On This Day: The last invasion of Britain
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
February 22nd, 1797: ‘Britain invaded’ .
On February 22nd, 1797 over 1,200 French troops landed near Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. This was at a time when Britain was at war with revolutionary France and an American in French service, Brigadier-General William Tate, intended to incite an uprising and attack Bristol, then Britain’s second largest city.
The mission, however, was ill-conceived. It was originally planned as a diversion, but Tate had proceeded regardless when the larger assault at Bantry bay in Ireland was aborted. Tate was in his 70s and his troops, mostly ex-prisoners, were considered expendable. The landing was completed during the night and at daybreak on the 23rd the French set out. Before not too long many of the troops were drunk on plundered wine.
That evening they were met by British troops led by Lord John Cawdor. He had mustered the nearby yeomanry and militia, although there were only about 500 men available. Tate may have mistaken the numerous women who had come to see the spectacle for additional troops, as they stood with the British soldiers wearing their red shawls and black hats. Or it may have been a simple lack of confidence in his men. But the American commander decided to surrender to the smaller British force, and the last invasion of Britain was over.
1. Smith, R., (2005), ‘Britain is invaded’, BBC History Magazine Volume 6, Number 2, p. 11.