Many remember the name of Hastings as the site of the last invasion of mainland Britain by Norman forces in 1066, but many forget the less successful French attempt at invasion, which took place in Fishguard,West Wales in 1797.
Irish revolutionary leader Wolfe Tone had received support from France to help end British rule in Ireland. Part of this plan was to organise French invasions of Britin to divert and weaken the British forces, with the overall aim of sending a much larger force to Ireland to overthrow the British there.
So on February 18th, 1797, a collection of 1400 French mercenaries and bailed convicts, led by an Irish-American named Colonel Tate set sail from Camaret . Tate's orders had been to land near Bristol, England's second largest city at the time, and destroy it, then to cross over into Wales and march north into Chester and Liverpool. From the outet though things did not go according to plan. Wind conditions made it impossible for the four French warships to land anywhere near Bristol, so Tate decided to set course to here in Cardigan Bay instead, hoping the Welsh would join their revolt against English rule and join their Revolutionary cause.
On Wednesday February 22nd, the French warships sailed into Fishguard Bay. Upon landing, the French invasion force seem to have run out of enthusiasm, which could have been a result of having to survive for years on prison rations, and on all accounts were more interested in the rich food and fine wine of the locals, and after a looting spree many were simply too drunk to do anything.Having angered the Welsh locals by seizing their food and wine, they quickly assembled an army of volunteer militia, army reservists, and sailors to fight the invasion, this attempted insurrection. And after two days the invasion had collapsed. Tate's's forces surendering to a local militia force led by Lord Cawdor on Febuary 25, 1797, with the French being disarmed, and being marched of to imprisonment to nearby Haverfordwest .
It is iteresting to note that the surrender agreement drawn up by Tate' officers referred to the British coming at them "with troops of the line to the number of several thousand."No such troops were anywhere near Fishguard , at the time, however hundreds of local Welsh women dressed in their tradional scarlet tunics and tall black felts had come too witness asny fighting between the French and the loal men of the militia, and under the influence of too much wine, these women could easily have been mistaken for British army Redcoats.
One of the women who is said to be the hero of the hour went by the name of "Jemima Fawr" (Jemima the Great) 47 year old Jemima Nicholas, who was a local cobbler. She singlehandedly with nothing more than a pitchfork in hand rounded up twelve Frenchmen, and locked them inside the local St Mary's Church.
She would become a Welsh heroine and was awarded a pension of £50 gor the rest of her life. After her death a memorial was raised to her, the lady who confronted the French invader armed only with a pitchfork.
As the wars against France stretched on, Napolean himself made his own plans to invade the UK, plns that were ony dashed by his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.
This moment in history has since been memoralized in the Last Invasion Tapestry, the work of more than 70 women who stitched for over two years to coplete the project