The 22nd February 2017 marks the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Fishguard also known as “The last invasion of Britain”. This unusual map records this French military incursion from 22nd – 24th February 1797 and shows the positions, deployments and activities of opposing forces from the 22nd until the French surrender two days later. The map, prepared by local land surveyor Thomas Propert, was dedicated to Lord Cawdor, commander of the British troops.
Another less detailed map was published by Laurie and Whittle.
The French invasion in support of the Society of United Irishmen consisted of a main force of 15,000 men destined for Ireland and two smaller diversionary forces planned to land in Wales and north east England. Unfavourable weather and troop unruliness thwarted all but the Welsh landing, the subsequent intent being to march on Bristol. The overall objective was to initiate an uprising against the English which would culminate in London.
Some 1,400 troops commanded by Irish-American Colonel William Tate landed by night at secluded Carregwastad, near Fishguard. Discipline soon broke down and many irregulars deserted, some embarking on a looting spree. The remaining troops confronted a hurriedly amassed group of around 500 British reservists, militia and seamen under the command of John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor a captain in the Pembroke Yeomanry. Many local inhabitants also armed themselves with makeshift weapons and gathered in Fishguard.
Ill-discipline and desertion sapped morale and the invasion lost momentum. Also, the Welsh proved hostile, failing to welcome the invaders as they had hoped and furthermore their escape became unfeasible following the departure of the French warships. Consequently two French officers arrived at Fishguard to negotiate surrender and were issued with an ultimatum that they had until 10 am on the 24th to do so. The invaders disarmed at nearby Goodwick and were marched away to jail, to be returned to France in a prisoner exchange in 1798.
It is famously reported that folk heroine, Jemima Nicholas single-handedly rounded up twelve French soldiers with a pitchfork and it has been conjectured that some of the invaders may have mistaken women in traditional tall black hats and red cloaks for British infantry, thus overestimating the size of the opposition.
This post is also available in: Welsh