what, apart from a little humiliation in respect of the insult Flashy perpetrated upon him, does Bismark want with our hero. The plot is connected to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein question, and Bismark in making the first in a series of steps that will result in German unification, under Prussian domination, years later in 1870.
And for what, apart from a little humiliation in respect of the insult Flashy perpetrated upon him, does Bismark want with our hero. The plot is connected to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein question, and Bismark in making the first in a series of steps that will result in German unification, under Prussian domination, years later in 1870.
But now we finally get to what, for Fraser, is the purpose of the book, which is to re-write that classic of Romantic Thrillers, Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, with Flashy’s experiences providing the ‘real-life’, rather more racy and certainly less chivalrous circumstances from which Hope concocts his adventures.
The Prisoner of Zenda is a classic that has been in print since it was first published in 1894, a book of tremendous influence – references to ‘Ruritanian countries’ stem from this book. But it may no longer be as familiar in essence as it was when I was younger, so a quick précis should be in order. Essentially, the story is set in the European country of Ruritania, whose King is due to marry. He also needs to receive his sceptre of office once a year to maintain his throne, else it passes to his evil relative. But the King has been kidnapped by an adventurer named Rupert of Hentzau – the archetype swashbuckling, cheerfully amoral villain – and will miss his marriage.
His closest adherents concoct a desperate plan to substitute for the King his English countryman, a gentleman named Rudolph Rassendyll, who is almost identical to the King. Rassendyll carries out the impersonation, and assists in rescuing the King and re-substituting him in his true role.
However, Rassendyll and the Queen have fallen in love with each other, but with true noble sacrifice, they part forever, as Rassendyll can never return lest the plot be discovered.
In ‘real-life’ however, it’s rather different. For one thing, the background is political, and if Bismarck is involved, that means the ultimate ambition of the unification of Germany and, as its precursor, the infamous Schleswig/Holstein Question.

