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


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

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: part 6 – 1876 – 1884



The next phase of Flashman’s career takes us from the end of one adventure to the beginning of another, from Flashman’s return from the aftermath of the Sioux War to his departure for the Sudan with ‘Chinese’ Gordon on another military campaign.
During this period, we do have some accounts of Flashman’s doings, though these are at least only partial. His memoirs give us no reason to doubt that he made a fairly prompt and incident-free return from America, as soon as Lady Flashman was free of any further involvement in the American Centennial celebrations, and he was followed to England the following year by now-ex-President Grant, after his term concluded in controversial circumstances, in March 1877.
Grant is visiting Europe and has been invited to France to meet Marshall Macmahon, the French President. At Grant’s request, Flashman travels to Paris with him, to act as the President’s personal interpreter, though he ends up having more of a conversation with Macmahon, thanks to their mutual past as Foreign Legionnaires.
Clearly, as some unspecified point, Flashman has been pardoned for his desertion (whether singular or plural).
Flashman also renews his acquaintance with the journalist Blowitz, which leads to the latter seeking Flashman’s assistance in 1878 to extract details of the Treaty of Berlin from the Congress being conducted under the aegis of Chancellor Bismarck. Flashman is a cut-out for messages being delivered to Blowitz by the delightful dancer and courtesan, Caprice. He enjoys the happy reward of her favours in return for passing messages that enable Blowitz to scoop everyone on the Treaty terms.
The following year, 1879, sees Flashman in Africa, traveling to inspect a mine inherited by Elspeth on the death of a cousin. Flashman is there for at least part of the short but intense Zulu War.
In circumstances unknown, Flashman makes the acquaintance of, and comes to like, King Keteshwayo of the Zulus. The War is more or less provoked by the British, and it resulted in an unexpected routing at Isand’lwhana, where the Zulu Impis, break the British resistance and invade the compound.
Flashman’s partial account of events begins with his presence, again in unknown circumstances, in Isand’lwhana, when the lines break. We know that he was there with Lt General Gordon-Cumming, an acquaintance of Elspeth, but it’s clear Flashman was not on military duty at the time. Notoriously, he recounts more than once seeing one such Impi led by a Welshman in a top hat, but does not go into further detail in his brief account. Presumably, this was part of the attack before the Zulus broke through the defences.
Flashman makes one of his uninhibited retreats, at high speed and without concern for those left behind. Travelling across the veldt, he meets and joins with a British Major, a cool customer and formidable sharpshooter, who helps him get as far as Rorke’s Drift, where the minimal forces there successfully defend the compound. His companion turns out to be named Moran, and he seems to know Flashman.
Rorke’s Drift is the turning point of the Zulu War, which involves two further battles but is quickly and successfully ended. Flashman comes to the public attention once more, though we are never told what for, nor whether he plays any further active part in the War. He certainly doesn’t see anything more of Moran.
There is a short gap here, until 1882, in which Flashman’s whereabouts and actions are unknown. He is almost sixty by now, and presumably has slowed down in all but vicious living.
In February 1882 he is in America, watching John L Sullivan win the first World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Mississippi City and winning a bet on the outcome with Oscar Wilde, who was not present. Flashman also mentions playing poker with guns on the blankets in a Dodge City livery stable: Dodge’s heyday was 1883/4, when we know Flashman to be elsewhere, but we have to assume his poker career in the town belongs to the same amorphous American tour.
Five months after the Sullivan/Ryan fight, he goes out to Egypt under Sir Garnet Wolseley, on what appears to have been the only incident free campaign of his career.
The last substantial account of his career begins the following year. Wolseley’s campaign has not quieted affairs south of Egypt, in the Sudan, and General Gordon is to be sent out. Flashman anticipates being summoned to the campaign, and looks for an excuse to absent himself from England when that happens.
As in 1847, Flashman receives a letter from a mysterious German lady, a Princess Kralta, summoning him to the Continent. In Paris, he is met by Blowitz, who has arranged a treat for him, as thanks for his assistance in the Treaty of Berlin business. This is a berth on the inaugural run of the Orient Express. The favours of Princess Kralta are a bonus.
Unfortunately, just as in 1847, the whole thing is a cover for a scheme of Bismarck, involving the next generation of the von Starnberg family, Willem. Flashman is being pressed into service to act as an unofficial bodyguard for Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Joseph, against Hungarian separatists.
And once again, von Starnberg can’t be trusted, for he is the assassin, and Flashman again the patsy (though this time this is not what Bismarck has planned). Luck and experience enable Flashman to avert the assassination, but he is badly run through by von Starnberg and his life is only saved by the improbable but providential interference of Caprice, a French intelligence agent with a hatred for Germans.
At his age, Flashman’s recovery is long and slow, and is prolonged by a spell in Vienna with Kralta and her husband which proves to be just too decadent even for him. Unfortunately, his impatience is his undoing: he arrives at Charing Cross Station in early 1884, just as Gordon is leaving for the Sudan, and is pressed into service with him!

