Dear Mr. Cornwell. I recently saw the movie The Four Feathers, and during the opening credits it states that the white feather was a symbol of cowardice in the British Army. Would you happen to know when/why this was started? Was this also true during Sharpe's era? Thanks, and I also want to state that I enjoy ALL of your books, especially the Arthur trilogy.
I suspect it was. I've never thought about it, but Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says that the saying comes from cock-fighting, and that when a gamebird has had enough and wants out of the fight it raises the hackle feathers on its neck which are fringed with white - so it's showing a surrender flag, and thus the saying. I've no idea if that's true, but it sounds convincing.