Nearly but not quite

I don’t understand that any more now than I did when reviewing the marvellous Danish TV series, 1864. Essentially, these were two provinces with mixed Danish/German populations, ruled by Denmark, whose transfer into the German Confederation was the initial step in Bismarck’s grand scheme.
Fraser introduces the Duchy of Strakenz, a tiny province to the east of Schleswig, ruled by the Duchess Irma, and in the same boat. The Duchess is to marry in a month’s time, to Prince Carl Gustaf, a minor member of the Danish Royal Family. Contrary to expectation, it serves Bismarck’s plans for the marriage to go ahead, but there is a problem. Carl Gustaf cannot go through with the marriage on the scheduled date, because Carl Gustaf has a dose of the clap.
Very unRuritanian, but entirely Flashman. Because of Flashy’s resemblance to Carl Gustaf, he is to take the Prince’s place and be married, and play the role until the real Prince will no longer pollute the body of his virgin bride (this being Flashman, we already know that she won’t be anything like a virgin when Carl Gustaf gets his turn with her).
So Flashy spends a month in intense training at being Carl Gustaf, becoming in the process as close to another man as it is humanly possible. Of course, since the Prince is clean-shaven, even to the skull, it means the sacrifice of Flashy’s bonny black curls and whiskers. On a more serious, and coldly callous level, it means having two sabre duel cuts inflicted on his head, to mimic those borne by the Prince.
Being Harry Flashman, our hero is full of panic at every turn at how this cannot work, but Otto von Bismarck is equally insistent that it will. His organisation is perfect, the knowledge he has collected in unbelievably detailed and under his control, it cannot fail. None of which reassures the true-born coward.
But in the face of all Flashy’s fears, it does work, completely. Even down to the initially cold, teenage virgin Duchess reckoning that this sex thing is not half bad after a couple of goes with her ‘husband’.
Nevertheless, this being a Flashman memoir, there are a couple of flies in the ointment. The first is when Carl Gustaf’s childhood friend, Erik Hansen, turns up unexpectedly at the wedding and Flashy’s impersonation is tested to the very limit. The second and larger fly is that, ultimately, Bismarck’s plan does not rest on Flashy’s imposture going undiscovered, but rather that it be exposed – in the form of Harry Flashman’s dead body.
Fortunately, the true coward only ever sleeps lightly, no matter how cushy his situation, and when the moment comes, Flashy dodges the bullet in the back. Coward he may be, but Flashman is not unhandy as a scrapper if there really is no alternative, and once he’s got his would-be assailant down, he takes pleasure in torturing the truth out of him. Flashman was always going to be exposed as an unscrupulous plotter, to incite the German population of Strakenz into appealing to Prussia for protection. Only now he’s gone and spoilt the plot.
Needless to say, Flashy decides to run. Playing clever, he runs in the direction he would be least expected to head, planning to get into and across Germany. It has the merit of intelligent planning – but for the fact that he runs headlong into the Sons of the Volsung, Danish patriots in Strakenz, and friends and loyal supporters of the real Carl Gustaf.
With the imposter in their hands, the Volsungs are divided about what to do with him. One faction wants to top him now, for the sheer horrendous crime of having to pretend to be Carl Gustaf, no matter what was done to induce such a scheme (Flashy ladles on the soup for all he’s worth). The other faction wants to use him to rescue the imprisoned Prince, in the hope that he’ll sacrifice himself nobly in the process (don’t know the man, do they?)
Despite all his fears, Flashman does prevail. He even manages to beat off his personal Rupert of Hentzau, the buoyant Rudi von Starnberg. he even survives a heart-stopping headlong fall down an oubliette into ice cold water and comes back in typical timely fashion, but at the end of the day he leaves with his hackles raised, bidden to head for the border and never darken Strakenz’s doors again, and all without a word of thanks for having saved Carl Gustaf’s life.
So he returns via Strakenz city and robs the Duchy treasury of all its gold and jewels.
That’s not all though. Whilst Flashman has been cloistered in Strakenz, revolution has been sweeping across Europe. Kings and Chancellors have been toppling left, right and centre, and the Chartist Petition is being presented in Britain. And Flashy arrives in Munich just as Lola Montez is being forced to flee the city. His problem however is that he is carrying a valise with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of jewellery etc., but doesn’t have a pfennig-piece in his pocket. Why not presume on Lola for a lift?
Though Lola is, understandably, not in the best frame of mind, given long enough the inevitable happens: the pair get drunk and have one last romping night. After which Flashy awakes, hungover, to find himself alone: Lola Montez had gone, her carriage and attendants have gone and Flashy’s valise of loot has also gone. At least she’s left him enough money to get himself home to London and Elspeth – whose main concern is whether he’s brought her anything back from Germany!
Whilst I have my reservations about the awkwardness of the split periods, and the premise of re-writing The Prisoner of Zenda is definitely not the strongest, Royal Flash is nevertheless a far better and far more mature book than its predecessor.
Fraser had sold the film rights to his first book for enough money to immediately retire from journalism, and take his family off to the Isle of Man for tax purposes, and the confidence and security he had so quickly establishes shows in the confidence and brio with which he approaches the second book.
Where Flashman spent much of its time being concerned with the history and the recreation of the time period the book occupied, it nevertheless didn’t show too much of Flashy’s personality as a memoirist. Royal Flash has this is spades. Every sentence is full of Flashy’s personality the unrepentant rogue and roué no longer caring for his image. Flashy’s thoughts and reactions, his splendid self-commentary, is active. He can’t recount a single incident without passing comment upon it, either directly through the opinions of his younger self, or as his older, considerably wiser but unchanged septuagenarian.
And that makes the book continually funny. Flashman, after a false start, has uplifted himself into a raconteur. He might be telling the story to a small circle of confidants and hangers-on, addressing them directly over the heads of the people his younger self is dealing with. This Flashy is both broader and considerably more multi-dimensioned.
Fraser sold the film rights to this book as well, and in 1975 it was actually made, with a screenplay from the author. Malcolm McDowell starred as Flashman, Oliver Reed as Bismarck, Britt Ekland as Duchess Irma and Alan Bates as Rudi von Starnberg. With Fraser as the writer, the film stayed pretty consistent to the book, but was not a success: McDowell, in particular, can’t attain the larger-than-life dimensions of Flashy and in general, despite the quality and aptness of the casting, no-one really convinces in their part.
No further books in the series have been filmed but, as we’ll see, not many of them are actually conducive to the dramatic unity, nor the condensation of film. Perhaps, if someone ever has the guts to present Flashman as Fraser writes him, a television series might work, but it all depends on finding an actor who can stand up to be history’s most heroic coward.