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


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

A Brief Speculation on Flashman’s Career, part 4: 1860-1868


We have now reached the hinge-point in Sir Harry Flashman’s career. Up till now, we have had a fairly consistent account with occasional breaks. From here, we have little but hints and references, with the occasional account. I propose to continue by using actual recorded events as the punctuation point between phases.
We left Flashman falling unconscious in the whore-house in Hong Kong being run by the Reverend and Mrs Carpenter. Flashman has attempted to blackmail Phoebe Carpenter into bed and she has retaliated by having him drugged, preparatory to his being shipped out somewhere.
When I first read the Eighth Packet, I naively assumed that Flashman would be spirited away to America, there to commence his long involvement in the Civil War. However, it’s now been reasonably established that Flashman did not become involved until 1862, at the earliest, so some other destination was involved.
I had originally intended to place Flashman’s Solomon Islands/Fly River country experiences alongside his visits to Australia and the Philippines, between 1850 – 1853, purely on geographical grounds, until I made the connection. According to his Who’s Who entry, Flashman was acting as trader and Christian Missionary during his time in that area, west of Papua New Guinea.
The connection with a shanghaing by a Christian Minister is too obvious to ignore. Flashman is shipped out to the Solomon Islands or Fly River, where he sees the jungle, before escaping and finally making his way back to England, and Elspeth, presumably in 1861. He holds a blackjack bank at one point, on board the South Sea Trader!
We have his offhanded mention to confirm that, early in 1862, he was at the Curragh, assisting HRH The Prince of Wales inspecting troops. Flashman has not mentioned acquaintance with the Prince at any earlier stage, and I would assume the appointment to have been organised by Victoria herself. This incident is infamous: Prince Albert himself came out to inspect his son’s progress, but contracted an illness that killed him shortly thereafter. Victoria blamed her son for the rest of her life and withdrew from public view for a long time. Does anyone else suspect that Flashman may have had a poltroonish role to play in all this?
Now we come to the great Lost Adventure, the one all Flashman fans wanted to read but which, unaccountably, Fraser became unwilling to write. When it comes to considering this, Flashman has given away more hints about his involvement in the American Civil War than any other unchronicled aspect of his career, enough for us to build a decent outline.
According to Flashman’s Who’s Who entry, he joined the Union Army as a Major in 1862, in circumstances unknown, but you can bet that it wasn’t willingly. Flashman does mention being blackmailed (presumably over his escapades as Beauchamp Comber) by President Lincoln into ‘saving his Union and risking my military reputation’. Given that the Union Army and its Generals prosecuted a poor campaign for at least the first two years of the war, Lincoln may simply have forced Flashman to sign up to the Army to improve its fortunes.
Or, which I find marginally more likely, the blackmail may have been to force Flashman to enter Confederate territory as a spy, travelling to the Southern White House in Virginia, i.e. the home residence of the South’s only ‘President’, Jefferson Davies.
We know from numerous references that Flashman was found on the roof of the building, but that he successfully persuaded Davies and his staff that he was there to repair the lightning conductor, escaping the consequences of being discovered as a spy, and subsequently receiving a handwritten letter of thanks from Davis!
Flashman went on, in 1863, to serve as a Colonel in the Confederate Army, under, so far as we know, his own name. How this was reconciled with his impersonation of a handyman we can only imagine, but in this role he served directly under Robert E Lee, at Gettysburg, hinting that his military advice was the main reason why this was not a massive military victory for the South, and the taking of Washington.
He was also present at the earlier Battle of Chancellorsville, where famously ‘Stonewall’ Jackson died as a result of friendly fire (undoubtedly thanks to Flashman).
At some point, Flashman was imprisoned in the infamous Confederate Prison, Libby Prison. As this had been reserved exclusively for Union officers since 1862, we have two options for when this occurred. Either Flashman was captured at some point in 1862 as an open Union officer, or, which I personally find more likely, he was exposed as a Union officer at some late point in 1863 and imprisoned then.
This would place him in custody at the time of the notable Libby prison Escape of February 1864, when a hundred Union officers escaped and returned to Union lines. Certainly, Flashman has several times referenced accompanying General Sherman in his devastating March Through Georgia, to the sea, that accelerated the end of the War, which took place between November and December that year. His appearance at Yellow Tavern took place earlier that year.
From there to the end of the War, Flashman has left no notes of his whereabouts or doings. We know him to have been present at Appamattox Courthouse, and to have witnessed Lee’s formal Surrender to Grant, and to have been back in Washington a few days later – presumably as part of the delegation sent to report victory to President Lincoln – where he had a private audience with the President. It appears, however, that Flashman arrived there with Lee’s hotly-pursued delegation, which indicates that he was back on the Southern side of affairs again!
Flashman was also present at Ford’s Theatre, though it seems to be beyond Fraser’s powers to have placed him in the Presidential box for Booth’s actual shot, and we may assume he was close at hand until Lincoln was declared dead, but we have no further evidence of his presence in America at this time.
