A brief speculation on Flashman’s career – Part 2 – 1847 – 1854


(Heh, heh, oops. Should have checked before posting part 3 whether I’d posted part 2. Just goes to show that none of you are paying attention, either.)

The next period of Flashman’s career occupies a relatively short space of time, but a tremendous number of events, as recorded in the Second, Third and Seventh Packets. It runs from Flashman’s return to London in ‘late 1847’ recovering from his wound, to his arrival in San Francisco in September 1850, at the (temporary) end of his American adventures.
Despite his long separation from Elspeth, Flashman finds London uncongenial, thanks to the presence of his in-laws, especially his father-in-law. Hence, when he receives a letter inviting him to supply a personal service to an unknown titled lady in Bavaria, complete with generous expenses, he overcomes his suspicions and travels to Germany.
There, he learns that the mysterious Countess is actually Lola Montez, mistress to the King of Bavaria, and seemingly having forgiven her resentment at Flashman. However, she is acting in concert with Flashman’s other victim of that time, Otto von Bismarck, now Chancellor of Prussia, and commencing the long process of manipulation that would lead to the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. Flashman is framed on a trumped up charge of rape, forcing him to agree to Bismarck’s scheme
As a forerunner to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein Question, Bismarck is focused on the tiny Duchy of Strakenz, whose young ruler, Duchess Irma, is shortly to marry Danish princeling Carl Gustaf. But Carl Gustaf has apparently contracted a sexual disease and cannot marry until he is disease-free. Since Flashman is his virtual double, he will marry the Duchess in Carl Gustaf’s place.
To Flashman’s dismay, the plot is a set-up, with the intention that he be killed and framed as an English spy. he manages to escape Bismarck’s men, but is forced into rescuing Carl Gustaf from execution. This accomplished, he is allowed to ride for the border but, being Flashman, he rides via the Treasury and removes as much as he can carry.
Flashman’s escape route takes him back through Bavaria, and into the 1848 revolution, which overthrows both the King and Lola Montez. Flashman hitches a ride out of Bavaria with Lola, only for her to rob him of his ill-gotten gains. Flashman returns to London empty-handed, in time for the Chartist Riots.
These frighten his father-in-law John Morrison into wanting to raise a group of MPs to protect his interests. Flashman is amenable to becoming an MP, especially if it will keep him away from battlefields, but on his ‘launching’, he encounters an old enemy that he has cheated, who retaliates by framing Flashman for cheating at cards.
Flashman compounds his disgrace by attacking his former friend, and almost killing him. He is rushed out of the country by Morrison, under the control of Captain John Charity Spring, a defrocked Oxford Don and a near-madman. His ship is also in the Slave Trade, which Flashman doesn’t learn until it is far too late.
Spring’s ship stops first at Dahomey in West Africa, to buy slaves from King Gezo. His attempt tp buy one of Gezo’s Amazon, in exchange for the ship’s cabin boy, has consequences in both the short and long-term. Second Mate Beauchamp Comber is fatally wounded n the escape. before he dies, he confesses to Flashman that he is a Navy Officer engaged in spying, and entrusts his papers to Flashman. When the ship is taken by the American navy, Flashman uses these to impersonate Comber, taking in everyone except an obscure member of Congress, Abraham Lincoln.
‘Comber’ is much in demand but Flashman’s biggest concern is having to testify in New orleans, against Spring and his men, which will lead to his imposture being detected. He takes refuge in a whorehouse, playing up to its Madam, the mature Susie Willinck, who arranges passage for him on an England-bound ship. However, ‘Comber’ has been watched by the Underground Railroad, who want him to escort a slave north to freedom. Lacking alternative, Flashman has to accede.
Unfortunately, his charge is unable to play the part of a slave, leading to the pair’s exposure. Flashman escapes by diving into and swimming the Mississippi, after which he takes a job as a slave overseer at the Mandeville Plantation, under the name Tom Arnold. This cushy berth is disrupted when he is caught screwing the owner’s wife, Annette Mandeville, and is punished by being sent into slavery himself, in the Deep South, where he will never be found.
Flashman travels with another slave, Cassieopia, who assists him in overcoming and killing their guards. Under the name of James Prescott, Flashman takes Cassie north on the Mississippi towards freedom, but is careless enough to get the pair turned round and heading south again.
They are forced to run across the ice to the north shore, chased by slave-stealers, who wound Flashman in the buttocks, and are only saved when Lincoln faces the stealers down.
But ‘Comber’ now has to return to New Orleans and testify. Being Flashman, he steers between all the traps, telling the ‘truth’ but not incriminating Spring or himself. Having put up the backs of the US Navy, Flashman offers Comber’s papers to spring in return for passage to England.
Unfortunately, despite his protestations of a higher moral code, Spring tries to play Flashman false, starting a brawl in which Spring runs through a planter who has recognised one of Flashman’s aliases. With spring on his tail, Flashman tries to hole up with Susie Willinck again, but is shocked to find her closing her establishment, intent on transporting it across the continent to California, and the Gold Rush. Susie is willing to take ‘Comber’ with her, as her husband, and to dope Spring and ship him out of the way, to South Africa.
Flashman ends up in nominal charge of the Willinck wagon train, heading westward under the guidance of Richard Willens. They encounter Indians on a couple of occasions, the second group have cholera. Woollens is affected and Flashman has to lead the train. They are forced to take refuge in Bent’s Fort, a famous trading post that has been abandoned, and only the intervention of a band of trappers saves them from massacre.
The caravan travels as far as Sante Fe, where Susie decides to stop for a couple of years. This does not suit Flashman’s plans so he sells one of the whores, Cleonie, with whom he has been sleeping, to the Indians, and sets off on his own. Unfortunately, he falls in with an infanmous band of Scalphunters and is forced to join in one of their raids. This captures several Indian women, who are to be enjoyed before being killed and scalped. Because Flashman prefers not to crudely rape his woman, who happens to be the daughter of Mangas Colorado, the mountainous leader of the Apaches, he is spared, and ends up going through his third bigamous marriage in the last twelve months, marrying Takes-Away-Clouds Woman.
After wintering with the Apaches into 1850, Flashman takes advantage of the first Spring raiding party to break away. He is pursued relentlessly, but is rescued by the intervention of the legendary scout, Kit Carson. Carson secures Flashman’s safety and, in slow stages, he is able to make his way to San Francisco by September, in order to depart America.

We now reach the most substantial gap in Flashman’s early career. At the end of ‘The Forty-Niners’, he confirms that his American adventures had come to an end, at least for the next quarter century. Most readers have taken that to mean that Flashman does, finally, return to England. I doubt it was that simple.
When next we hear of Flashman, it is early 1854, and he has already assessed the prevailing sentiment of the times and secured a sinecurial position at the Board of Ordnance that he intends will keep him from active service in the War with Russia that he foresees.
This means we have some three years to account for, although on this occasion we have the advantage of one confirmed but unchronicled adventure in this period. We know that Flashman was in Australia during their Gold Rush: officially this could mean any time between 1851-54, but most chronologies I’ve seen agree on dating this to 1852. He plays nap with pinches of gold dust from the diggings, and spends his near-customary time in prison in Botany Bay.
We also have undated incidents in the South Pacific: Christian Missionary in the Fly River country, west of Papua New Guinea, and Lottery Supervisor in Manila, in the Philippines. And we have Flashman’s mention of undergoing a shipwreck and failing to have sex with a fellow refugee in a lifeboat.
Given the distance from England to Australia, and that travel there and back represented a massive commitment in time (the Flashmans take more or less a year from England to Singapore in 1843-44) it seemed logical to me to collate Flashman’s other adventures in the South Pacific into this period, rather than have to find another trip around the world to accommodate them. This means a somewhat erratic course about the South Pacific, which is not an objection in itself, but there is a later placing for one of these incidents that seems to me to make better sense, so I exclude it and suggest the following:
In San Francisco, Flashman seeks passage to England. This would be by ship, either round Cape Horn, or by passage to Panama, crossing the isthmus on foot and catching a shop for England on the Atlantic side. The third alternative, crossing the Pacific and returning round the globe, seems an unlikely choice, given the length of time involved. Of course, he could always have done his usual trick of having gotten involved with a married woman whilst waiting, and having to leave in haste, on which case he may have had to catch a ship heading towards the Far East.
Whatever his course, Flashman takes up with a woman on board but, just when he’s about to commit the capital act in his or her cabin, the ship is either attacked or springs a leak but either way, it is shipwrecked and Flashy heads for the lifeboats. His amour gets there under her own steam, but in a crowded lifeboat, consummation proves impossible.
It may be that the lifeboat comes to land on the South American continent, giving Flashman his experience with hearing drums in the jungle on that continent. However, that I think is pushing it a bit, so: Flashman drifts at sea until the lifeboat is discovered and everybody is rescued (knowing Flashman, by this point everyone may well consist of him alone). But, for one reason or another, the rescuing vessel is heading outwards across the Pacific, and will not take him back to the Americas.
Flashman winds up in Australia, initially at Botany Bay, where he ends up in the lock-up, before going on to the Gold Rush, where he has the adventures Fraser envisioned. After leaving Australia, Flashman arrives in the Philippines, where he is robbed of any gold that he has got away with and earns his passage home by taking on his Lottery Supervisor role. From this successful venture, he finally manages to return to England, after having been absent for four years. His reunion with Elspeth produced their first child, Havvy…
We will never know.
Incidentally, implausible though it may seem, and extremely so, the most likely period for Flashman’s offhandedly mentioned encounter with the famous Italian liberator and statesman, Guiseppe Garibaldi, is in this blank period. Garibaldi’s peripatetic career seems to always place him in other parts of the world to Flashman, except in 1852-3, when he is trading in China and the South Pacific…