History and Memories
This little section will follow each blog. It will focus on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P9. In discussing the difference an individual can make to the course of history, with reference to his to-be-related tale of how his rudeness to a minor statesman changed the face of history, Flashman mentions that his failure as a ‘hero’ and as a half-decent soldier costs General Lee at Gettysburg and prevents him from capturing Washington, with drastic consequences for the American Civil War. Though many of his fans desperately wanted a Civil War adventure, this story went untold due to sheer lack of interest in the subject from Fraser. There are many references to this period in the Papers.
P12. Flashman reflects on the many places he’s gambled: playing nap with gold dust in the Australian diggings, held a blackjack bank on a South Sea trader, played poker in a Dodge City livery stable with pistols on the blanket, and found less cheating in all of these than in one evening at a London club. The Australian Gold Rushes mainly took place between 1851 and 1855, much of which period goes uncovered, and it’s reasonable to suggest the South Sea trader incident may have taken place to or from Australia, whilst Flashman’s time in Dodge also goes unrecorded, though we will hear that our hero served as Deputy Marshall to ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock. Of course.
P42. On 7 February 1882, Flashman witnesses John L Sullivan win the first World Heavyweight Boxing Championship against Paddy Rye and wins $10 betting on the outcome with Oscar Wilde. Five months later, we will learn from a later book, Flashman will be with the British Army in Egypt!
P55. Flashman mentions seeing the Duke of Wellington present at Lola Montez’s humiliation, with his Duchess. Fraser admits a slip (in Flashman’s memories!), the Duchess having died some years previously.
P59 & 60. All we learn of Flashman’s escapades in 1847 are that he has been on military service during Royal Flash’s four year lacuna, episodes that will be detailed in Packets 6 and 9 of the Papers, but that leaves a gap of some eighteen months ending with his return to London, with dishonestly earned cash in his pocket and hoping for a few months rest after having had a pistol ball dug out of the small of his back (a later reference establishes that the original shot took him in his side), but how, when, where and from who remains a mystery. There being no significant military action in the gap, we can only assume a private – and disreputable – affair.
P64. Among the more astonishing letters Flashman has received in his life are the letter of thanks had from Confederate President Jefferson Davies (details of which will be expanded upon in later books) and his letter of reprieve in Mexico, during the Maximillian affair, which also goes unrecorded.
P159. Flashman expands on his experiences of imprisonment, identifying Libby Prison (the Confederate Prison in the Civil War) and Botany Bay. Again, presumably that relates to Flashman’s involvement in the Gold Rush.
P162. Flashman refers to having an affair with the famous Lily Langtry before hers with the Prince Regent. Unless Flashman is referencing an encounter with a young Lily on Jersey, prior to her marriage, there would appear to be only a very narrow window of opportunity for that, in 1874/5, as Flashman spent much of that period in America, as we shall see.
P179. Flashman and Rudi von Starnberg debate the fashion clash between Checked and Striped trousers . Flashman is decidedly in favour of Checks. As this was an 1847 fad, either he was in London for longer than he admits before shooting off to Germany, or he has been in the city earlier in the year before getting shot.

