On This Day

Last Invasion of Britain

French troops surrendering to British forces at Goodwick Sands near Fishguard in Wales. Drawing by James Baker.
French troops surrendering to British forces at Goodwick Sands near Fishguard in Wales. Drawing by James Baker.

Historical Context

In 1797, the European continent was engaged in a struggle with the France, which had deposed its monarchy following the French Revolution in 1787. This first conflict, between 1792 and 1797, consisted of a lightly-allied coalition (now known as the First Coalition) intervened against France for various political and territorial reasons.

By 1797, the Coalition's advances into France had been repelled by the French, who had moved further into territory surrounding the country. French general Lazar Hoche devised a plan to invade mainland Britain in this late phase of the conflict. The idea was to attack in support of the Society of United Irishmen (a revolutionary republican organization allied with France.) by landing a diversionary force in Britain, and then a main force in Ireland.

Two forces (the main one in Ireland and the second one in Britain) were forced to cancel their attack due to inclement weather. The third went ahead, landing near Fishguard in Wales, on February 22, 1797. These forces had the aim of taking Bristol. The French troops consisted of 1,400 troops from the Black Legion. Discipline among irregular troops collapsed almost immediately upon landing as they went off to loot nearby settlements.

French morale was low; many soldiers had simply vanished during the night, and the local Welsh population was far more hostile than they had expected. British commander Lord Cawdor arrived with around 600 men on February 23, but held off attacking immediately. The French commanders believed the British had many more troops and, with no real prospect of escape or success, decided to surrender at 2pm on February 24, 1797.

Most of the French invasion force and its commander, William Tate, were imprisoned until they were sent back to France in a prisoner exchange in 1798.

The attack at Fishguard is the last time hostile forces landed on British soil and is often referred to as the 'last invasion of Britain.'

Drawing Info

Artist: James Baker
Location drawn: Fishguard, Wales, Great Britain

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1797-02-22 The Last Invasion of Britain, launched by the French during the Revolutionary Wars, begins near Fishguard, Wales
  • 1797-02-24 Colonel William Tate and his force of 1,000-1,500 soldiers surrender after the Last Invasion of Britain (according to legend, to Welsh women in tall black hats, mistaken for elite guards regiment)

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