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 3 – 1854 to 1860


The third section of Flashman’s career, as recorded in the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Tenth Packets, once again gives us a complete record of Harry’s movements, this time from his ensconcement at the Board of Ordnance in late 1853/early 1854, to his hasty ejection from a Baltimore-bound train in America in October 1859 and, after a brief but puzzling gap, his adventures in China in 1860.
At the beginning, Flashman has secured his post at the Board of Ordnance to ensure he is not called up for active service in the war he can see coming with Russia, eventually taking place in the Crimea. However, his taste for vicious amusement, at the expense of a young and naive German princeling, backfires when the lad turns out to be a cousin of Prince Albert. Flashman is promoted to Colonel and installed as William’s mentor, but this means going to War.
In the Crimea, Willi’s impulsiveness and naivete quickly gets him killed, with Flashman not straining at the leash to save him. In disgrace, he is laid low with dysentery, brought on by drinking stale Russian champagne, returning to duty, fatefully, on the day of the Battle of Balaclava.
Flashman features in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, the Thin Red Line and the Charge of the Light brigade, which latter action he helps to bring about, trying to get Lord Cardigan to somewhere here he will be shot at. Flashman survives the Charge but is captured by the Russians and, in the absence of an equivalent prisoner to exchange, is taken inland to the estate of Count Pencherjevsky. There he is re-united with his old Rugby schoolmate Harry ‘Scud’ East, now an Intelligence Officer.
Flashman is happy to remain indefinitely, especially as he is conducting an affair with Pencherjevsky’s daughter, hoping to impregnate her at the Count’s urging. This unusual idyll is interrupted when the Englishmen discover plans for a Russian Army to take advantage of the distraction of Crimea, to invade India through Central Asia.
East insists on an escape but Flashman is recaptured, and dragged with the Russian Army under the heel of Count Nikolas Ignatieff. However, in Central Asia he is rescued by the men of Yakub Beg, a rebel leader and, full of hashish induced courage, he succeeds in destroying the Russian supply ships, halting the advance.
Flashman reaches India but is laid low by a serious bout of cholera, delaying his return to England until the latter half of 1855. he is not home for long before he is sent back to India, as Palmerston’s agent, to investigate signs of an impending mutiny.
Flashman’s first role in India is as a Political Agent, sent to the Maharani Lakshmibai, in Jhansi, to attempt to seduce her into accepting the influence of the Raj. Flashman may or may not have been successful in the former aspect, but he is exposed to enemies, and drops out of sight, joining the Army as Iqbal Khan. In. his undercover role, Flashman sees the events that led to the start of the Mutiny building.
When it all begins, Flashman is shocked by the brutality displayed, and also wounded in the head, leaving him incapacitated. He return to his wits for some time, during which his old comrade, Ilderrim Khan guides him towards Cawnpore, where the British are besieged. Among the other officers present is Scud East.
Flashman plays a part in negotiating an agreed British retreat, but the Rebels play false and the British contingent are slaughtered. Both Ilderrim Khan and East are killed, the latter in Flashman’s arms, though he is one of a handful who escape down the Ganges.
Returning to the fray after several months convalescence, Flashman finds himself again besieged, in Lucknow, and guides out the man who can bring the British Army in to relieve the siege.
But his worst moment comes when he is sent into Jhansi again, to try to get Lakshmibai out unharmed. Instead, he is imprisoned for months, and she uses the fake escape plan to effect a real escape, but not for long. Flashman, in native garb, is witness to her death, and is taken himself as an agitator. He wakes to find himself strapped across a cannon’s mouth, and gagged, but manages to get himself freed.
For his efforts in the Mutiny, Flashman is both knighted, and awarded the Victoria Cross, though his triumph is spoiled by discovering that Tom Brown’s Schooldays has been published, identifying him as a school bully.
Flashman leaves for England, going ashore at Cape Town, where he is invited to dinner at the Governor-General’s palace. There, he rudely encounters his old enemy, John Charity Spring, seeking revenge for his humiliation a decade previously. Spring tempts Flashman with an opportunity to seduce his teenage daughter (which Flashman achieves, not that Spring knows) but it is a trap. Flashman is drugged and sent to sea with one of Spring’s cronies.
Spring’s revenge is to deliver Flashman to Baltimore, abandoning him ashore, without funds or friends, with the Police alerted to the return of the still-wanted ‘Beauchamp Comber’.
But Flashman is being watched by three disparate organisations, with different intentions but the same outcome in mind. These are the Underground railroad, anxious to see a blow struck against slavery, the Kuklos, a secretive organisation dedicated to preserving the South’s way of life and facilitating secession, and Pinkerton’s Detectives, on behalf of US Intelligence, who wish nothing to happen.
However, all three want Flashman to join with the notorious Abolitionist John Brown, on his much-touted, supposedly secret invasion of Virginia. Brown needs a militarily competent Lieutenant, either to make his raid succeed, or else demonstrate just how impossible it is. And, if necessary, shoot him in the back.
Flashman is forced to go through the whole matter, under the watchful eye of a fanatical black supporter of the Kuklos, who is a mole in the Underground Railway. The raid on Harper’s Ferry goes ahead, with Flashman an unwilling witness as usual, and things fall out as they do.
Flashman, having killed the Kuklos agent, is spirited away by Intelligence, on a train to Baltimore where he will board a ship to England. But there is another Kuklos agent watching him, who decides to warn him. He decants from the train, along, friendless and hunted, one stop short of Baltimore…
In complete contrast to the previous breach in Flashman’s career, this final break is very short, a mere five months. Given that it starts on the East Coast of America and ends in Hong Kong, in completely the opposite direction from the one in which Flashman was travelling, I think we can safely say that our hero spends most of the period in transit, with little or no time for adventure.
But why and how are questions to which we have no answers. It’s completely inexplicable how Flashman ends up going in the wrong direction, and not enough to say that, having found himself lost and friendless on American soil, and hunted by the Kuklos, he had very little choice in where he went, and may even have deliberately chosen to go in a direction his pursuers wouldn’t expect.
Even so, and even with five months to play with, this means Flashman has got to get across the American continent and across the Pacific, with time to spare to hang around in Hong Kong. Even if we posit that Flashman somehow got down to Panama and crossed the isthmus, it’s hard to believe that he could make it in time.
Personally, I put it down to Fraser being so determined to throw in John Brown that he wasn’t concerned about joining up the dots with the Eighth Packet, but we can’t actually use that as an excuse to ignore the problem.
This is another point at which Flashman may have heard his South American jungle drums, if his flight took him below the Equator, but it’s hard to imagine how he’d have time.
Nevertheless, to Hong Kong he comes, planning to sail on further west and return to Elspeth via India, picking up the route he was following two years previously. Instead, whilst trying to fill in the time by seducing a clergyman’s wife, Flashman finds himself conned into running guns to the Taipeng Rebels, and, after bluffing his way out, finds himself revealed to the authorities, and despatched to join General Napier’s march on Pekin.
First, Flashman is put back on Intelligence, in which capacity he is despatched to see the Taipeng from the inside, hoping to divert them from attacking Shanghai. In this he fails, but gets away sufficiently to warn the authorities of the army on his tail, and army that is turned back, but not before Flashman is diverted to his real task on Napier’s staff.
He joins the March on Pekin, getting captured and subject to both torture and the ministrations of the Emperor’s preferred concubine, and future Empress of China. Escaping her custody, Flashman rejoins the Army as it takes Pekin, and plays his part in the still-controversial decision to destroy the Summer Palace.
Heading home at last, he runs into Phoebe Carpenter again, and intends to complete his seduction by blackmail. Unfortunately, she has him drugged, and he finds himself shanghaied to parts unknown…

