The Last Invasion of Britain
Most people think the last invasion of Britain happened in the year 1066. But they’re not quite right…
The last successful invasion of Britain was indeed in 1066, known as the Battle of Hastings. But in Fishguard, a small Pembrokeshire town, a much more recent invasion took place, whose outcome changed the course of our history…
On the 22nd February 1797, Colonel Tate (appointed by Napoleon) and 1400 French troops set sail from France in an attempt to invade Britain. Tate’s force called themselves ‘La Legion Noir’ (The Black Legion) and were ordered to land at Bristol and sack the city.
However, bad weather redirected the boats to the Welsh coast instead, and the soldiers came ashore a few miles west of Fishguard. Plundering and pillaging local farms (which happened to be well-stocked up with brandy from a recent shipwreck), they reportedly became drunk and disorderly, quickly losing the enthusiasm and capability for a fight.
Some troops found shelter in St Gwyndaf’s Church in Llanwnda where they proceeded to light a fire using pages from the church’s 1620 Parry Bible and parish register. Today, this special bible has been restored and, though there are still pages missing, you can see it on display in the church – so a trip to St Gwyndaf’s is well worth the visit!
Meanwhile, local soldiers and villagers amassed to defend their land while reinforcements arrived from Haverfordwest, forming what appeared to be formidable lines. While many locals attacked stragglers and scouts from the enemy force, the best-known volunteer was a woman called Jemima Nicholas.
Armed with only a pitchfork, she skilfully rounded up 12 French soldiers and brought them to St Mary’s Church in Fishguard. This particular capture led to a treaty being signed on the 24th February at the Royal Oak pub, stating the unconditional surrender of the demoralised French troops, who were largely unarmed, tired and ill-prepared for battle. The failed invasion lasted only a few days.
Local shoemaker Jemima, referred to after that as ‘Jemima Fawr’ (Jemima the Great), is buried in St. Mary’s Church with a headstone engraved ‘the Welsh heroine.’ She is indeed considered a Welsh heroine for her bravery and courage that day.
Interestingly, it documented that French troops had reported seeing several thousand British troops lined up for battle on the clifftops. However, they got this wrong – what they thought were British Redcoats were probably local women who had ventured to the coast to watch the fighting with apprehension, wearing the traditional attire of scarlet dresses and tall black hats.
This is a famous tale in north Pembrokeshire, and Jemima and her fellow women in red crop up in all sorts of places – there are even beers named after them!
Now that you know about the Last Invasion of Britain in 1797, why not visit the places for yourself?
Spend 48 hours in Fishguard and walk the Coast Path between Strumble Head and Pwllgwaelod, on a stretch known as Last Invasion Trail. Or explore the historic buildings where the action took place – a pint at the Royal Oak will go down nicely after a visit to the Town Hall where you’ll find the Last Invasion Tapestry. Made by 80 local women and taking 4 years to complete, the 30m / 100 foot embroidered tapestry weaves the story of the failed invasion in beautifully coloured thread, and was commissioned to celebrate the 200th anniversary.