Flying Colours
Flying Colours Cover1
Author C.S. Forester
Publication 1938
Publication Order
Preceded by
A Ship of the Line
Followed by
Hornblower and His Majesty
Nov 1810 Jun 1811
Preceded by
Hornblower's Charitable Offering
Followed by
Hornblower and His Majesty

Flying Colours describes the adventures of Horatio Hornblower and his companions escaping from imprisonment in Napoleonic France and returning to England.

It was originally published in 1938 as the third in the series, but is eighth by internal chronology.

Plot summaryEdit

At the end of the previous novel, A Ship of the Line, after attacking and severely damaging a superior French squadron with HMS Sutherland, Hornblower had to strike the flag and capitulate to the French. He and his surviving crew are imprisoned in the French-occupied Spanish fortress of Rosas on the Mediterranean Sea. From the walls of Rosas, Hornblower witnesses an English raid leading to the final destruction of the French ships he immobilized.

Soon afterwards, Hornblower is notified that he is being sent to Paris to be tried as a pirate for his previous actions, including the capture of a battery and some coastal vessels using a ruse of war. Hornblower, his first lieutenant, Bush, who is still recovering from the loss of a foot in the fighting, and his coxswain, Brown, are taken away in a carriage by an Imperial aide-de-camp.

The carriage becomes stuck on a road near the river Loire, and part of the escort leaves to get help from Nevers, the next town. Hornblower and Brown overpower the remaining guards and steal a small boat on the river. With Bush, they set out downstream. The boat eventually capsizes in some rapids. Hornblower and Brown carry Bush towards the nearest building, which happens to be the Chateau de Graçay. The Comte de Graçay, a member of the old French nobility who has lost three sons in Napoleon's wars, and his widowed daughter-in-law, Marie, welcome them and protect them from the authorities, who eventually give up on the search.

The party spends the winter as guests of the Comte and prepare for an escape in late spring. During these months, Bush recovers and learns to walk with a wooden leg. He helps Brown build a new boat to continue their voyage downstream. Meanwhile, Hornblower and Marie have a short, but intense love affair.

Springtime comes and the river is in perfect condition for travel. Disguised as a fishing party, the escapees make their way to the port city of Nantes. There, they change their disguise to that of high-ranking Dutch customs officers in French service. They manage to recapture the cutter Witch of Endor, taken as a French prize the year before. Manning it with a prison work gang, they take the ship out of the harbour and find the British blockading fleet.

Here, Hornblower learns that his wife Maria had died in childbed; his son, Richard, survived and was adopted by his acquaintance Lady Barbara, widow of the late Admiral Leighton and sister of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington.

Returning to Portsmouth, Hornblower faces a court-martial for the loss of the Sutherland. However, he is acquitted with highest honours and finds himself a celebrity for his exploits in the Mediterranean and his daring escape from France. He is received by the Prince Regent (the later King George IV), who makes him a knight of the Order of the Bath and a Colonel of Marines (a sinecure providing worthy officers with extra income). Together with the prize money from his time on the Sutherland and from the Witch of Endor, he is finally financially secure and free to court Lady Barbara.

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