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 2 – 1847 to 1854


The next period of Flashman’s career occupies a relatively short space of time, but a tremendous number of events, as recorded in the Second, Third and Seventh Packets. It runs from Flashman’s return to London in ‘late 1847’ recovering from his wound, to his arrival in San Francisco in September 1850, at the (temporary) end of his American adventures.
Despite his long separation from Elspeth, Flashman finds London uncongenial, thanks to the presence of his in-laws, especially his father-in-law. Hence, when he receives a letter inviting him to supply a personal service to an unknown titled lady in Bavaria, complete with generous expenses, he overcomes his suspicions and travels to Germany.
There, he learns that the mysterious Countess is actually Lola Montez, mistress to the King of Bavaria, and seemingly having forgiven her resentment at Flashman. However, she is acting in concert with Flashman’s other victim of that time, Otto von Bismarck, now Chancellor of Prussia, and commencing the long process of manipulation that would lead to the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. Flashman is framed on a trumped up charge of rape, forcing him to agree to Bismarck’s scheme
As a forerunner to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein Question, Bismarck is focused on the tiny Duchy of Strakenz, whose young ruler, Duchess Irma, is shortly to marry Danish princeling Carl Gustaf. But Carl Gustaf has apparently contracted a sexual disease and cannot marry until he is disease-free. Since Flashman is his virtual double, he will marry the Duchess in Carl Gustaf’s place.
To Flashman’s dismay, the plot is a set-up, with the intention that he be killed and framed as an English spy. he manages to escape Bismarck’s men, but is forced into rescuing Carl Gustaf from execution. This accomplished, he is allowed to ride for the border but, being Flashman, he rides via the Treasury and removes as much as he can carry.
Flashman’s escape route takes him back through Bavaria, and into the 1848 revolution, which overthrows both the King and Lola Montez. Flashman hitches a ride out of Bavaria with Lola, only for her to rob him of his ill-gotten gains. Flashman returns to London empty-handed, in time for the Chartist Riots.
These frighten his father-in-law John Morrison into wanting to raise a group of MPs to protect his interests. Flashman is amenable to becoming an MP, especially if it will keep him away from battlefields, but on his ‘launching’, he encounters an old enemy that he has cheated, who retaliates by framing Flashman for cheating at cards.
Flashman compounds his disgrace by attacking his former friend, and almost killing him. He is rushed out of the country by Morrison, under the control of Captain John Charity Spring, a defrocked Oxford Don and a near-madman. His ship is also in the Slave Trade, which Flashman doesn’t learn until it is far too late.
Spring’s ship stops first at Dahomey in West Africa, to buy slaves from King Gezo. His attempt tp buy one of Gezo’s Amazon, in exchange for the ship’s cabin boy, has consequences in both the short and long-term. Second Mate Beauchamp Comber is fatally wounded n the escape. before he dies, he confesses to Flashman that he is a Navy Officer engaged in spying, and entrusts his papers to Flashman. When the ship is taken by the American navy, Flashman uses these to impersonate Comber, taking in everyone except an obscure member of Congress, Abraham Lincoln.
‘Comber’ is much in demand but Flashman’s biggest concern is having to testify in New orleans, against Spring and his men, which will lead to his imposture being detected. He takes refuge in a whorehouse, playing up to its Madam, the mature Susie Willinck, who arranges passage for him on an England-bound ship. However, ‘Comber’ has been watched by the Underground Railroad, who want him to escort a slave north to freedom. Lacking alternative, Flashman has to accede.
Unfortunately, his charge is unable to play the part of a slave, leading to the pair’s exposure. Flashman escapes by diving into and swimming the Mississippi, after which he takes a job as a slave overseer at the Mandeville Plantation, under the name Tom Arnold. This cushy berth is disrupted when he is caught screwing the owner’s wife, Annette Mandeville, and is punished by being sent into slavery himself, in the Deep South, where he will never be found.
Flashman travels with another slave, Cassieopia, who assists him in overcoming and killing their guards. Under the name of James Prescott, Flashman takes Cassie north on the Mississippi towards freedom, but is careless enough to get the pair turned round and heading south again.
They are forced to run across the ice to the north shore, chased by slave-stealers, who wound Flashman in the buttocks, and are only saved when Lincoln faces the stealers down.
But ‘Comber’ now has to return to New Orleans and testify. Being Flashman, he steers between all the traps, telling the ‘truth’ but not incriminating Spring or himself. Having put up the backs of the US Navy, Flashman offers Comber’s papers to spring in return for passage to England.
Unfortunately, despite his protestations of a higher moral code, Spring tries to play Flashman false, starting a brawl in which Spring runs through a planter who has recognised one of Flashman’s aliases. With spring on his tail, Flashman tries to hole up with Susie Willinck again, but is shocked to find her closing her establishment, intent on transporting it across the continent to California, and the Gold Rush. Susie is willing to take ‘Comber’ with her, as her husband, and to dope Spring and ship him out of the way, to South Africa.
Flashman ends up in nominal charge of the Willinck wagon train, heading westward under the guidance of Richard Willens. They encounter Indians on a couple of occasions, the second group have cholera. Woollens is affected and Flashman has to lead the train. They are forced to take refuge in Bent’s Fort, a famous trading post that has been abandoned, and only the intervention of a band of trappers saves them from massacre.
The caravan travels as far as Sante Fe, where Susie decides to stop for a couple of years. This does not suit Flashman’s plans so he sells one of the whores, Cleonie, with whom he has been sleeping, to the Indians, and sets off on his own. Unfortunately, he falls in with an infanmous band of Scalphunters and is forced to join in one of their raids. This captures several Indian women, who are to be enjoyed before being killed and scalped. Because Flashman prefers not to crudely rape his woman, who happens to be the daughter of Mangas Colorado, the mountainous leader of the Apaches, he is spared, and ends up going through his third bigamous marriage in the last twelve months, marrying Takes-Away-Clouds Woman.
After wintering with the Apaches into 1850, Flashman takes advantage of the first Spring raiding party to break away. He is pursued relentlessly, but is rescued by the intervention of the legendary scout, Kit Carson. Carson secures Flashman’s safety and, in slow stages, he is able to make his way to San Francisco by September, in order to depart America.