Flashman implies at one point that he returned to England for brief reunions (plural: at least two) with Elspeth during the five years from 1862 to 1867. It is more than likely that once the Civil War was officially over, and Lincoln, the only other man to know the full details of Flashman’s service was dead, he returned to England.
Whether he returned during the Civil War is entirely speculative. The only time there seems to have been room for such a visit would be the 1864 – 1865 period, but the problem with this is that, having escaped from American, what could have got him back to the New World when the War was still in progress?
After the Civil War, Flashman returns to England and is reunited with Elspeth, albeit for a fairly short time. His next known adventure is in Mexico, as aide de camp to the Emperor Maximilian, towards the end of his short reign.
Fraser has supplied a surprising amount of detail about this escapade, though most of it is concentrated upon the fall-out, and Maximilian’s execution. What we do know is that he joins Maximilian in February 1867, on the run from the Foreign Legion, who want him as a deserter, and that prior to joining Maximilian, he took part in a bandit raid organised by Jesus Montero, who is under the impression that Flashman knows the whereabouts of Montezuma’s Treasure.
We know the end: can we suggest a plausible beginning?
I have already tentatively assigned Flashman a period in the Foreign Legion twenty years previously, with his bullet wound incurred during desertion. Once more, this is being made up out of whole cloth, but what if…?
Flashman has once again left the country, perhaps for recreational purposes, possibly France. There, his vicious tastes lead to an encounter with an old adversary, someone who was his superior during his previous service with the Legion, and who, perhaps, was punished for allowing Flashman’s desertion.
This adversary is supervising a fresh shipment of Legion troops to join those currently in Mexico, supporting Maximilian. Flashman is seized and transported back to the Americas.
How does Flashman escape the Legion a second time? We know he was with Jesus Montero’s bandits for a time, so I’m positing that the Legion platoon Flashman was with was ambushed and slaughtered by the bandits, but that Flashman survived by promising Montero to lead him to Montezuma’s treasure.
During his time with the bandits, Flashman takes part in an attack on Maximilian and his train, possibly when they are en route to Juarez, where Maximilian removed his court in February 1867. As Flashman was sentenced to execution, and was even led out to face the firing squad during his time in Mexico, it would seem he was captured. However, he somehow convinces Maximilian that he was aiding his men, which presumably leads to his letter of reprieve (and the oft-mentioned San Serafino Order of Truth and Purity). In gratitude, Maximilian appoints Flashman aide de camp, and when the Legion come to demand his return, the Emperor refuses. This may prove to be a factor in the Legion withdrawing from Mexico, leaving the Emperor vulnerable.
Flashman remains in Juarez until the end. He encounters,and is unable to seduce, Princess Agnes Salm-Salm. The Republic overwhelms and captures Maximilian.
Flashman then joins in the near-successful attempt by Aggy Salm-Salm and Montero (an unlikely pair: I’m not even going to try to guess how they come together, though I’d be surprised if Montero wasn’t still playing for the Treasure). However, Maximilian refuses to escape, as being below his royal dignity, and Flashman watches the execution from concealment on a nearby roof.
He is then chosen to escort Maximilian’s body home, to Trieste, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which leads to his next recorded exploit. Anxious to escape the consequences of seducing the Captain’s teenage daughter, Flashman agrees to escort British funds to Egypt, where General Sir Bob Napier is mounting an expedition into Abyssinia, to recover British hostages help by its mad Emperor, Theodore.
Unfortunately, his fame having traveled before him as usual, Flashman is persuaded into another intelligence role, keeping distant of the main advance on a cross-country trek to the Galla tribe, where he is to persuade them to cut off Theodore’s escape routes. It is his first military service for his country since Pekin.
Flashman is successful, at the cost of alienating his native guide, Uliba-Wark (trying to kick people over waterfalls can do that). When she spirits him away to exact revenge, he falls into the hands of Theodore, and witnesses the end of the campaign, and Theodore’s suicide, from inside the fortress Magdala. Still, he survives, with his undeserved credit further advanced, still hoping for peace and quiet.

The Flashman Papers: 1867-1868 – Flashman on the March


In the very beginning, George MacDonald Fraser claimed that the Flashman Papers, discovered concealed in a chest of drawers accidentally broken at a Leicestershire auction, consisted of a dozen or so Packets. Nearly forty years after he first conceived of Harry Flashman and his splendid dual-character, public and private, Fraser wrote his final Flashman book and, in keeping with that distant pledge, the Twelfth Packet turned out to be the last.
Though I can’t recall where I read it, I remember an interview about this book in which Fraser confirmed that he had had three possible subjects, one of which being Flashman’s Mexico adventure of 1867. Instead, influenced by contemporary events, and his deep disgust at the military  escapades launched by the Blair Government, Fraser chose to relate Flashman’s part in an obscure, long-forgotten British action, in Abyssinia, in 1868, which he held up, in his Explanatory Note, as an example of a time when British Governments acted with some honour, and did not carelessly send British troops to their death.
