The Flashman Papers
Quite by chance, in a household furniture sale in Leicestershire in 1965, one of the most remarkable historical discoveries of recent times was made. A series of manuscripts dubbed, "the Flashman Papers," were unearthed. They appeared to be the personal diary of Sir Harry Flashman (1822 - 1915), the great hero of the Victorian Age, seemingly to have been written by him between 1900 and 1905 and hidden by members of his family.
The Flashman Papers were to immediately raise considerable controversy, confirming the rumor that Sir Harry and "Harry Flashman" the bully, cad and drunk mentioned by Tom Brown in Tom Brown's Schooldays were one and the same.
Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman was the most decorated soldier of the Victorian Age. The only person ever to win the Victoria Cross, Chevalier, Legion of Honour and Congressional Medal of Honour and was hero of a dozen military campaigns, from the Burning of the Summer Palace to witnessing the death of Gordon in Khartoum, from acting as liaison to Sitting Bull to being with the French Foreign Legion in Mexico. Sir Harry had already written a series of memoirs in his younger days entitled "Dawns and Departures of a Soldier's Life." These seemingly gave the definitive account of his life story, his leading of The Light Brigade, his recovery of the Ko-He-Noor for the British crown, his stand at Rourke's Drift and his clashing of swords with Custer while serving in Jeb Lee's cavalry.
The Flashman papers were, however, to contradict this and cast a huge shadow over the life of the great British hero. Written by Flashman just before his death, he opens by admitting that he no longer has any reason not to tell the truth. Flashman redresses many of his roles in the great military actions of the day. He admits that, while Cardigan calmly smoked a cheroot all the way to the Russian guns, he wet himself. What makes the Flashman Papers remarkable is Flashman's candid honesty. Flashman openly admits from page one, that he is a coward and a bounder, has no morals, cares nothing for anyone but himself and never did anything in a military action but run away. Flashman, however, is more than this - he is an honest, objective narrator of events caring not a fig for either the British or the enemy, but for his own skin, and he gives a totally unbiased account of history. Even more, he is a philosopher not swayed by any ideology or ever caught up in any patriotic or righteous spirit, but simply viewing any event from a perspective of personal survival.
The Flashman papers give uncompromising cynical first hand accounts of some of the most famous events of Victorian history. Standing beside the great men of the day, Flashman condemns patriotism filled heroes as damned fools. Flashman also tells of the non military aspects of his life - how he pimped for the Prince of Wales, led a wagon train west in 49, personally smuggled a shipload of slaves from Africa, and even became a captive in the harem of the queen of Madagascar. Flashman was also a renown sportsman. In 1843, Flashman played for Rugby-Old-Boys vs England, where he bowled a hatrick, taking out England’s three best batsmen. He was invited to tour with the England team.
Apart from Flashman being a great coward, he was one of the foremost amorists of the day. Frequenting brothels from Calcutta to New Orleans, and even owning one once, Flashman counted almost every woman he met amongst his admirers, from queen to harlot, and made little personal distinction. Flashman bedded some of the great beauties of the age, including Lola Montez and Lily Langtry. He also had exotic tastes and found himself in the beds of Yenola (later Empreress Cixi), the Maharani Jindan and Rani Lakshmibai during diplomatic missions to their courts. On many occasions, his amourous adventures would get him into trouble. Once, he tried to hide in Bismark's cab when fleeing the police who had just raided a London brothel he was in. Bismark immediately called the police and turned him in. Another time, whilst crawling out of the Singapore brothel, he bumped into James Brooke, the white Maharaja of Sarawak, and wound up, reluctantly, pirate hunting in Borneo with him. Flashman also bedded some of the strongest and most independant women of the age, including the war correspondent Fanny Duberly, Szu-Zhan the Chinese Bandit Queen and even married Sonsee-Array, the Apache Princess, his 3rd wife at the time.
Flashman's Who's Who Entry, one of the longest in the publication,
Flashman, Harry Paget. Brigadier-general, V.C., K.C.B., K.C.I.E.; Chevalier, Legion of Honour; Order of Maria Theresa, Austria; Order of the Elephant, Denmark (temporary); U.S. Medal of honor; San Serafino Order of purity and truth, 4th Class. b May 5, 1822, s of H. Buckley Flashman, Esq., Ashby and Hon. Alicia Paget; m. Elspeth Rennie Morrison, d. of Lord Paisley; one s., one d. educ. Rugby School. 11th Hussars, 17th Lancers. Served Afghanistan, 1841-42 (medals, thanks of Parliament); chief of staff to H. M. James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak Batang Lupar expedn, 1844; milit. advisor, H.M. Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, 1844-5; Sutlej campaign, 1845-6 (Ferozeshah, Sobraon, envoy extraordinary to Maharani Jeendan, Court of Lahore); polit. advisor to Herr (later Chancellor Prince) Von Bismarck, Schleswig-Holstein, 1847-8; Crimea staff (Alma, Sevastopol, Balaclava), Prisoner of war, 1854; Artillery adviser to Atilik Ghazi, Syr Daria campaign, 1855; Sepoy Mutiny, 1857-8, dip, envoy to HRH the Maharani of Jhansi, trooper 3rd Native Cavalry, Meerut, subseq. att, Rowbotham's Mosstroopers, Cawnpore, (Lucknow, Gwalior, etc., V.C.); Adjutant to Captain John Brown, Harper's Ferry, 1859; China campaign 1860, polit. mission to Nanking, Taiping Rebellion, polit. and other services, Imperial Court, Pekin U.S. Army (major, Union forces, 1862; colonel (staff) Army of the Confederacy, 1863); a.d.c. to H.I.M. Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, 1867; interpreter and observer Sioux campain, U.S. 1875-6 (Camp Robinson conference, Little Bighorn, etc.); Zulu War, 1879 (Isandhlwana, Rorke's Drift); Egypt 1882 (Kassassin, Tel-el-Kebir); personal bodyguard to H.I.M. Franz-Joseph, Emperor of Austria 1883; Sudan 1884-5 (Khartoum); Pekin Legations, 1900. Travelled extensively in military and civilian capacities among them supercargo, merchant marine (West Africa); agriculturist (Mississippi valley); wagon captain and hotelier (Santa Fe Trail); buffalo hunter and scout (Oregon Trail); courier (Underground Railroad); majordomo (India), prospector (Australia); trader and missionary (Solomen Islands, Fly River, etc.); lottery supervisor (Manila); diamond Broker and horse coper (Punjab); dep. marshall, U.S.; occasional actor and impersonator. Hon. mbr of numerous societies and clubs, including Sons of the Volsungs (Strackenz), Mimbreno Apache Copper Mines band (New Mexico), Kokand Horde (Central Asia), Kit Carson's Boys (Colorado), Brown's Lambs (Maryland), M.C.C., Whites and United Service (London, both resigned), Blackjack (Batavia). Chmn, Flashman and Bottomley, Ltd.; dir. British Opium Trading Co.; governor, Rugby School; hon. pres. Mission for Reclamation of Reduced Females. Publications: Dawns and Departures of a Soldier's Life; Twixt Cossack and Cannon; The Case Against Army Reform. Recreation: oriental studies, angling, cricket (performed first recorded "hat-trick"; Wickets of Felix, Pilch and Mynn for 14 runs; Rugby Past and Present v Kent, Lord's 1842; 5 for 12, Mynn's Casuals v All Engand XI, 1843). Add. Gandamack Lodge, Ashby, Leics.
11 Volumes of the Flashman Papers have been published so far. They are edited by George MacDonald Fraser and are published by HarperCollins.