25 February

There was a military invasion of Great Britain by Revolutionary France during the War of the First Coalition. The brief campaign, which took place between 22 February and 24 February 1797, was the most recent effort by a foreign force that was able to land on Britain, and thus is often referred to as the “last invasion of Britain”.

The invasion resulted from the plans of General Lazare Hoche, who had devised a three-pronged attack on Britain in support of the Society of United Irishmen. Two forces would land in Britain as a diversionary effort, while the main body would land in Ireland. While poor weather and ill-discipline halted two of the forces, the third, aimed at landing in Wales and marching on Bristol, went ahead.

The invasion force consisted of 1,400 troops from La Legion Noire (The Black Legion) under the command of Irish-American Colonel William Tate – 800 of them irregulars. Transported on four French warships under the command of Commodore Jean-Joseph Castagnier, Tate’s forces landed at Carregwastad Head near Fishguard in Pembrokeshire on 22 February. (Various accounts mention a failed attempt to enter Fishguard harbour, but this scenario does not seem to have appeared in print before 1892 and probably has its origins in a misunderstanding of an early pamphlet about the invasion.) Upon landing, discipline broke down amongst the irregulars, many of whom deserted to loot nearby settlements. The remaining troops confronted a quickly assembled group of around 500 British reservists, militia and sailors under the command of John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor. After brief clashes with the local civilian population and Lord Cawdor’s forces on 23 February, Tate was forced into an unconditional surrender by 24 February. Later, the British captured two of the expedition’s vessels, a frigate and a corvette. Despite all this, Castagnier managed to return to France.