The battle of Fishguard of 1797 was the last time foreign troops landed on British soil, despite many later attempts by the French (most famously under Napoleon). However as this book soon makes clear this really wasn’t a serious invasion – the force involved was small and unruly, it was only a minor part of a much larger failed plan, and its orders were wildly unrealistic and largely based on the idea that Wales was ready to rise in revolutionary fervour at the first chance.
The actual invasion itself didn’t actually last for very long, which gives the author the space to give a really detailed background to the entire expedition. This includes its general background within the French revolution, the various French attempts to land invasion forces in Britain and Ireland, which perhaps came closest to success with the arrival of a French fleet off Bantry Bay in Ireland, as well as the personal histories of the leaders of the French force, the nature of the French force and a detailed look at the French plan.
Once we get to the expedition itself things started to go wrong almost from the start. The initial aim of an attack on Bristol had to be cancelled. Other landings in Ireland and near Newcastle had already been cancelled. Plan B was to land in Cardigan Bay, and technically the French just about managed that, but only just! After landing their mission was to cross Wales, raise a revolution and attack Liverpool and Cheshire, but in the even they barely moved from their initial landing spot. Carradice does a very good job of explaining the failure of the invasion to achieve anything, looking at the local response, the make-up of the French force and the character of its leader.
Sadly one of the most famous legends about the invasion – the story that the French mistook Welsh women in their traditional red dress and tall black hats for British redcoats and as a result decided to surrender turns out not to be true. The local women did play a part in repelling the raid, and the famous Jemima Nicholas was indeed a real person, who probably captured several of the French, but as the author proves the timing of the French surrender doesn’t actually give time for the legend to be true (mainly because the French commander decided to surrender so quickly!).
This is an excellent account of the last (to date!) time hostile foreign troops landed on British soil.
1 – A Prelude to Disaster
2 – Revolution in France
3 – The Directory Lays its Plans
4 – Diversion and Attack
5 – The Legion Noire
6 – Towards Fishguard
7 – Tate’s Landing
8 – Defending the Nation
9 – Establishing the Beachhead
10 – Went the Day Well?
11 – A Time of Duty and Disaster
12 – The Fleet Leaves
13 – Surrender
14 – The Aftermath
15 – Effects
16 – Players Departing the Stage
17 – The British, Too
Author: Phil Carradice
Publisher: Pen & Sword History