Flashman deserves his reputation.
Flashman tells us that his laurels were earned through base cowardice, conniving and lechery, but can we believe him? The popular cliche is that a true hero isn't a fearless man, it's a man who faces his fear - and Flashy does exactly that in a lot of the books. He frequently goes into insanely dangerous situations despite pant-wetting terror because, he claims, it's the only way to save his reputation.
He's kidding himself.
He goes into those situations because there's a job that needs doing, and he's the one who can do it. He's afraid not because he's a coward, but because he's not an idiot - but he has courage enough to see it through.
Unfortunately, being A) Victorian and B) British, he's surrounded by people who never, ever, talk about their feelings.So he genuinely believes he's the only person present who finds the situation terrifying, and therefore condemns himself as a coward. His firm belief in his own cowardice then colours his recollection of events - maybe he charged past the Russian guns and into the Cossacks because he was confused, or maybe he did it because he was angry but, in hindsight, can't believe anger could make a coward like him so stupid.
Note that, while brave, Flashman does have a strong sense of self-preservation and is extremely Genre Savvy. As such, he's not going to take stupid risks. Again, his biased recollection colours this good sense as cowardice.
Flashman was responsible for the loss of Order 191.
We'll never know the details of Flashman's involvement in the American Civil War. We know he fought on both sides and was praised by both Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln, and claimed that, but for his incompetence, the South would have won at Gettysburg. But there are many mysteries of the war that he might have taken part in, and one is Order 191, the Confederate order found wrapped around cigars by a Union soldier, which led to the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg. No one knows how it was lost, but odds are Flashman had something to do with it.
Oh come on, you knew this was coming.
- Wouldn't that be pre-incarnation?
- And McAuslan is the pre-incarnation of Jurgen.
Flashman - unknown to himself - has mutant superpowers that make him a Pornomancer
As a handsome The Casanova
he naturally has a great deal of luck with the ladies but at times his ability seems to go beyond this and even women who have every reason to hate him fall under his spell. In Flashman and the Redskins
he claim's that he would have been able to talk a vengeful ex-lover into forgiving him for selling her to the American Indians if she hadn't gagged him - and that she only gagged him because she realised he could get to her. In the same book he admits he can't fully explain his power over women.
Flashy's abilities seem to fall under the Charm Person trope. He doesn't have a Compelling Voice - he gets women to fall for him faster and deeper if he can speak but a look alone can do a lot.
The Flashman Papers are a forgery
The Papers contain numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies, as admitted in Fraser's footnotes, but a lot of these are hard to explain in-universe. A particularly glaring example is in Flashman's Lady
, when Flashman, following a battle against pirates in Borneo, recounts how he witnessed the execution of a certain pirate, only for a footnote to explain that not only did no executions take place after this particular battle, but the pirate in question is known to have still been alive at a later date. In the same book Flashman "discovers" that the White Raja of Sarawak was castrated by a bullet wound, but a footnote acknowledges that this is bullshit. Also in the same book the whole thing happens because Flashman encounters and remembers Tom Brown but the chronologically later Flashman in the Great Game
establishes that Flashman has no idea who he is
, and the dates place him in Madagascar at the same time as Flashman and the Mountain of Light
puts him in India. All of these are easy explainable from a Real Life
perspective as Fraser making mistakes or wanting to make the story more interesting, but in-universe it's difficult to explain some of them, particularly the first one, if the papers are in fact genuine. You could say that this only proves Flashman's Lady
, which was canonically "discovered" after some of the other papers were published, was forged, but several other books reference Flashman's Lady
, so if that's a forgery then they presumably are too, and these books are in turn connected to other books in the series.