The Flashman Papers 1839-1842: Flashman


And thus it begins: Flashman, aka The Flashman Papers 1839-1842, packet number one of the ‘dozen or so’ found in a chest of drawers at an auction in Ashby, Leicestershire in 1965, and entrusted to journalist George MacDonald Fraser to edit and prepare for publication.
The dated discovery links to Fraser’s original idea. A well-respected journalist, Deputy (and on occasion Acting) Editor of the Glasgow Herald, Fraser conceived of Harry Flashman in 1966, and wrote the book art home, in the evenings. Progress was interrupted by a broken arm, at which time Fraser gave up the idea, but was persuaded to resume work by his wife Kathleen, who thought that what he was doing was too good to abandon.
Having completed the novel, it took Fraser two years to sell it. It was first published in hardback by Barrie & Jenkins and was immediately popular. The book’s impact was astonishing for a first novel, not least in America, where no less than ten reviews mistook the story for genuine memoirs and presented it as non-fiction.
P.G. Wodehouse greeted it, in words still quoted on the last edition of the paperback, with “If ever there was a time when I felt that ‘watcher-of-the-skies-when-a-new-planet’ stuff, it was when I read the first Flashman.” Film Director Richard Lester bought the film rights, though he was never able to get the film made (he would bring Flashman to the screen in a 1975 adaptation of the second novel, with a screenplay by Fraser). This latter success enabled Fraser to retire from journalism and become a full-time writer.
It also enabled him to move his family to the Isle of Man, where he would pay less taxes.
In short, Flashman was an immediate and enormous success, and the foundation stone of a series that would expand to a total of twelve books (one of them a collection of short stories), and extend over thirty-seven years. But what’s it about?
As I’ve already described in the Introduction, Fraser’s notion is that the minor figure of Rugby School bully, Harry Flashman, goes on to be a tremendous success, earning a vast public reputation as a hero, a warrior, the incarnation of the Victorian soldier-hero, whilst still remaining the coward, bully, toady, lecher, rake and cad that he always was. Flashman would be a game, a balancing act between the public character that brought him fame, wealth, honour, attention, women, and the snivelling funk and frustrated attempts to stay out of harm’s way without anyone noticing that was the real man.
And in being at the heart of an almost impossible number of wars, battles and incidents for the next seventy years, Flashman would be an almost unfailingly accurate witness to the reality of the great century of Empire, and the perfect symbol of the tension between public history and private incompetence that those who still worship the Empire either choose to ignore, or else are completely ignorant of.
What Fraser does in the first book is to create Flashman for us as the voice that will lead us through these adventures. The meat of the story, dictated by the history Fraser is adapting, is going to be the latter part of the First Afghan War, but first Fraser takes his time over dropping his man into the first of a great many sticky situations.
The book begins directly upon Flashman’s expulsion from Rugby, with Flash at pains to refute Thomas Hughes’ description – at least to the extent that Flashman was the author of his own ill-fortune. Flashman then diverts into the purpose of these memoirs: that he will be open, candid and truthful about his life, since at his advanced age he no longer cares for maintaining the face he has put on for so long (and is fully aware that after all this time, no-one would believe him anyway).
It’s 1839, Harry Paget Flashman is seventeen and there are a couple of years to fill in before there’s a military engagement for him to tremble through. So, without clogging up the account with unnecessary – and dull – detail, Fraser moves his pieces into position.
Flashman wants a commission in the Army: indeed, he’s chosen a regiment, the 11th Hussars, as they become, under Lord Cardigan. Great uniform, great style, and only just posted back from India so not going into action any time soon. His father’s dubious about the notion but comes round to it quickly (Harry has bedded Judy, his father’s mistress, overnight, though he only gets to do that once, much to his chagrin and anger) and Buckley Flashman seems to have sniffed the wind.
So Flashman cuts a figure with the 11th, the Cherrypickers, receives Cardigan’s favour for his turn-out and his ‘gentleman’s background, lives high, happily and viciously as is his wont, to the extent of stealing a fellow officer’s French prostitute mistress. Unfortunately, being too naïve and bumptious to keep his mouth shut, Flashy finds himself forced into a duel – with the Cherrypickers’ crack shot.
Typically, he saves himself by having a toady, Bryant, palm the ball in the process of loading Bernier’s weapon, but his real fame erupts when he casually fires to one side and shoots the neck off a bottle! This has the counter-effect of the real reason for the duel coming out, so Flashman has to temporarily transfer to a regiment based in Glasgow. He’s billeted with the dull, Presbyterian family of miserly merchant John Morrison, whose third daughter, Elspeth, is a gloriously empty-headed blonde beauty.