We now reach the most substantial gap in Flashman’s early career. At the end of ‘The Forty-Niners’, he confirms that his American adventures had come to an end, at least for the next quarter century. Most readers have taken that to mean that Flashman does, finally, return to England. I doubt it was that simple.
When next we hear of Flashman, it is early 1854, and he has already assessed the prevailing sentiment of the times and secured a sinecurial position at the Board of Ordnance that he intends will keep him from active service in the War with Russia that he foresees.
This means we have some three years to account for, although on this occasion we have the advantage of one confirmed but unchronicled adventure in this period. We know that Flashman was in Australia during their Gold Rush: officially this could mean any time between 1851-54, but most chronologies I’ve seen agree on dating this to 1852. He plays nap with pinches of gold dust from the diggings, and spends his near-customary time in prison in Botany Bay.
We also have undated incidents in the South Pacific: Christian Missionary in the Fly River country, west of Papua New Guinea, and Lottery Supervisor in Manila, in the Philippines. And we have Flashman’s mention of undergoing a shipwreck and failing to have sex with a fellow refugee in a lifeboat.
Given the distance from England to Australia, and that travel there and back represented a massive commitment in time (the Flashmans take more or less a year from England to Singapore in 1843-44) it seemed logical to me to collate Flashman’s other adventures in the South Pacific into this period, rather than have to find another trip around the world to accommodate them. This means a somewhat erratic course about the South Pacific, which is not an objection in itself, but there is a later placing for one of these incidents that seems to me to make better sense, so I exclude it and suggest the following:
In San Francisco, Flashman seeks passage to England. This would be by ship, either round Cape Horn, or by passage to Panama, crossing the isthmus on foot and catching a shop for England on the Atlantic side. The third alternative, crossing the Pacific and returning round the globe, seems an unlikely choice, given the length of time involved. Of course, he could always have done his usual trick of having gotten involved with a married woman whilst waiting, and having to leave in haste, on which case he may have had to catch a ship heading towards the Far East.
Whatever his course, Flashman takes up with a woman on board but, just when he’s about to commit the capital act in his or her cabin, the ship is either attacked or springs a leak but either way, it is shipwrecked and Flashy heads for the lifeboats. His amour gets there under her own steam, but in a crowded lifeboat, consummation proves impossible.
It may be that the lifeboat comes to land on the South American continent, giving Flashman his experience with hearing drums in the jungle on that continent. However, that I think is pushing it a bit, so: Flashman drifts at sea until the lifeboat is discovered and everybody is rescued (knowing Flashman, by this point everyone may well consist of him alone). But, for one reason or another, the rescuing vessel is heading outwards across the Pacific, and will not take him back to the Americas.
Flashman winds up in Australia , initially at Botany Bay, where he ends up in the lock-up, before going on to the Gold Rush, where he has the adventures Fraser envisioned. After leaving Australia, Flashman arrives in the Philippines, where he is robbed of any gold that he has got away with and earns his passage home by taking on his Lottery Supervisor role. From this successful venture, he finally manages to return to England, after having been absent for four years. His reunion with Elspeth produced their first child, Havvy…
We will never know.

A Brief Speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 1 – 1838 to 1847


From the First, Second, Sixth and Ninth Packets of the Flashman Papers we have a comprehensive record of Harry Flashman’s career from his expulsion from Rugby School in 1838, to his near-expulsion from the Punjab, on the orders of Sir Henry Hardinge, in February 1846.
On leaving Rugby, Flashman returned home, intent on having his father, Buckley Flashman, buy him a commission in a prestigious regiment who are not going into active service anytime soon. Flashman senior is initially reluctant, but apparently decides that having his son and his mistress in the same household is not a wise idea, and purchases Harry a Lieutenancy in the future 11th Husars, under Lord Cardigan.
Initially, Flashman is a favourite of Cardigan’s for his appearance and horsemanship, but his taste for vicious amusement betrays him, not for the last time by any means, and after his notably public participation in a duel with a fellow officer, and his ill-advised seduction of and forced marriage to Elspeth Morrison, daughter of a Glasgow mill-owner, Flashman is sent overseas, to India in 1840.
There he attracts attention for his genuine skills with horses and languages, and is attached to the Army of the Indus, under Lord Elphinstone, stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Flashman endures hair-raising adventures in Afghanistan, but ultimately, through what will become a pattern of good luck, dissemblement and the Victorian desire to see heroism wherever it goes, he wins his first undeserved honours and recognition, for apparently defending a strategic post, at Piper’s Fort, whereas he had been completely laid out with cowardice, and was the last man standing by default.
Flashman returns to England in 1842, recuperating from his wound and enjoying his laurels. He enjoys the good life, including an affair with the woman who will one day represent herself as the famous dancer, Lola Montez. He arranges for the humiliation of the bumptious and self-satisfied Otto von Bismarck at the hands of a retired pugilist, sets up Lola Montez’s public exposure as a fake and enjoys a purple patch, from 1842 to 1843, as a fast bowler at cricket.
In 1843, he also pursues an affair with Fanny Paget (who may or may not be a relation on his mother’s side) whom he is sharing with Lord Cardigan. He is nearly caught by Cardigan, who is in turn caught by a private detective, whom Flashman bribes to give a false name to Lady Cardigan, which she records in her memoirs.
Though a sinecure post has been obtained for him, Flashman ends up making England too hot for himself, between Montez’s desire for revenge and the real threat from a bookie, whose money he has taken, and who he has offended by failing to throw a single-wicket cricket match he should win easily: hence Mr Tighe’s desire to ‘fix’ the outcome.
The match is against the far Eastern merchant, Don Solomon Haslam, who is playing to take Elspeth on a cruise to his plantations. Flashman having lost the bet, takes the obvious option of accompanying Elspeth, and her miser father, John Morrison, on the cruise.
The voyage is leisurely, and it is deep into 1844 before Haslam’s party reaches Singapore. There he reveals his true colours, kidnapping Elspeth and attempting to have Flashman killed. Flashman is rescued by James Brooke, the White Raja of Sarawak, in Borneo. Haslam is identified as river pirate Sulemain Usman, and Brooke mounts an expedition against the pirates, with Flashman as part of his crew.
The expedition puts the pirates down for a time, but Flashman is wounded and captured by Usman, who sails away into the Indian Ocean. Flashman’s reunion with Elspeth convinces Usman that his chances of winning her are non-existent, and he claims to be looking for somewhere to put the Flashmans ashore, where they (and he) will be safe. Flashman does not believe this: under the impression they are at the British possession of Mauritius, he escapes ashore and claims sanctuary. However, this is Madagascar, where whites are slaves: the pair are taken from the ship.
Whilst Elspeth is kept safe, and completely unaware of any danger, Flashman finds himself enslaved by the mad Queen, Ranavalona. He becomes both her lover and Sergeant-General to her army.
Flashman remains in captivity into 1845, when he is reluctantly impressed into a plot to overthrow Ranavalona. The plot is uncovered, and he and Elspeth flee, fortuitously arriving at the coast during a bombardment by British and French ships, on which they leave.
Whilst Elspeth returns to England, Flashman, against his will, is sent to India, where he is required on Army service in the Punjab. At first, this is as a political officer, charged with finding away to prevent the overwhelmingly powerful Sikh Army from attacking the British. Instead, in his relationship with the semi-drunken Maraharani, Mai Jeendan, he becomes involved in her plot to break the arrogant, powerful Khalsa, who control the Army.
Flashman’s enforced tinkering with the Sikh Army’s plans arouses the wrath of Governor-General Sir Henry Hardinge, but proves to be effective in Britain’s ultimate victory. He even comes into possession of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which he hands over, flippantly, to Hardinge, literally minutes before his departure, on Hardinge’s orders.