The Abyssinia Campaign, and Flashman’s almost complete detachment from it, were an unusual, and in many ways downbeat and minor-key ending to the Flashman saga, especially given the stories left untold: the Australian Gold Rush, Mexico, the Sudan, the Boxer Rebellion and, of course, the American Civil War. It is not a grand climax. Much is left unrelated. But it was what Fraser wanted to write about, so, considering the volume of work and research that underpinned each volume, and given that Fraser was now over eighty, it deserves to be respected.
Nevertheless, it’s an odd choice of subject, and an odd approach to the subject, in essence an admission that the military action did not provide any material for the traditional kind of Flashy escapade. It doesn’t help that Fraser starts his story by seguing out of the Mexican adventure, with enough details of what has been going on for us to take a fair stab and constructing the unwritten chronicle, especially as that detail only serves to emphasise how much more interesting the Mexican adventure would have been.
The Abyssinia expedition, under General Sir Robert Napier, was to rescue a small number of British citizens taken prisoner by the mad Emperor Theodore. The hostages are held at his seemingly impregnable citadel at Magdala, and Napier’s expedition faced a long approach, with stretched supply lines, through difficult and mountainous country.
But between Napier’s skill and experience as an Engineer, and his careful husbanding of his Army, a badly outnumbered force in hostile country and inhospitable conditions got to Magdala and defeated the Abyssinian Army without a single fatality in battle and only two deaths in the entire campaign. It’s an incredible record, but it’s also not very interesting in Flashman terms.
So what Fraser does is to send Harry off on an undercover, intelligence mission, bypassing the entire Army approach, using Flashy’s ability to impersonate native characters. What Napier wants is a secret agent who can pass undetected through a land filled with spies, to make contact with the Galla tribe and induce them to surround Magdala and cut off Theodore’s retreat. For guide, he will have the beautiful Uliba-Wark, younger sister (and threat to the throne) of the Galla Queen, Masteeat, who appears to have been created by Fraser out of a mystery Princess whose name is not known.
So Flashy’s adventure is a journey in three uneven parts. The first is undercover with Uliba-Wark, across the wilds of Abyssinia, experiencing the horrific slaughters perpetrated by Theodore, dodging gangs of thieves, screwing every night (naturally) and gradually getting closer to Galla territory, where Uliba confidently expects to overthrow her sister.
Unfortunately, Theodore’s got a very efficient spy organisation and the secret travellers are caught at the outflow of Lake Tana and have to take to the waters. The waters immediately before the Tisisat Falls, which are only about eight feet shorter than the Victoria Falls. Down which Flashy and Uliba are likely to go.
It’s his last betrayal, but it’s a doozy: Flashman’s on the boat, Uliba’s trying to join him, so he kicks her in the face to keep her off. It makes no difference: she struggles to shore and he goes over the falls, but survives, for no real reason other than Fraser needs him to. No-one believes him anyway.
Unfortunately, the experience rather puts Uliba off her lover/charge, not that this makes a difference to her elder sister Masteeat, who’s a damn sight smarter than her little pet. The Galla are happy to help out Napier’s army, and Masteeat is happy to sample Flashy’s charms, but Uliba’s a bit less keen and has him kidnapped out of the Palace for torture etc.
The problem for Uliba is that her merry little band are surprised by a merry little band of Theodore’s amazon warriors, who rescue Flashman but spear the historically doubtful Uliba somewhat comprehensively. And things only get worse when Flashman realises this little band are being led by none other than the mad king himself. This third phase is as Theodore’s prisoner.
We are used, by now, to Flashman spending time in the custody of both enemy and friend, and the volatile Theodore swings from one to another in his quite spectacular insanity, which Fraser portrays with no softening whatsoever. But it only lasts until Napier’s army arrives, ahead of schedule, and puts the Abyssinian defence to the sword. Theodore commits suicide, in accordance with history’s record, though Napier and his staff are convinced that Flashy has done his British duty (which he hasn’t) for which his only kudos are private ones since the record can’t show that a British officer put paid to a foreign ruler, eh, what?
And that, essentially, is that. Fraser’s commitment to a theme obviously personal to his interests cannot ultimately override the fact that the Abyssinian march of 1868, though unique, does not provide the material for a novel: another ‘Road to Charing Cross’, perhaps, but even there Fraser made more of a purely fictional adventure than he does here in one based in real life.
So now it was over. There were no more packets. A couple of years later, George MacDonald Fraser wrote his last book. It was not a Flashman novel, but rather a sequel to the splendidly outlandish The Pyrates, which once he told me was the favourite among his books (and it is a complete joy). That, too, was a disappointment, a dying fall, unfit to cap out his career.
Flashman on the March isn’t in that class. I’d rather have it than not, whereas The Reavers was utterly dispensable. But it was not the ending most of us would have wanted, not with so many other stories left unexplored. The Welshman in a top hat, leading a Zulu impi? Just how did Flashy persuade Jefferson Davies he was there to fix the lightning rod?
