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Authors: Robert Brightwell

Tags: #Adventure, #Historical, #Action

Flashman in the Peninsula (38 page)

BOOK: Flashman in the Peninsula
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Lord Byron

While it may seem fanciful name dropping by Flashman to include Lord Byron in a book about the Peninsular War, biographers confirm the details Flashman provides. When in London during 1808 he did stay at the Dorant’s Piccadilly Hotel. In 1809, for reasons that were never entirely clear, until now revealed by Flashman, Byron and Hobhouse left London for a tour of the Mediterranean. They landed in Lisbon and travelled from there via Seville to Cadiz and on to Gibraltar to catch a ship to take them east.

Byron did meet Agustina de Aragon. Byron was so impressed by her story that he included a reference to her in his
Childe Harold
epic. The verses found by the doubtless long suffering Miss Tuttle for the old satyr to include in this book are from that work. Byron and Hobhouse then moved on to Cadiz and arrived there in time for the Talavera celebrations, having just missed them in Seville, showing that the timing of their journey aligns with Flashman’s account.

Byron was known to be fond of dogs and even once vowed to be buried with a favourite hound. As Flashman describes, when Cambridge University pointed out that keeping a dog was against their rules, Byron retaliated by bringing a bear to university – something that Cambridge University rules unsurprisingly did not cover. The creature was kept in the university stable while Byron studied there. Byron was certainly impetuous in his decision making and it is therefore entirely possible that he would buy an Irish wolfhound from a Connaught soldier if the opportunity arose.

 

Agustina de Aragon

Despite being a national heroine, or possibly because of this, there are significant discrepancies in accounts of Agustina’s life. There is very little biographical information in English but from what there is, various places claim to be her birth place and only the events of her later years are undisputed.

Some accounts suggest she married for love, and after her child died early in the war she and her husband went to Zaragoza. There, for the glory of Spain and guided by her Christian faith, she fired the gun that stalled the French advance on the city. She was then widely used as an example of Spanish Christian womanhood with various paintings of her including one by Francisco Goya, who grew up in Zaragoza. She escaped from Zaragoza after its capture and was paraded around Seville as a national heroine. Accounts state that she had a metal shield commemorating her achievement on her sleeve rather than a medal around her neck as Flashman recalls. However there is no suggestion that she was ever re-united with her husband and the Catholic Church seems to have taken a close interest in managing her image to ensure she upheld Christian values.

Other slightly more numerous accounts point out that she was a wild child and that as a teenager she used to frequent the gates of the barracks near her home. We can only speculate what she was doing there, bearing in mind that her family was poor and she needed to earn money. Many of these accounts also suggest that she was already pregnant when she married and was not at all religious. In these versions of her life she seems to have left her husband before the siege and gone to Zaragoza with her child to stay with a sister. There she met a man called Raul and she is with him when she fires the gun. These accounts have her child dying or being killed by the French after the siege or while she escapes.

All descriptions of her personal appearance indicate that she was a very attractive woman of twenty-three when Flashman met her. While his manuscript may appear to be an appalling defamation of her Christian reputation, some catalyst evidently occurred that enabled her to escape the Church’s influence and become a successful guerrilla leader. Some accounts of her life state that later in the war Agustina left the guerrillas and went on to become the only female officer to serve with the British army in the artillery during the Peninsular War; achieving the rank of Captain at the battle of Vitoria.
However Nick Lipscombe, author of 
Wellington's Guns
 and a leading authority on the Peninsular War advises that she definitely did not command a gun in the British army.
After the war she married a doctor and settled down to a quiet life living in Zaragoza. She died aged seventy-one.

Visitors to Seville Cathedral today will see that in approximately the space where Flashman claims they stood, there is now a new tomb for the bones of Christopher Columbus. These were returned to the city in 1898.

 

Battle of Busaco

Again, Flashman’s account matches those of his contemporaries, including descriptions of the night cap worn by General Picton. The British and Portuguese were in an extremely strong position and it says something about the arrogance and confidence of the French command that they thought they could beat the allies with a frontal assault.

The charge of the Connaught Rangers was one of the highpoints of the battle and various other sources mention Wellington’s claim that it was the finest charge he ever saw. It was the first British action since Talavera over a year previously and like that battle it had little tactical importance. It was fought largely to give the army and the government a victory before retreat back to the lines. The French always had the option of outflanking the British/Portuguese position, which ultimately they did. Wellington was then forced to retreat as he could not afford to get cut off from Torres Vedras.

Thank you for reading this book and I hoped you enjoyed it. If so I would be grateful for any positive reviews on websites that you use to choose books. As there is no major publisher promoting this book, any recommendations to friends and family that you think would enjoy it would also be appreciated.

 

There is now a Thomas Flashman Books Facebook page to keep you updated on future books in the series. It also includes portraits, pictures and further information on characters and events featured in the books.

 

Also by this author

 

Flashman and the Seawolf

This first book in the Thomas Flashman series covers his adventures with Thomas Cochrane, one of the most extraordinary naval commanders of all time.
From the brothels and gambling dens of London, through political intrigues and espionage, the action moves to the Mediterranean and the real life character of Thomas Cochrane. This book covers the start of Cochrane's career including the most astounding single ship action of the Napoleonic war. 
Thomas Flashman provides a unique insight as danger stalks him like a persistent bailiff through a series of adventures that prove history really is stranger than fiction. 

Flashman and the Cobra

This book takes Thomas to territory familiar to readers of his nephew’s adventures, India, during the second Mahratta war. It also includes an illuminating visit to Paris during the Peace of Amiens in 1802.

 

As you might expect Flashman is embroiled in treachery and scandal from the outset and, despite his very best endeavours, is often in the thick of the action. He intrigues with generals, warlords, fearless warriors, nomadic bandit tribes, highland soldiers and not least a four-foot-tall former nautch dancer, who led the only Mahratta troops to leave the battlefield of Assaye in good order.

 

Flashman gives an illuminating account with a unique perspective. It details feats of incredible courage (not his, obviously) reckless folly and sheer good luck that were to change the future of India and the career of a general who would later win a war in Europe.

 

Flashman’s Escape

 

This book covers the second half of his experiences in the Peninsular War and follows on from
Flashman in the Peninsula
. While it can be read as a stand-alone novel, if you are planning to read both, it is recommended that you read
Flashman in the Peninsula
first.

 

Having lost his role as a staff officer, Flashman finds himself commanding a company in an infantry battalion. In between cuckolding his soldiers and annoying his superiors, he finds himself at the heart of the two bloodiest actions of the war. With drama and disaster in equal measure, he provides a first-hand account of not only the horror of battle but also the bloody aftermath.

 

Hopes for a quieter life backfire horribly when he is sent behind enemy lines to help recover an important British prisoner, who also happens to be a hated rival. His adventures take him the length of Spain and all the way to Paris on one of the most audacious wartime journeys ever undertaken. With the future of the French empire briefly placed in his quaking hands, Flashman dodges lovers, angry fathers, conspirators and ministers of state in a desperate effort to keep his cowardly carcass in one piece. It is a historical roller-coaster ride that brings together various extraordinary events, while also giving a disturbing insight into the creation of a French literary classic!

 

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