At 2am on February 22nd 1797 troops of Revolutionary France, under the command of Irish American Colonel William Tate, landed at Carreg Wastad near Fishguard, Wales, marking the beginning of the last invasion of mainland Britain. They had originally been part of a much larger invasion force, however, owing to atrocious weather, outbreaks of mutiny and indiscipline, only Tate’s force made landfall, and he did so in the wrong place. The original plan was to land near Bristol, some 100 miles further east.
Tate and his well armed force of 600 Regular Troops, plus another 800 Republicans, deserters, convicts and Royalist prisoners, made their way inland and established a base near Trehowel Farm, about a mile from their landing site. Unfortunately, it appears deserters, convicts and prisoner do not make reliable soldiers, and within a few hours, most had decided to part with the invasion force and engage in a bit of looting. Discipline broke down even further when those who remained discovered the local wine supply (salvaged from a Portuguese wreck a few weeks earlier), and with some enthusiasm, set about the task of devouring it.
Originally the French had hoped that they would be seen as liberators and that the Welsh would join them and rebel against the English, making the task of invasion a whole lot easier. However, by looting, shooting and perhaps worst of all, drinking all the booze, the French failed to impress their local hosts, and by the evening of the 23rd a ragtag force of around 700 reservists, militia and sailors, plus an unknown number of angry locals, had assembled in Fishguard to face them. Demoralised and by now outnumbered the French considered surrender and approached the commanding British officer, Lord Cawdor, to discuss terms. Cawdor demanded nothing short of unconditional surrender and issued an ultimatum to Colonel Tate.
At 8am the following morning, the British forces lined up in battle-order on Goodwick Sands, and up above them on the cliffs, the inhabitants of Fishguard came out to watch and await Tate's response. Tate tried to delay but eventually accepted the terms of surrender and at 2pm the remaining French force lay down its arms, thus ending the last invasion of Britain.
Legend has it that Tate, mistaking the traditional red costumes of the spectating women on the cliff tops for the red uniforms of British soldiers, thought his opposing force was much larger than it actually was, persuading him to surrender without a fight.
This scene was created by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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