This is the last of the books but, like many before me, after one final History and Memories section, I’m going to make my own guesses as to the missing elements of Flashman’s career.

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.
Pp4-5. Flashman gives a neat little summary of the highlights of his 1867 adventure with Maximilian in Mexico, confirming that he had, amongst other things, been in service with the French Foreign Legion, pressed into service with Jesus Montero’s bandits, who believed him to know the whereabouts of Montezuma’s treasure, deserted from the Legion, been Maximilian’s aide-de-camp under false pretences, failed to persuade the emperor to escape, watched him being executed, been rescued by Princess Agnes Salm-Salm and eventually left the country as escort for Maximilian’s body, being returned to Trieste. Enough said.
P15. Flashman travels by sea from Trieste to Alexandria, in Egypt, accompanying General Napier’s warchest. From there, he travels by rail to Suez, via Cairo, but comments on having previously done the journey by camel back. When this took place, and in what circumstances, is not specified.
P33. Flashman confirms himself as retired from the Army, having seen no service for his country since China in 1860. Little does he know.
P35. Another reference to Flashman accompanying General Sherman on the drive through Georgia.
P105. Ditto.
P131. Flashman refers, not for the first time, to conversations with the celebrated Traveller, Richard Burton, here described as the ‘Great Bore of the Nile’. I have not mentioned any of these references previously as none of them indicate that Flashman and Burton ever met outside of London, in places such as the Travellers Club, but Burton should be mentioned at least once in relation to the unchronicled aspects of Flashman’s life.
P134. A first mention outside the Who’s Who entry of Flashman’s time in the ‘Fly River country’ and it references only travelling in jungle.
P135. Fraser footnotes Flashman’s reference to having been parted from Elspeth for five years now, which places his departure from England and the start of his involvement in the American Civil War to 1863. Flashman references Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Yellow Tavern, Civil War battles all, Ford’s Theatre (the scene of Lincoln’s assassination) and Queretaro (where Maximillian was first besieged, then captured and executed). Flashman refers to seeing Elspeth at brief, ‘ecstatic’ intervals, which Fraser notes implies at least two visits. Flashman may well have returned to England after the Civil War, once or even twice, but even Fraser has his doubts about any earlier return. Fraser dates this uncertain period as being from April 1865 to March 1867, but if Flashman joined Maximillian on the run from the French Foreign Legion, presumably this latter date has to be pushed forward.
P257. Flashman imagines his death-bed and the cry he plans to make excoriating the failure of his enemies to do for him. One such is Iron Eyes. Whoever he was. Appropriate for the last such reference to be so complete a mystery.

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Flashman Papers 1858-1859: Flashman and the Angel of the Lord


For a third successive Packet, I have always been somewhat dubious about this volume of Flashman’s memoirs. Flashman and the Angel of the Lord fits in between the Fifth and Eighth Packets, taking our man Harry from the end of the Indian Mutiny to a precarious position less than six months before his presence in Hong Kong, waiting to return home. It leaves an awkward gap that George MacDonald Fraser was not at all keen on filling, indeed practically dismissed, it’s about an historical figure that, in view of Fraser’s noted antipathy to the American Civil War, seems an out-of-character interest, and it diverts Flashman a long way out of his way. So much so, that even Fraser, through Flashman, comments on how odd and improbable it is.
I mean, we’re covering a period of about eighteen months in which Flashman has to get from India to China. Who would expect him to do this via the East Coast of America?
For the Angel of the Lord, as all should know, is John Brown, and Flashman is about to get himself involved in the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, the last great staging post on the road to the Civil War Fraser was so assiduous in avoiding.
How the hell does Flashman get to America when he’s on his way home from India to England, and to Lady Flashman, who has been languishing for him for no little time already? The first answer is from Cape Town, South Africa, where Flashy’s boat calls in, and Flashy enters polite society for a short while. And where there is a tremendous shock, when he comes face to face with John Charity Spring.
This is Fraser’s mechanism. Spring was last seen, in the first half of the Seventh Packet, face down in the blancmange, being shanghaied towards South Africa. It comes as no surprise that a man of his forceful personality should have risen in society in the past near-decade, nor that he still harbours a modicum of resentment towards Flashy.
So, using his teenage daughter as bait (she screws, though that isn’t part of Spring’s plan), he lures Sir Harry to his own shanghai-ing which, with appropriate dramatic irony, sees him abandoned in America, once more as Beauchamp Comber.
And that’s where Flashy’s problems really start.
He’s abandoned in Baltimore, drugged, penniless, friendless, and with the Police having had forty-eight hours notice of Comber’s return. But Flashman has one inestimable advantage he didn’t have, ten years earlier, and that is that he is (Sir) Harry Flashman, VC and hero: all he has to do is to get to the British Consulate and reveal his identity.