Flashman is next seen in England, in ‘late 1847’ (not so late that he does not become aware of the fashion debate between ‘stripes’ and ‘checks’). He is still recuperating from being shot in the back. Fraser later refines this wound into a shot on the side that burrowed towards Flashman’s back, but otherwise gives us no other information as to who, what, when, where or why.
Indeed, in later years, Fraser showed no intention of clearing the gap up, even with one of Harry’s celebrated asides. As the books progressed, his Explanatory Notes grew more dismissive about the very idea of filling these in.
By exploring negative information, we can exclude further British military action: Flashman specifies that the First Afghan War and the First Sikh War are his only pre-Crimea campaigns. Similarly, I would exclude a wound from any kind of duel, since Flashman does not refer to taking part in any other than the celebrated affair with Lieutenant Bernier.
However, I have a theory that, without any evidence to support it, fits neatly with the time-frame.
Flashman leaves the Punjab in February 1846 to return to England, a journey that will take a couple of months, given that Africa lies in between. After the Great Mutiny, his voyage home was via the Cape of Good Hope, where he meets John Charity Spring in Cape Town, but there is no mention there of any previous visit to the city.
Let us posit that, on this occasion, Flashman’s journey home is via the Red Sea, and an overland trek, by camel, to the North African coast.
What if the caravan is attacked, by Tuaregs or other bandits? Flashman escapes but finds himself stranded in the Sahara desert, over at least one night of moonlight. Before he can die of thirst, he is found by a petrol from the French Foreign Legion, who take him back with them into Algeria where, lacking any other support, he joins the Legion.
Now in the Twelfth packet, Fraser makes it clear that Flashman was in service with the French Foreign Legion twenty years later, in Mexico, but even he hints, in a footnote, that this may not have been Flashman’s only period in La Legion Etranger. The French president, MacMahon, does refer to being an old Algeria hand as if the pair had shared service.
We can imagine Flashman not planning to make Legion service a long-term affair, and taking the first opportunity to desert, perhaps disguised as an Arab Sheikh. The Legion naturally take a dim view of this and, in fighting their way out, Flashman is shot in the side, the bullet burrowing into his back.
This narrows down the time this adventure takes. Whilst he speaks of his ability to bounce back quickly from wounds, because of the nature of this wound, Flashman would have needed an extended recuperation before he was even able to travel back to England, relatively unaffected and probably not even admitting his wounding to Elspeth: would she have so blithely let him leave the country so quickly afterwards if she knew he’d had that kind of wound?
To me, this is entirely plausible and decidedly Flashmanesque, though there isn’t a scrap of evidence to make it more than a hopefully educated guess.
Of course, Flashman has confirmed that he was serving with the Foreign Legion twenty years later, in Mexico, and that Emperor Maximilian rescued him from the Legion, who were pursuing him as a deserter. That seems to rule out the idea of an 1847 tour of duty. Or does it? Flashman does not actually say that he was serving with the Legion: in fact, he was reluctantly a part of Jesus Montero’s bandits at roughly the same time. Besides, in what circumstances, in his mid-Forties, within eighteen months of his service (distinguished and otherwise) in the American Civil War, does Flashman end up impressed into the Foreign Legion and taken to Mexico?
I would go out on a limb, again unsupported by evidence, that Flashman undergoes another of those hellish coincidences that dog his life, to the extent that you might almost believe in divine intervention and punishment, Flashman encounters his former drill sergeant, or someone of similar authority, from twenty years ago, is recognised as a deserter, and is dragged back to the Legion and into service in Mexico. From which that adventure flows as we shall see later.
It’s an interesting question to wonder if Fraser knew what this incident was about when he referred to it in Royal Flash? Did he have a general plan for Flashman’s career, or was it a bit of ‘colour’, designed to thicken Flashman’s world, a trailer left for Fraser either to exploit, if he came up with a good and timely idea, or otherwise to be left as something Flashman never lived long enough to relate?
I wouldn’t like to guess.

A Brief Speculation on Flashman’s career – Introduction


Taking a broad look at the Flashman Papers, it is easy to divide Sir Harry’s career into two unequal phases. In the first of these, from his expulsion from Rugby School in 1838 to his shanghaing to sea in the wake of the Pekin Expedition in 1860, we have a full account of his career, with three breaks, of varying length.
But from 1860 onwards, we have only three distinct and separate episodes, and nothing but hints and traces of where and what else Flashman was doing.
Naturally, the rest of Flashman’s career has been the subject of speculation and argument amongst his fans for literally decades. I’ve read several chronologies, at least one of which is still accessible on-line. Now I’m going to have my own attempt at constructing Flashman’s career, especially in those lost periods.
Given the length of that career – Flashman died in 1915, in circumstances unknown but presumably related to his age (he would be aged 92/93 that year) – this is not the subject of a single essay. At first, I propose to summarise Flashman’s known career, up to one of the notable gaps, and then speculate as to what he may have been doing then. In short, I’ll be trying to outguess George MacDonald Fraser, so nothing ambitious then.
In no particular order, we have to find times and, in some cases, places, for the following:
– A slew of references to the South Pacific: Gambling on a South Sea trader, the Australian Gold Rush, including a jailing in Botany Bay, witnessing dawn over the South China Sea, being a Lottery supervisor in Manila and a Trader and Missionary in the Solomon Islands and Fly River country.
– Service with the French Foreign Legion – either immediately prior to or at the start of Flashman’s involvement with Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, or in Algeria. Flashman sees moonlight over the Sahara
– Mexico: deserting from the Legion, being aide-de-camp to Maximilian, jail, being sent to the firing Squad and being reprieved. Jesus Montero’s bandits and Princess Aggie Salm-Salm.
– American Civil War: service for the Union in 1862, the Confederates in 1863. Various battlefields. Jefferson Davies’s lightning concuctor. Libby Prison. Blackmailed and pardoned by Lincoln. At Appomattox, apparently with Lee. In Washngton with Lincoln on the day of Ford’s Theatre
– Deputy Marshall to Wild Bill Hickock, facing John Wesley Hardin. Poker in a Dodge City livery stable
– February 1882 – watching John L Sullivan box in America
– 1846-7 – shot in side by pistol ball burrowing into back: recovery and recuperation before returning to London
– Affairs with Lily Langtry, Alice Keppel, Fanny Paget (Cardigan’s mistress)
– Meeting Garibaldi
– The Zulu War 1879, Isandlwhana, Rorke’s Drift, Little Hand. Meets and likes Keteshwayo
– Hearing Garryowen sung on the African veldt
– Pekin Embassy seige during the Boxer Rebellion 1900
– Cholera attack 1855 – 56
– Impersonating an Arab Sheikh
– Surviving in a lifeboat after shipwreck
– Hearing Jungle drums in South America
– Accompanying Chinese Gordon to the Sudan
– Khedive – Sudan 1896
– Shanghaing by Fanny Duberly
– The Franco-Prussian War 1870
– Receiving the Order of Maria Theresa, summer 1868
– Desert camel passage Alexandria to Cairo
– Iron Eyes
– Watching a battle from a hot air balloon
I don’t promise to get everything right, but I do promise to enjoy the guesswork.