Naturally, Flashman takes the first opportunity to seduce Elspeth, who proves to be an exceedingly willing partner, but also too dumb not to refer to it in ordinary conversation. So Flashman finds himself coerced into a shotgun wedding (or maybe a cavalryman’s sabre wedding). It’s not too bad in its own way: Flashman is not one to love, but he has a tremendous affection for his new wife, over and above her willing passion. But by marrying ‘trade’, Flashman has disgraced himself, at least as far as Cardigan is concerned. He must leave the 11th Hussars – Prince Albert’s regiment – and transfer permanently. And this must be to India.
It’s the last place Flashy wants to go, with years of separation from his young bride to boot. He conceives a lifelong hatred for Cardigan, which will work its way through other books, though crediting him with, in his own stupid way, wanting to do the best for Flashman. But his real hatred is for his father, who forces him to go to India by threatening to cut him off completely. It’s not the threat, but his father’s callous dismissal of the idea that Flashman has any true feelings for Elspeth that cuts deepest.
Fraser has this, gently, easily and naturally, moved Flashman to India. Once Harry is there, acting of course like an utter brute, flogging the n***ers (the language is that of the times, authentically), he cannot but resist toadying to those in authority, showing off his horsemanship, lacing prowess and – most crucial of all – his knowledge of the local language. The result is that he is seconded as an aide to General Elphinstone, on his way to take command of the Army in Afghanistan. And Flashman is sent off to Kabul, to be right in the middle of a lethal situation.
This preparatory work takes 86 pages of a 294 page book, but it covers two full years of the Packet. It’s a slower start than modern publishers would accept nowadays, and even once Flashman is through the famous Khyber Pass, the tension still has further to go until the disaster begins to fold. But remember that this book is both a drama and a comedy. This extended approach gives us ample opportunity to get to know Flashy and, despite our better instincts, to like him.
Yes, he’s quite simply a cold, callous, self-centred man, without  conscience or concern for others. He’s capable of all manner of bad things without ever becoming dishonest in the face of the law. He’s a rake, a cad and a brute. When Judy won’t lower herself to him a second time, Flashman strikes her in his fury. Later in the book, he rapes a dancer, with terrible consequences for himself, though this is not something that gets repeated.
Yet Flashman has charm. He’s unfailingly honest with himself, and is possessed with substantial charm. His writing style is smooth, flowing, conversational, and he is never short of opinions about what goes on round him, and the people he meets. He doesn’t particularly like any of them especially those who, to one degree or another, are good and caring, but he understands and respects soldiering and those who are good at it, and what it is, even if he wants nothing at all to do with it.
And he’s a lecherous brute, who sees women – with the exception of Elspeth – in terms of their beddability and not much else. Not really your New Man.
To some extent, he’s also a wish-fulfilment figure, already, living out his impulses, indulging himself: not without a care for the consequences, but nevertheless without those consequences, ultimately. He might suffer for it, which is only right and proper, but he rebounds from it next to heedlessly, with the narcissist’s only true concern, his own amusement. Flashman is a manifestation of the uncontrolled Id: he does what he wants, which is tremendously appealing to almost everyone at some level, and he gets away with it. By Kabul, you may not approve of Flashman, or respect him, or necessarily like him, but you’re with him, involved with him, and you want him to escape punishment for the things he gets himself into, not because you don’t believe in just desserts, but because you want him to be able to go on to the next thing, and drag you along with him to watch in fascinated horror.
And because you recognise that you are dealing with things that are very close to the reality of what happened then, and you feel the effects, and you want to know more about what the history books don’t tell you. And the First Afghan War is a prime example of that.
In reality, Flashman is joining the war at a very late stage. How late it is, Fraser doesn’t explain because Flashman isn’t really interested in anything but how dangerous it is for him personally. In later books, Flashman and Fraser will give some pertinent background, but here it’s omitted. I had to look up myself that the War had started in 1839, by British invasion as a precautionary measure against the threat of Russian infiltration from Central Asia – the earliest stages of the ‘Great Game’ that would become more threatening throughout the century.