However, the Police seem to be the only ones not interested in laying hands on Beauchamp Comber. Three highly secretive organisations do want the erstwhile Naval Lieutenant but, improbably, these three disparate organisations, with widely different aims and goals, all want the exact same thing from our hero: that he join the little band of the notorious Abolitionist, John Brown, as his military expert, on his supposedly secret mission to invade the State of Virginia and capture Harper’s Ferry.
First out of the blocks is the Underground Railroad, and its frail, ageing but no less fanatical leader, Mr Crixus. To Crixus, the reappearance of Comber, who he believes to be just as committed to the great Anti-Slavery cause as he is, is a literal God-send. Brown’s second-in-command and only militarily-trained support has just buggered off, and here is the faithful Beauchamp. Comber will organise the raid that will topple slavery at a blow: Brown will seize the weapons from the Armoury, and set up camp in the hills, whereupon every slave in the South will see that they have a champion, and will immediately flock to him to raise an ex-slave army.
Barmy stuff indeed, full of fanatical belief without an ounce of reason – and that’s not just Flashy’s cowardice speaking. By now, the Colonel is thirty-seven, and he’s an experienced military man who can weigh odds, and knows that they’re not in favour. Not that Crixus is capable of listening. Nor is he going to let Flashman go to report to his chief in the Consulate. After all, no matter how important Comber makes out his current mission as being, it can’t matter as much as this.
But Comber is also important to the second secret organisation. This is the Kuklos, and you might well see it as a forerunner of the Ku Klux Klan, complete to the white pointed hoods its leaders where. The Kuklos clam to be smarter than the Underground Railroad, and they might well be: they’ve had Joe Simmons, a black slave belonging to their high leader Atropos, implanted in the Railroad as a mole for years.
And Joe gets Flashman out, secretly, but not to go to his Consulate. Rather he’s picked up and distracted by a lady of the evening, whose carriage takes him to another secret destination to meet the next group of madmen who want to use him.
And it turns out that this is the second of the three great coincidences that power this story, as adverted to by Flashy when pondering how ill this adventures fits in with the rest of his career. For the aforementioned elfin-proportioned lady turns out to be not merely Atropos’ wife, but the former Mrs Annette Mandeville, one of Flashy’s more energetic bed-partners in Flash for Freedom. (Flashman did say that he would meet her again in unexpected circumstances, but that reference was to something during the Civil War, not in it’s run-up).
Assuming he’s been taken to keep him from joining John Brown, Flashman is astonished to learn that that’s exactly what the Kuklos want him to do! By all means, get Brown through to invade Virginia, and not only will the silly, stupid blacks not be so stupid as to join him, but instead Brown’s raid will be taken by the South as an indication of what the North want to do to them. It will unite the South on the road to the Dissolution of the Union, and preserve their God-ordained way of life.
Incidentally, just in case Flashy might be tempted to waver at any time, Joe’s going to join John Brown with him. Joe won’t move from Flashy’s side, and he’s a crack shot. And anyway, the Kuklos will have agents watching absolutely everywhere.
Not quite. Flashman did mention three coincidences, although he fails to call the third for what it is. But the third organisation out to speak to him is no other than American Intelligence, using the services of the already redoubtable Pinkerton Detective Agency, and their mole in the Kuklos – who only happens to be Annette Mandeville!
And guess what? They also want Flashy to serve with John Brown and plot the raid on Harper’s Ferry.
Their motives are the most twisted of all. Though Brown’s ‘secret’ plan is about as widely known as it’s possible to be without inventing the Internet and shipping it back to 1859, Intelligence, in the form of the long-nosed, lean and laconic Mr Messervy, can’t move against it for political reasons and they can’t let it happen. So what better than a military advisor who can gain Brown’s trust, work out the best plan and, in doing so, demonstrate to John Brown that it can’t be done, none of it?
Oh, and in case that doesn’t work, someone who can shoot Brown in the back before he ever gets near the Virginia State line.
This time though, Flashman has the upper hand. This is no secret organisation that could murder him out of hand, it’s the US Government and he’s Harry Flashman, not Beauchamp Comber and this time he’s revealing it. Which is where the third coincidence comes in, because the idea of Comber being Flashman is preposterous, even after Flashy tells (most of) the story of how he got here. But there’s one man here who can confirm that Harry is Harry and that’s Allan Pinkerton, who used to work for John Morrison in Glasgow, who minds Elspeth and her sisters and saw Flashman for himself during the riots.
It’s utterly unbelievable, but it’s true, and it means that the US Government doesn’t have a hold on their man, who can quite legitimately refuse to sully his commission by refusing to work for a foreign power, even a friendly one.
So why does he end up joining Brown’s band and gaining the great Abolitionist’s trust? It’s all down to the Next President of the United States.
No, this is not Abraham Lincoln, but rather the now-forgotten William Henry Seward, a master politician and, in 1859, the man expected to be the nascent Republican Party’s candidate for the Presidency. A genial, intelligent man who doesn’t try to override Flashman’s refusal, merely chatters on about his forthcoming trip to England, where he’s be presented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and will be pleased to talk to them about the situation in America and officers he has met…
So, blackmail it is and, after a long, complex, fascinating preparation, with nearly two-thirds of the book written, Flashman finally meets John Brown, and we see the man whose fame lives on for the first time.