The Flashman Papers 1845-1846: Flashman and the Mountain of Light


I only met George MacDonald Fraser once, touring a new Flashman in hardback. I’m ninety-five percent certain that it was Flashman and the Mountain of Light, the Ninth Packet, though there’s a possibility I’m wrong and it was the next volume.
I’d done several Author Events by then, and expected the usual reading from the book, followed by a Q&A, but Fraser simply hauled himself onto a stool and began to tell stories and anecdotes, nothing to do directly with his new novel.
One of the things he talked about, whether off his own bat or in response to a question later on, was how he wrote a Flashman novel. Basically, it was that he would choose an historical event or period that interested him, spend about nine months researching, cramming in everything he possible could, and then write the book in a three month period.
It’s easy to tell from the title what the focal point was for the Ninth Packet, for the ‘Mountain of Light’ is the literal translation of the Koh-i-Noor diamond (though I learned that bit of historical detail from reading this book, rather than any pre-existing knowledge).
After the somewhat overt contrivance of Flashman and the Dragon I found the Ninth Packet to be dissatisfying, for other reasons. It’s something of a reversion: to Flashman the tyro, to India, even to a significant element of the plot that ‘repeats’ a previous set-up that, chronologically, comes a dozen years after this incident, which somehow never came to Flashy’s recollections when the ploy was duplicated ‘later’.
Flashman and the Mountain of Light doubles back on Flashman’s career, taking up immediately after the events of Flashman’s Lady, concerning itself with the much-mentioned First Sikh War. Harry and Elspeth have been transported from Madagascar to Mauritius, but whilst Elspeth is returning home on a French ship (much to Flashy’s consternation), he’s shipped off to India, and the North Western frontier.
Flashman’s arrival is greeted enthusiastically by his old connection, George Broadfoot, who has great plans for him as a Political. Until the recent Afghan War disaster, Britain’s north west frontier was fairly secure but now the Punjab, home to the Sikhs, lies between it and the Khyber area. The Sikhs are the biggest, most formidable and best-trained and disciplined army in India and, under its Khalsa, its ruling order, it has screaming for the chance to attack British India since the death of the Punjab’s Rajah, Runjeet Singh.
The current Rajah is seven year old Dalip Singh, the only ruler Britain is prepared to recognise, but power is held by his mother, the Maharani Jeendan, a seriously elevated dancing girl, notorious drunkard, debaucher and a strong-mindedly determined to control her country in the face of near-rebellion by the Khalsa.
The problem is right there in that Broadfoot wants Flashy to go in there and work his charms on the Rani, to ensure that the Khalsa does not start a war against the British. In strict chronological terms, it’s twelve years before Flashy does exactly the same with Lakshmibai, but we have already had that story, and the changes Fraser rings upon it are not enough to disguise the fact that he’s mining old territory.
Flashy is to go in as ostensibly a lawyer, to hear arguments over the ultimate disposal of the late Rajah’s fortune, currently at British disposal and consisting of more gold coins than you could shake a really big stick at. And given that Mai Jeendan and her brother and co-regent Jawaheer Singh are into spending money like waterfalls, they have an interest.
Whilst Broadfoot would deny it, even to himself, Flashy’s job is basically to screw Mai Jeendan into complaisance. Unlike Lakshmibai, she is a former dancer, a slut and a drunkard, so the screwing part passes off well and quickly and frequently. But, like Lakshmibai, she is an intelligent, powerful, wilful woman. Flashman is hardly settled in when her brother is publicly slaughtered by the Khalsa in front of her, and his, eyes and she both shames the army and swears to bring about its destruction.
And here we see the other major problem with the overall story. The Khalsa, in its arrogance, wants war with Britain. It vastly outnumbers the British Army, it is one of the most efficient and best-drilled armies in existence and one of the best fighting armies that the Nineteenth Century British Army ever has to face.
And once it has been defeated, or rather the Khalsa leaders are defeated, thanks to the machinations of Mai Jeendan and, in his own small, but vital way, Flashman, it will become a British Army, utterly loyal and utterly effective for the remainder of the Victoria Century.
But, with one notable exception, Flashman has very little, indeed almost nothing to do with it. The course of history flows without Flashy’s input, and for the most part he is a passive observer, overshadowed by two unlikely, mostly forgotten, but real historical figures, Americans Alick Gardner, who is devoted to Mai Jeendan’s service, and Josiah Harlan, who is Flashy’s secret bodyguard and a bit of a self-serving rogue and huckster.
Flashman has a cushy number, confined to the Palace and to a life of feasting and fornicating (when Mai Jeendan isn’t available, her chief slave and confidante, Mangla, has a similar amount of hots for Harry), but he has nothing to do but watch, and wait, as events roll along without him.
Fraser enlivens the middle portion of the story, as this waiting goes on for months, by a long and elaborate luring of Flashy into a trap at the hands of the Khalsa, trying to provoke war earlier than suits Mai Jeendan, from which he is rescued by the intervention of Goolab Singh, former pretender to the throne and now looking to establish his bona fides with the British, but in terms of influencing the narrative, it is nothing more than an interlude, a fill-in.
Which is the problem. Harry Flashman has nothing to do with the story, except in one crucial moment. Mai Jeendan has installed her lover and her underling, Lal Singh and Tej Singh, in charge of the Army. Both are arrant cowards whose job is to mislead, misdirect, hinder and delay the Army for the benefit of its British opponents, under the Generalship of Sir Hugh (‘Paddy’) Gough.
The big problem is that not only are the Khalsa extremely suspicious of this incompetent pair, and liable to throw them out at any moment they decide that this faffing around is down to actual sabotage, but that Tej and Lal are shit-scared of that happening at any moment.
So Flashy, an inexperienced young Lieutenant, with only one disastrous campaign under his military belt, finds himself with the awesome responsibility of directing the forces of the most powerful Army in India against his own side, in such a way as to ensure that despite massive, indeed overwhelming advantages, they lose.
And, with his funk at its highest, but in the grandest of all military traditions, Flashy does the job. Which leads to one of the best reverses in the book as, once he has regained his own lines and explained what he has done, Sir John Littler, the local General, reprimands him severely, reminds him that if it blows up, he faces one mother of a Court Martial, and promises his most ardent support for Flashman’s actions being in the highest traditions of the service!
But that’s it. That aside, Flashman is nothing but a spectator, especially of battles with twists that everyone but serious students of history have forgotten. Even battles for which he is present, he is nothing but a watcher, without serious risk of being dragged into panicky situations.
His only other contribution to the course of the history is again a ‘repeat’ of the superior Lakshmibai story. Flashman is sent back in, in native disguise, to help Mai Jeendan smuggle out her son, Dalip. There’s no Count Ignatieff on hand to make it personally perilous, and whilst Flashy ultimately fails to bring the Prince back to British lines, he at least sees him in the safety of Goolab Singh, who is out to show his value to the British.
There is at least a twist to the story that ensures it doesn’t too closely echo the Lakshmibai ‘original’, which is that Mai Jeendan is prepared to entrust her son to Flashman because she believes him to be true to her: true to the extent of marriage! That’s not on, even if Flashy does devote a few moments fantasising to the prospect. But he’s had enough of India, he wants home, he wants to get back to Elspeth.
Which leads to an intriguing ending. The war is won, the Khalsa destroyed, the Sikh Army conjoined to the British. There is a peace treaty negotiated by Hardinge, who has by now demonstrated a complete loathing of our hero and everything he’s done, especially because it’s worked. On the other hand, his chief Political, Henry Lawrence, wants Flashman to stay, as a Political, and is willing to fight Hardinge over it. Thank heaven then for the embarrassment of a certain lady’s honourable intentions towards our man…
So Flashman is to go. Out of spite, Hardinge has orders for his removal from service publicly delivered, intent on humiliation. But never try to humiliate Flashy. Not when your precious peace treaty requires the Sikhs to hand over the Koh-i-Noor. Not when you don’t know who’s pocket it’s hidden in…
Overall, a disappointing volume. But it does contain my favourite Flashman put down of all time, that I have longed to find a context to use for over twenty years: ‘Why, thank ye, Sir Henry, and I hope your rabbit dies and you can’t sell the hutch.’

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.
P11. There is a major continuity issue at the very beginning. According to Fraser, Flashman began writing his memoirs in or about 1901, ‘breaking the habit of a lifetime’ by being absolutely honest about his dissolution etc. But here, Flashman clearly states that he was reminded to write this adventure by an enquiry from Queen Victoria about the proprieties of wearing the Koh-i-Noor Diamond as part of her dress for her Golden Anniversary, which Flashman specifically records as being in 1887. This is thirteen years at least before the other memoirs are written, when Flashman is still protective of his reputation, and before the end of his physical adventures: and in a completely consistent style to the Papers supposedly written so much later. Fraser is too good for this kind of slip, which makes this setting irreconcilable with the other Papers.
P16. “Where the deuce had I been in ’52?” – where indeed? The Queen reads from a letter dated 9 February that year from Colonel Mackeson, referring to Flashman. Mackeson fought in the First Sikh War and remained in service in the Punjab until his assassination in 1853. His letter is about the Koh-i-Noor and these Papers about Flashman’s connections with it, so we can’t read into it any inferences about Flashman’s service that year. Note that Mackeson refers to Flashman as a Lieutenant, whilst by the beginning of the Fourth Packet, in early 1854, he’s a Captain.
P57. Another reference to Flashman’s undetailed participation in the Zulu War, recalling Cetewayo’s legions overrunning Little Hand.
P86. Flashman’s first encounter with Mai Jeendan leads to another recollection of other beauties of his experience, this time including the Empress of Austria as a ‘classic creature.. appeal(ing) to the baser aesthetic senses’. This encounter will be referenced in the Eleventh Packet.
P101. Another reference to the sadly unrecorded Welshman in a top hat leading a Zulu impi. It’s terribly frustrating.
P234. Flashman’s medals include ‘Khedive Sudan 96’ – another unrecorded campaign, and an impressive one, given that he would then be seventy-three: a little old for active service.
P318. Flashman refers to his granddaughter Selina and how she almost led him to commit murder, an incident at this stage confined to the Sunday Times 1972 short story that will not become canon until the Eleventh Packet.
P326. One of the most intriguing references in the entire Flashman Papers, Flashman approvingly cites a hot air balloon as the ideal vantage point for watching a battle and mentions doing this is Paraguay once. This has had Flashman scholars puzzling for years, and dubiously suggesting the War of the Triple Alliance, though Flashman’s participation in this affair (1864 – 1870) is difficult to reconcile with his known movements in this period.