Seige of Jullulabad

Instead, all we get is Flashy coming in with,and just ahead of the new Commander of that Army, General Elphinstone, who would command that army into ruin, devastation and destruction, through the incredible incompetence of an elderly, unwell, unfit and indecisive man who has to be one of the worst Army Commanders of the century.
Certainly, Fraser is scathing, indeed savage, about Elphy Bey, and not just him but the Politicals, ‘Sekunder’ Burnes and Macnaghten, with their stupid self-confidence and their wilful blindness to the facts. But whereas Flashy is contemptuous of Elphinstone for placing him, personally, in such danger, Fraser, the ex-soldier, the ex-officer, responsible for the men of his company, is furious at the leadership that condemned an Army to death, that wasted the lives of men who were just like those he had served alongside and commanded, in Burma, North Africa and Palestine.
I’m not going to detail those events: even the least military of minds will be shocked at the slow, purblind step towards devastation, so easily foreseeable, with opportunities to act on all sides, yet which inexorably ended up in massacre.
No, these books are Flashman’s story, and it’s more pertinent to focus on his part in this war, and how he  gets his completely undeserved rewards.
Right from the start, Fraser establishes that Flashy is going to be everywhere that something happens. At first, this is done via his missions as an aide de camp, delivering messages etc., but then this bleeds over into the flashpoints.
Flashy escapes with Sekundar Barnes when his Residency is attacked by mobs, and is witness to the Resident overplaying his hand in native dress, and his arrogance bringing down the mob and their knives.
He’s captured by his enemy Gul Shah, but passes into the custody of the man behind the Afghan rising, Abdul Khan who uses him as a messenger to Macnaghten, to test his capacity for treachery. Needless to say, the Governor chooses to go with his desperate desire that his enemies be more stupid than him, and Flashy gets to be present when he too is hacked to death.
He’s there for the negotiations that lead to the British Army throwing away every last advantage it has, due to Elphinstone’s weakness, haplessness and an approach to choices against whom Hamlet would be the poster boy for the decisive.
Recognising a ship that’s sinking, Flashman utilises his competent subordinate, Sergeant Hudson, to set up a way out for him personally. Hudson’s the first, but not the last good soldier Flashman comes across, a natural soldier, a sergeant to his boots, competent, straightforward, brave and committed to his duty. Flashman sneers at him, but Fraser makes us see that beneath the contempt Flashy has for one who has fallen for all the old ideals, Hudson is the kind of man upon which Armies are made: without his competence, Flashman, young and very naive, would never get a foot clear.
Fraser’s very good on the atmosphere of the terrible dying retreat. When it gets beyond a certain point, Flashman cuts and runs, telling Hudson they’re on special orders from Elphinstone. Their flight brings them at one point into sight of the last cutting down of the Army, but it also sees them captured and Flashy back in the vengeful hands of Gul Shah.
But still he gets clear, thanks again to Hudson. But their flight comes to an end at Jullulabad, where General Sale’s Army are besieged. No access to Jullulabad, but the pair reach Pipe’s Fort, a small isolated fort in a strategic position, being defended by a diminishing garrison against capture by the Afghans.
Flashy’s gone. He’s completely and utterly broken and doesn’t care if anyone sees his utter cowardice. It’ll be his lowest point, born of inexperience and the utter conviction of inevitable death, relieving him of the final shred of responsibility to his reputation. Hudson finally sees him as he is, setting aside the doubts he’s loyally been trying to maintain. As the siege rolls on, Flashy cowers, until Hudson forces him into aiding the defence, right up to the final attack. The fort is breached. Flashy grabs the flag, trying to hand it over, to surrender.
But in the grand Flashman tradition, this isn’t invaders, it’s a relief force, and of course they take his actions as Flashman the warrior preserving the flag to the last extreme. Hudson, the only possible survivor of the defence who might have been believed, is dead, and Flashy has everyone’s goodwill is interpreting the facts to his credit. Out of everyone else’s goodwill, or at least their urge not to think a soldier could be such a poltroon, they read the events as they want to read them: that Flashy got himself up off his death bed, not his coward’s pit, to give his failing strength to the cause.
This is the template that Fraser established from the outset. Flashy’s reputation would grow and grow from book to book. No matter how disastrous his performance, or especially everybody else’s, his powers of dissemblement, his quick thinking and eye for an opportunity would see him come out with credit, but as much if not more of this would be this case of give a dog a good name. People would flock to Flashman’s reputation, and shield their own eyes from the dodgy moments. It would only get easier. And for his exploits in this opening volume, Flashman gets two great rewards on his return to England, as practically the only ‘hero’ in the whole thing: an extremely rare medal pinned to his chest by the young Queen Victoria – and a handshake of thanks from the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington.
Of course, there would always be those who would see through Flashy for what he really was. Some of them were rogues themselves, and some had roguery in them. Over the course of the next eleven books, we’ll meet a hell of a lot of them.

History and Memories

This little section will follow each blog. It will focus on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.

This being the first novel, Fraser stays primarily in the present, with only a couple of moments where he escapes from the immediate story to reflect on times lying ahead.

p.34 In discussing his opinions of Lord Cardigan and his character, Flashman recalls the aftermath of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the solemn roll-call beneath the Causeway Heights as the names of the Brigade are read out and the extent of the dead are slowly discovered, with Cardigan denying any responsibility. This is however a failure of foresight on Fraser’s part: by the time we come to the Crimea, in Flashman at the Charge, Flashy is captured by the Russians at the end of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and cannot be present at this moment. We would have known of it, indeed discussed it with others who were present, but he was not himself the witness he implies himself to be.

p.220. The only other instance in Flashman comes when he and Sergeant Hudson are in Gul Sha’s jail, and Flashman compares it, in passing, to other jails he’s known in his life: Mexico, Australia, America, Russia and England. It’s easy to place these as references to his experiences during Emperor Maximilian’s reign in Mexico, the American Civil War (where Flashy was imprisoned by both sides), the Australian Gold Rush, his capture after the Charge of the Light Brigade and any number of jailings at home for drunkenness etc. when young and irresponsible. Only the Crimean War experiences will be detailed.