This is one of those times that we really understand that we are seeing these historical figures through the eyes of George MacDonald Fraser, and that Flashman is merely a filter. I have always argued that the Flashman novels are not merely superb history, delivered in an extremely palatable fashion, but that Flashman himself is a perfect metaphor for the Nineteenth Century, and British Imperial History. The same goes here for John Brown, the Angel of the Lord, one of the prime catalysts of the Civil War and by that token, American history to the present day. To put it at its simplest, the man is a fool. A complex fool, but a fool nevertheless. The long summer of preparation, on which Flashman does not stint for detail, convinces us that Harper’s Ferry cannot be anything but a disaster.
But Flashman’s account of what went on establishes that it could have been a complete and utter success, but for one thing: John Brown. Brown, like Crixus, like Atropos too, in a different manner, lives in a world of fantasy. He is inspiring, uncannily so, and not unintelligent, but the truth is that he just doesn’t know what to do. Flashman doesn’t belabour the point, but Brown has spent so much time earnestly believing that God will provide that when the moment comes that his efforts can succeed on their own, he is paralysed by indecision and fantasy.
Brown’s ability to inspire is at its most demonstrative in the person of Joe Simmons who, rattled to his core by the simple fact that Brown automatically treats him as an equal, as no white man has before, as Atropos never has though they were brought up together as children, reverses his whole belief and becomes a convert to Brown and Abolition.
Nevertheless, Harper’s Ferry turns into a disaster. Flashman attempts to duck out whilst handling one of the most absurd aspects of the entire affair, a breakfast order for forty-eight at the local hotel, and spends several; hours in the, ahem, company of the voluptuous and lascivious Mrs Popplewell, a coloured lady, but it is no more than an interval (and overall a somewhat awkward one to justify in terms of the course of events at Harper’s Ferry) before he’s back under siege.
Famous names from Flashy’s future are unexpectedly present: Colonel Robert E. Lee for one, and Jeb Stuart, who I never previously knew had been there at Harper’s Ferry (you always learn with Fraser), and the latter is closely involved with the abrupt end to things. The Armoury is invaded, Flashman saves Brown’s life when Joe, his vision betrayed by Brown’s indecision, draws on the old man and Flashy, whom Messervy has tactfully suggested should ensure Brown doesn’t survive to have his day in Court and speak his words, shoots Joe in the back.
After that, it’s nothing but clean-up, rapidly and efficiently done. The records will be completed without mention of either Beauchamp Comber or Joe Simmons (a neat job by Fraser), Joe will be secretly buried and Flashman sped out of the country instanter: train to Baltimore, ship to Liverpool.
And there’s even Mrs Popplewell, popping up on the train  to enjoy Harry’s marital arts one more time. It’s a good job he’s as good he thinks he is because the sybaritic Hannah finds herself unable to do her duty. You see, she’s an agent too, of the Kuklos. And Atropos is going to be pretty darned unhappy with Comber when Joe’s body is unburied… But Flashy’s given her the kind of orgasm she’s never had before (not that Fraser ever puts it so blatantly) and for that she’ll save him. Quick, off the train here, now, the last stop before Baltimore…
Which gives us Fraser’s traditional abrupt ending, whilst also avoiding the next and most difficult piece of the puzzle, namely, how on earth does Flashman, alone and friendless one railroad stop short of Baltimore, hunted by a ruthless and powerful secret organisation, get from the East Coast of North America to Hong Kong, six months later?
In this book, Fraser suggests that an answer will lie in a future packet but, later on, he will casually dismiss this interruption on Flashman’s history is minor and trivial, washing his hands of explaining away a most awkward gap.
Make no mistake, Flashman and the Angel of the Lord is a very good book, much better than its two predecessors combined. It is intense and detailed, and Fraser’s attention to his subject and its obvious appeal to him makes it very strange that, within a relatively short space of time, he was dismissing the idea of ever writing Flashman’s Civil War memoirs. The Tenth Packet doesn’t read like the work of someone who couldn’t be interested in bringing all his little hints, nods and winks together into a coherent story.
But when this book was published, George MacDonald Fraser was 69. The periods between Flashman books were growing longer and longer. The Eleventh Packet, as we will shortly see, would not contain a complete novel. Slowly, I am coming round to the belief that Fraser recognised that he was too old, that he no longer had the energy for the research and thought that would have been necessary to pack into ‘Flashman and The War Between The States’, even if, as most Flashman scholars believe, our Harry doesn’t wind up joining the colours until 1862, and that his dismissive response was an attitude to cover this up.
That’s my theory anyway, drawn solely from reading the books. Whether it holds any water, I shall doubtless never know.