The Flashman Papers: 1860 – Flashman and the Dragon


By the time the Eighth Packet of The Flashman Papers was released to an adoring public, George MacDonald Fraser had been writing about Harry Flashman for over fifteen years. In addition to eight volumes of the Papers, Fraser had also written two lengthy non-series novels, two collections of short stories, a non-fiction history of the Anglo-Scottish Border Wars, six filmed screenplays and an indeterminate number of unfilmed screenplays, not to mention a number of BBC radio plays. Flashman and The Dragon was published the year he turned sixty.
How long the Flashman books might continue was clearly a question of how long might Fraser last. Even before the Eighth Packet, enough additional adventures had been referred to keep him busy for decades. Only in the latter half of the Seventh Packet had Flashman’s memoirs extended beyond 1858, and Flashy had been notably in action up to and including the start of the Twentieth Century.
But series’ are difficult things to sustain. On the one hand, they must grow and develop, as humans do, constantly presenting new challenges, new aspects, new challenges and solutions, but on the other hand they must operate within (sometimes narrowly) prescribed lines: the audience constantly demands ‘more of the same only different’ but it is the ‘more of the same’ element that concerns them most.
From the appearance of Flashman and The Dragon until the final Packet, in 2005, the penultimate book of Fraser’s life (not counting Captain in Calico) only four further Flashman books were published, one of which being a ‘fix-up’ consisting of three short stories of differing lengths. The longed-for American Civil War novel was not among them. And it has to be admitted that there was something of a decline after Flashman and the Redskins: not a major decline, like the latterday Peter Tinniswoods, or the last two Robert Neills, to refer to previous posts here, but enough to be perceptible. And it starts here.
Flashman and The Dragon sees Sir Harry Flashman (notwithstanding that he still hasn’t been officially knighted by little Vicky) in China, being unwillingly attached to Lord Elgin’s expedition to Pekin as part of his intelligence staff.
It’s March 1860 and Flashy is in Hong Kong, waiting for his boat home to Elspeth, who he hasn’t seen in over three years (and Jo Flashman was born in 1858? Hmmm.) Immediately, there’s a change of atmosphere to the series, as Fraser, in an extensive first note, makes a not very good job of explaining things.
Up till now, Flashy has usually been very good at context, and setting up where, what and how when he starts his account but in this instance, short of that reference to three years, there’s nothing. Fraser devotes his footnote to the fact that this mystery is a mystery: Flashman was last seen leaving India for home about eighteen months previously, but here he is, and what’s more, despite never having been to China previously in his memoirs, he’s familiar with the country and speaks fluent Mandarin.
But, having suggested prior time in China, Fraser undercuts himself by suggesting that, based on a mention of being acquainted with the American Abolitionist John Brown (having not seen anything such thus farm, I can only assume this came in the newspaper story, Flashman and the Tiger), our boy may have been in America in 1859.
The Tenth Packet will confirm this was the case, but at this moment, what the footnote makes all but explicit (for the first time) is that Fraser doesn’t know and hasn’t decided on Flashman’s career in this period, and admits us all to the almost certainty that Flashman’s life and career is, largely, being made up as he goes along.
There’s another change in tone in the opening sequences. Flashy specifically identifies himself as being in his prime at 37, a Colonel with six years seniority, in short an individual of experience. He no longer automatically runs away from trouble, though that’s still his first instinct. Now he stops to think, and we’re not far into the book when our antihero actually runs towards a fight, recognising that the only safe outcome is to attack and win. And it’s not the only time. Flashman is caught behaving like a practiced, skilled and properly military British Army officer.
Though he’s unusually cagey about how he comes to be there, Flashman pens this latest memoir with a fairly full, for Flashy, political analysis of the China Problem. On the one hand, General Hope Grant is arriving in under a fortnight to escort Lord Elgin to Pekin, where the decadent and horrifically brutal regime, under its rarefied Emperor, will be forced to recognise foreigners as equals, as opposed to subhuman barbarians. On the other, the Taiping Rebellion, the bloodiest rebellion in world history, is still going on after ten years, is supported for its pseudo-Christian aspects and may well be the next Chinese government.
But Flashman, with his usual flair for vicious amusement, is concerned about filling the ten days before his sailing (two days before Hope Grant gets there and grabs him for his staff) is potting the seduction of the beautiful bounteous blonde Mrs Phoebe Carpenter. The circumstances are a bit out of the ordinary, however.
Firstly, the lovely Phoebe is not merely married, but married to a Christian Missionary with ambitions to build a church in China, and secondly, in order to raise funds to build this church, the Reverend and Mrs Carpenter require someone who is a fluent Chinese speaker to escort a boat upriver, and successfully deliver £16,000 of prime cut, prepared opium.
Given that there’s 10 per cent in him for him, not to mention a cast iron case for the buxom Phoebe sharing her favours on his return, and anyway, everybody in Hong Kong is in opium, the place exists because of it, Flashman is happy to keep his hand in, and he does a bloody good job at it, far better than the ship’s young American Captain, Fred T Ward, can do, at least at this stage of his impressive career.
There’s just one problem. Actually, as usual there’s more than one but the main one is that the carpenter’s boats aren’t carrying opium, but instead rifles, intended for the Taiping rebels. Flashy gets alerted to this when his Chinese jolly-girl wakes him up pleading for a pipe (she is not what she seems). This is where flashy thinks quickly and, given that the small convoy has attracted the attention of the Royal Navy, our hero pulls a quick Beauchamp Comber, claiming to have been on the side of the angels all along, undercover.
That it works is, astonishingly, because Flashy decides at the last minute to attune his lie as closely as he can to the truth, because he’s been conned twice by a woman – the jolly girl is actually a British agent!
Basically, what we’ve had is a bubble adventure, just to set things off and demonstrate again how Flashman’s eagerness to pursue womanflesh still trips him up. The whole adventure brings him to the attention of the authorities, after which there is no going home. Prime Minister Palmerston himself has issued orders attaching Colonel Flashman, believed to be travelling in China (how did they know that?), to Hope Grant’s intelligence staff.
The stage is set, but there is a wait until Lord Elgin is due, and Fraser diverts Flashman onto a different path to fill in the intervening time. And of course it’s the Taiping Rebellion.
By 1860, the Taiping Rebellion had been going on for a decade, causing more and bloodier slaughter than any other in history. The Rebellion had taken Nanking round about the time the memoir starts and are threatening a move on Shanghai, Britain’s principal Treaty Port. Elgin’s Pekin Expedition intends to force the feeble, debauched yet ultimately god-like Emperor to sign the Treaty he has agreed, China being the most insular country on other, seeing everywhere outside China as barbarian vassal states. Britain cannot come to terms with the Taipings, cannot even be seen to be talking to them.
So Flashy the undercover intelligence star is sent to meet with the Taiping leaders to persuade them not to attempt Shanghai. It’s a fraught journey, only completed with the assistance of a group of bandits led by the formidable Szu-Zhan, a six foot six tall woman of immense strength who damn near carries Flashy off.
But arrival is even more fraught as our hero finds himself a ‘guest’ of a strange, cruel but horribly efficient army, led by the fanatical Loyal Prince Lee, who makes it plain that the Taipings are coming to Shanghai and Britain should get off its ass and join forces because they are going to overthrow the Manchoos. Flashman will be sent back to deliver that message as a courtesy – two days ahead of the army.
The same message is delivered by Prime Minister Hung Jen-Kan, a much cannier individual, with clearer eyes, who arranges for Flashy to go two weeks ahead of schedule. Because Jen-Kan knows what Flashman will report back of his meeting with the Taiping leader, Hung Hsiu-chuan, once an inspirational leader but now an irretrievable madman that Britain cannot and never will accept. Jen-Kan doesn’t doubt the Taiping’s eventual victory, but doesn’t mind delaying it by allowing Flashman to warn the British and enable them to repel his political rival, Loyal Prince Lee.
In due course that happens. Flashy’s route back crosses the path of Fred T. Ward for a last time, risen to command the force that will eventually defeat the Taipings, the Ever Victorious Army that Ward moulded and, after his death, was led to ultimate victory by General Gordon, he of Khartoum infamy (who turns up in a minor role late on).
But what is disturbing is that all this story is delivered in footnotes and appendices. No sooner is Flashy in Shanghai and alerting the Commissioner, Parkes, than he’s shuffled off to join Elgin and General Hope Grant on the road to Pekin, and that’s it as far as the Taiping Rebellion issue goes. Yes, it just vanishes, as if it had never happened. Fraser even comments on this in a footnote, about how uncharacteristic it is of Flashman to not even mention that Shanghai repelled the Taiping Army.
We’re used to a Flashman Packet containing in effect two widely disparate tales: Flashman at the Charge strings together the Crimea and the Russian invasion of Central Asia, Flashman’s Lady adventures in both Borneo and Madagascar, and Flashy isn’t one for looking back once the danger has been outrun, but even on a first reading, this felt wrong. Plonking Flashman into two theatres may have been common practice but, whilst previous examples had at least an organic element to it, this was too obvious a contrivance to be passed by without the effect jarring.
Having grown bored with travel by sea, Flashman disembarks within sight of the army and treats himself to a leisurely ride. This enables Fraser to place him at the scene of a famous, but now forgotten event, the killing of Trooper Moyes. This came about when a party of horsemen  under the Mongol War Leader, Sang-Kol-Insen (immediately dubbed ‘Sam Collinson’ throughout the army) captured two British soldiers and demanded they kow-tow. Famously, Moyes refused to do so, facing the Mongol with utter contempt, and being executed.
Fraser not only drops Flashy into the scene, as an unknown, out of uniform officer who is knocking head like a good ‘un, but stores up the scene for future difficulties, as the other survivor, Private Nolan, recognises him subsequently and is slimily determined on a spot of blackmail. Until Flashy uses a fraught situation, when he and a number of troops are captured, to deliver Nolan to an horrendous comeuppance that’s not entirely undeserved.
Militarily, there’s not much to say about the March on Pekin (sometimes referred to as the Second Opium War), given that it was led by one of Britain’s most competent fighting Generals, and Flashman has a safe and secure time of it, Nolan excepted, until the Chinese unexpectedly renege on their promises of safe progress, etc., and fight back. We see the experienced and skilled military side of Sir Harry, and doesn’t it seem strange, but he too is captured, a capture that means torture of the most vile and inhumane.
First though, the Taiping element must have its parallel, as Flashy, converted into a filthy, unshaven, ragged barbarian to suit expectations, is dragged before the Emperor to confess. The Emperor is, in a different way, equally as unimpressive and abhorrent as Hung Hsia-chuan, but a bit more intelligent, so the whole thing is a complete bust. Until the Imperial Concubine, Yehonala, blitzed to the max on poppy smoke, takes a fancy to see a barbarian for herself.
And, having seen said hairy, smelly and more than half-naked barbarian, she insists on seeing the one bit that’s covered up. And once seen, she needs must sample it. Flashy gets ’em, everywhere.
The thing is, Yehonala, having enjoyed Flashy as much as she has, decides to keep him. Not merely for filthy disgusting pleasure, but because the Yi Concubine, who is already doing everything she can to see the Emperor off, happens to be the mother of his only son. And equally happens to be a determinedly intelligent autocratic woman with designs upon complete domination of China. Which, incidentally, she will achieve for over thirty years. Yehonala has plans to advance this, which involve saving Flashy to get her in good with the British.
So Flashy undergoes two months imprisonment in palatial luxury, not to mention unending abuse of his person, his major fear being in case he lets slip that he speaks Mandarin, and has understood every word of  Yi’s plans, especially those parts that she wouldn’t want the Brits to know.
In the end, Flashy gets free when the British Army attacks Pekin, though he regrets the ending of this interlude. Yehonala ranks for him alongside Lakshmibai, Lola Montez and Elspeth as the most beautiful women he has ever seen, and she is among that few for whom he has felt anything other than lust. But it’s a timely and necessary departure, and he damned well knows it. And it leads to an exposure of feeling Flashman has never allowed himself before. Welcomed back by Elgin and everyone around him, seeing their genuine concern, Flashman gives in to the stress he has experienced and, in his own words, “I blubbed.”
There is not much left now but what is left is clearly Fraser’s entire purpose in writing this book. After careful though, Lord Elgin has to decide upon a punishment for the Emperor and the Manchus, that will not merely fall upon them alone, and not the peasants, but will be seen to do so, and be known. It is a controversial decision, one that is still debated today, and one which would change the course of history in ways that we are experiencing today, and that we cannot see the end of in 2016.
I’m speaking of the destruction, the burning, the looting, the devastation of the Summer Palace. Fraser, and Flashman, give it full measure, airing all the arguments for and against, bringing all the personalities and the motives into play. Flashman even has the temerity to twit Elgin over history’s response to him. But his own emotions, though ever directed towards himself, nevertheless betray that even Flash Harry has been moved by the beauty of the Summer Palace, and has a pang for its memory, which he will never relinquish.
The sequence is a fitting end to the story, and it is by far the best thing in it, but it’s not a Flashman ending. So there’s a short coda, in Singapore, waiting for his boat home, just as when the memoir begins and, in perfect parallel, Flashy once more encounters Mrs Phoebe Carpenter.
Circumstances are a little different: for one thing, she’s playing waitress in a bar on the shady side of town, where Harry was lured to the ninjas in Flashman’s Lady, she’s wearing a most low-cut dress and claims that the Reverend Carpenter has abandoned her. Flashy has no compunctions about blackmailing her into bed in order to keep him from peaching to the authorities, but once again Phoebe takes him in. She brings him back to her residence, which is actually a very successful brothel, run by the Reverend Josiah. And as Flashy is trying his hand at billiards, with a bottle of house brandy, a naval type enters the room, exactly as Flashman starts to feel woozy and wobbly…
So we end as we begin: from having no idea where Sir Harry has come from to be here to the same lack of knowledge as to where he’s going to be going after this. Except that it’s not back to Elspeth…
When first I read Flashman and the Dragon, I assumed Flashy was being shanghaied to America, to turn up in time for the start of the American Civil War. However, a reference elsewhere to Flashman accompanying the Prince of Wales during ten weeks of military training at the Curragh, in Ireland, that has been dated to July 1861 means that that couldn’t have happened, and wherever he does go, Flashy is not long delayed in being restored to Elspeth’s arms, and sundry other parts of her body.
Howsoever this came about, we are never told. It may seem befitting to have both ends of the memoir match, but to me it weakens the story to have it so firmly detached from Flashman’s Chronology, without connective tissue before or aft. It escalates the impression of a contrivance to a level not previously experienced.

