Monday, 25 January 2016

Jemima and the French Invasion (Welsh History)

Jemima Nicholas lived in Fishguard at the end of the 18th century, when the last invasion of Britain took place. In February 1797 an army of 1400 soldiers of the French Legion Noire landed near Fishguard as a diversion for an attack on Ireland. Their arrival spread panic across the country.

south west wales

Shot at by the Fishguard port defences, they landed on the rocks near Carreg Wastad Point. They were opposed by 190 part-time soldiers, who withdrew to Haverfordwest as they were outnumbered. This left Fishguard at the mercy of the French.

These French soldiers were led by a 70-year-old American called William Tate. They were a motley crew of convicts and the worst men from every regiment in France, who roamed through the countryside looking for alcohol and food. They got into all sorts of skirmishes in the farmhouses and the cottages on the edge of town. One got hit over the head with a chair, some met Welshmen with guns.

But the hero of it all was the town cobbler, Jemima Nicholas. She marched onto the landing area and captured twelve French soldiers single handed.

Eventually Lord Cawdor arrived with a relief force and William Tate, outnumbered and unable to control his men, surrendered. They signed the document in the Royal Oak public house in the centre of Fishguard.

Tate's invasion of Britain only lasted three days but the panic it caused made the Bank of England almost run out of money. They had to issue promissory paper notes for £1 and £2 for the first time.

There is a legend in Pembrokeshire that Lord Cawdor had local women, dressed in their red shawls and tall black hats, march around a hill so the French would think they were soldiers. According to the legend, the French promptly surrendered. There were certainly Welsh women around when the French surrendered, but there is no evidence that Lord Cawdor asked them to pretend to be soldiers.

If they were all like Jemima Nicholas, they were formidable enough as themselves.

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