However, Fraser was sufficiently fascinated by John Brown, and the match that lit the fuse, to drag his character halfway round the world, and leave him having to go nearly halfway back to get back on track. That, at the end of the day, is what leaves me doubtful about the Tenth Packet, that it has to be built upon open contrivance to come about, in the same way that the two halves of Flashman and the Dragon don’t fit naturally together. It makes me feel that a younger Fraser would have managed things much better.
The Eleventh Packet further amplifies that disquiet.

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. Flashman’s memoir of John Brown is apparently inspired by an afternoon with his great-grandchildren at Gandamack Lodge, in the summer of 1913, two years before his death. I mention this only to draw a contrast with the preceding Packet, seemingly written a whole twenty-six years previously.
P16. John Brown’s expedition didn’t conquer Dixie but Flashman did, with General Sherman.
P21. Flashman identifies himself as appearing in the Countess of Cardigan’s Recollections under the pseudonym of Baldwin, and thanks heaven that the memoirs don’t include him cowering under Fanny Paget’s sofa, next to a private detective, whilst Cardigan himself performs the capital act, and Paget returns to give his faithless wife a black eye. According to the excellent Flashman Chronology (insert link) the Baldwin incident took place in early 1843. Lord Paget, husband of Fanny, brought an unsuccessful suit against Cardigan for adultery in December 1843, which presumably makes the two escapades contemporaneous.
P22. Flashman records the various incidents of his career to demonstrate how out of place his adventure with John Brown was. He skips straight from the Punjab (Flashman and the Mountain of Light) to Germany (Royal Flash) without giving any whereabouts for the missing period between, and goes directly from China (Flashman and the Dragon) to the American war, and thence to Mexico… Flashman’s role in Emperor Maximilian’s doomed expedition to Mexico has been fleetingly mentioned previously, but will receive its most detailed treatment as background to the Twelfth and final Packet.
P30. Flashman takes time out to explain the political situation in South Africa at the brief time he was in Cape Town, and speculates that if the Government in London hadn’t thought it knew better than its Governor, George Grey, “two damned dirty and costly wars” might have been avoidable. Flashman comments that he never served much in Africa, nor took to it, but the two wars in question are almost certainly the Zulu War (1879), in which Flashman was involved as an observer, and the Boer War (1899 – 1902), which Flashman seemingly observed though, for once, did not get involved in.
p64. Flashy’s shanghai-ing from Cape Town is the first of three such experiences in his career, all the responsibility of women. The next, chronologically, was the conclusion of Flashman and the Dragon but there is no other mention in the Papers  of the third, by Fanny Duberly. Presumably it was later than 1860, and Flashman was not drugged at the time, plus Mrs Duberly had no ill intentions towards him, or so he says. Flashman has already met Fanny twice, once as Fanny Locke, and they both saw service in the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny, although without meeting on that occasion. Unless Flashman is blaming her for his flight from England in Flash for Freedom, it is anyone’s guess where, when and why.
P104. Flashman gives a lengthy statement on his beliefs about the American Constitution (he’s not in favour) in stressing the inevitability of their Civil War, which he condemns as ‘the vile slaughter of the Anglo-Saxon-Norman-Celtic race’. His opinions are influenced by standing on Cemetery Ridge after Pickett’s Charge, one more detail of his service. Flashman goes on to recount his last conversation with Lincoln, hours before the latter’s death. Perhaps by then Fraser had already decided that he would never write that Packet.
P186. Another reference to Flashman’s service with General Gordon, who apparently sent him into undercover work, like so many others.
P234. Flashman and Brown’s most competent other follower, Kagi, go for a walk in the country, halting at a crossroads. As they make to leave, Flashman spots the name on the signpost, which he remembers for no apparent reason. It is Gettysburg.
P241. Flashman suspects that, in his long absence, his loving Elspeth got up to mischief with the future Edward VII in a Windsor potting-shed.
P264. Flashman keeps his ‘commission’ from John Brown in the same drawer as other outlandish military appointments in his career. These include his commissions in both the Union and Confederate Armies and – a lot of detail here – the illuminated scroll designating his appointment as a Knight of the San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth (Third Class).
P309. Flashman catalogues various of his wounds, the last of which being a self-inflicted graze that enabled him to collapse ‘artistically’ in the Boxer Rebellion, the last acknowledged action of his career. There is also mention of an abdominal wound inflicted by a Turkish knitting needle, which is otherwise referenced, and was probably inflicted by a bedmate rather than in any more formal action. Intriguingly, given the supposed twenty-six years since the Ninth Packet, Flashman cannot remember how he got the scar on his left palm, inflicted on him in the First Sikh War.
P320. ‘my old chief Robert Lee.’
P326. Jeb Stuart conducts the final parley, knowing Flashman to be working for Messervy. Flashman later forms a high opinion of Stuart, but never held him in higher esteem than now.
P330. Flashman lets slip that he liked Ketshwayo, that being King Ketshwayo of the Zulus. The two obviously met, but under what circumstances we never learn as there is no full account of Flashy’s role in the Zulu War.