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.
P10. ’emerged after four campaigns’: the fourth of these pre-1860 campaigns is the First Sikh War, yet to be told.
P43. Flashman relates his nastier experiences of the past three years, but all of these relate to the Indian Mutiny. There is literally nothing of the intervening eighteen months.
P78. Flashman recites another litany of experiences, coming out of sleep into waking. These include the mealie bags at Rorke’s Drift, in the Zulu War and, a first reference, the morning Flashman was due to go before the San Serafino firing squad. This is usually attributed to the Maximillian business in Mexico, the only known case of Flashman going before a firing squad, and no doubt is connected to Flashman’s famous medal, the San Serafino Order of Truth and Purity (4th class).
P83. Scenes of ruin: Flashman mentions Gettysburg, a famous American Civil War battlefield.
P123. A fuller description of life in Nanking under the Taiping is given in Dawns and Departures of a Soldier’s Life, in one of the Volumes not impounded and destroyed by Disraeli’s bailiffs.
P186. Flashman compares notes on places where he has surrendered, including Appomattox, which indicates that he arrived as part of General Lee’s party.
P193. And a recollection of moments of brilliant inspiration includes the first mention of Flashman convincing Jefferson Davis he’d come to fix the lightning rod…
p196. Flashman gave technical advice to GeorgeBernard Shaw on the writing of his only Western play, The Shewing up of Blanco Posnet (1909).
p225. Flashman on his first exposure to the Summer Palace recollects other, natural scenes of great beauty, including dawn over the South China Sea and cold moonlight on the Sahara. The South China Sea has been mentioned before, but Flashman’s journey into the Sahara is another unplaced mystery, though it must surely relate to his service in the French Foreign Legion, whenever this was.
P287. Flashman reminisces of moments of peace at the end of great adventures: three we recognise but the fourth is of “sitting alone with the President of the United States at the end of a great war, listening to him softly whistling ‘Dixie’.”

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.