Monday, June 07, 2010

When Wales saved Britain from Revolution

Last Bank Holiday weekend in the Tardis like “Royal Oak Inn” Fishgard, South Wales I spied a poster claiming that Wales (and Welsh women in particular!) had saved Britain from “revolution”.

This very same “pub” was indeed the site of surrender negotiations between French officers and those from the much smaller local Welsh militia and yeomanry following the last invasion of Britain in February 1797. When 1400 well armed Revolutionary troops under direct orders from the Paris Directory were sent to spark a Welsh uprising and to try and size Liverpool then London.

The working classes were to be encouraged to rebel; Britain’s trade was to be dislocated and French prisoners of war liberated, causing such chaos as to make the invasion of Britain possible”

The French were initially planning to invade Ireland with 15,000 troops (which didn’t take place) and while they intended this attack at Wales (or Bristol) to be part of a diversionary attack they also hoped that there would start a revolution amongst the local population.

On 22 February 1797 4 French warships landed17 boatloads of troops, 47 barrels of powder, 50 tons of cartridges and grenades and 2,000 stands of arms”. You can walk the 3 miles from Fishguard to the invasion point at Carreg Wastad which is all simply stunningly beautiful. There is a memorial to the invasion on the headland (see picture of moi). Last week it was entirely peaceful with the only excitement being a family of grey seals basking on the rocks in the sunshine.

There was no opposition to the landing and the French quickly seized strong defensive points from which it would have been very difficult to dislodge them. However, the expected “Revolution” never happened? Instead of supporting or even joining the revolutionary troops there was a series of bitter and bloody skirmishes between them and local Welsh inhabitants.

This was a dangerous time for the British government of the time. Later that year the Royal Navy mutinied twice and the news of the invasion caused a run on the Bank of England which forced them to suspend the payment of gold and instead they issued £1 bank notes for the first time!

Despite income disparity being far worse in this part of Wales than anywhere else in Britain and Ireland and the relatively recent Pembrokeshire bread riots there appeared to be no support locally for  “revolution”. The French hardly helped matters with many of their troops getting drunk, ransacking and burning local farms and churches (see the picture of Llandwna Church which had its papers and bibles burnt) while trying to “live off the land”.

In other parts of Europe the invading French revolutionary armies had been welcomed as liberators. Not so in Wales? There is probably a mass of reasons for this apart from a xenophobic fear of French Johnny foreigner. The rise of religious non conformity in Wales may have given the revolutionaries hope but most dissenters were probably at the time more keen than most to prove their loyalty to the Crown for fairly obvious reasons. Of course the patriotic conservatism (with a small c) of the British working class is one of its most enduring and defining features. At the end there are accounts of hundreds of locals turning up to fight the invader (as with their descendants in 1940) armed with primitive farm weapons.

There are two further stories that I love about this moment in our history. Firstly it seems that one of the reasons for the French surrender was “There is strong evidence that the French were deceived by the appearance in the neighbourhood of large numbers of local womenfolk wearing the traditional dress of red shawls and black hats, which at a distance resembled infantry uniforms”. It is clear that the French for whatever reason actually surrendered to vastly inferior number of troops. Secondly “The heroine of the hour” Jemima Nicholas, (see picture) who with her pitchfork, went out single-handedly into the fields around Fishguard and rounded up 12 French soldiers and 'persuaded' them to return with her to town where she locked them inside St Mary's Church.

Apart from the history lesson Pembrokeshire is just breath taking countryside, with superb coastal and hill walks - well worth a visit.


Bill King said...

Not a great moment in our history,if only we had seen what was coming! Still we try to make up for it by maintaining our socialist roots and are proud of the many achievements which have followed.

Anonymous said...

Nice post about Wales. Especially interesting is your point about working class British people being conservative at heart - we are. That's why Labour is such a betrayal of this country's core values. I pity the average person in this country when we must deal with the fallout of Browns utterly stupid excesses. He was voted Britain's most unpopular PM, but he must surely also be Britain's most incompetent.

Anonymous said...

I thought the last armed rebellion was the Chartists at Newport, South wales November 4 1839,

John Gray said...

Hi Bill

I think this was a great moment in our history?

Hi anon 17.57

Which part of "conservative with a small "c"" don't you understand? Do you realise how silly you appear? I suppose not.

Hi anon 20.59

Maybe - but we are talking about an invasion not a homegrown rebellion?

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

You said: "Which part of "conservative with a small "c"" don't you understand? Do you realise how silly you appear? I suppose not."

Actually the only person who looks silly is you - firstly for not understanding my sarcasm and secondly for being the typical misguided fool who supports the labour party.

Enjoy the years of austerity and hardship ahead that you idiots have caused - they say people get what they deserve and you lot definitely deserve the misery that lies ahead.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon

You appear to have idea what a deeply unpleasant person you come over as! Oh, well there you go.

BTW – What’s with the rewriting of history? I am not a rich City thieving Banker or one of their mates? The only, repeat only reason for the budget crisis is the recession and the only reason for the recession is the banking failure. Caused only by the incredible deception, incompetence, bungling and massive theft of (mainly) Tory supporting Bankers and financial services.


Anonymous 2 said...

Looks like other people saying the thing.

There are people who remember the Margaret Thatcher years with pain. I don't agree with everything she did, but she did sort the country out.

When Labour came into power they did not reverse any her policies! And to top it off she was invited for a cup of tea at No. 10 by Gordon Brown! Ha Ha Ha.... (BTW She is back there today for tea with Cameron!).

People will hate Cameron for his cuts, but people know that it was down to Gordon Brown's mis management of the econony.

As for unions, well they have a parasitic relationship with companies. Just look at what the unions did to Ford and our British car manufacturing. Did any of the working class win.

Most of our big industry have been destroyed out to due to the unions.

Labour is not there for the working class, it only exploits the working class for votes.

They should have let the banks fail and clawed back every penny paid from overpaid bank employees.

Anonymous said...

Were all in this together ???

So will Lord Ashcroft who bank rolled the Tories and is Vice Chairman of the Conservative party pay a penny more

NO Never

and what Yacht will Osbourne and his Eton banking friends who now rule over us ( But have no mandate)

How many people in Scotland, N Ireland, wales, Northern England vote Tory ???

Just South and South west voted Tory and then they only got 34% of the vote

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

As for coming over as unpleasant - well why should I be jubilant when Labour have destroyed this country?

And as for UK City Bankers causing the budget crisis, I can only assume that even you must be joking. Seriously you can't be so stupid as to believe this? Lets look at facts: Labour increased govt spending to a level that is totally unsustainable with recent GDP levels (hence the HUGE deficit). We now have a recession caused as you rightly say by idiotic Bankers (many who voted New Labour as well as Tory). So we can't grow our way out of this mess, and soon the debt interest rates alone on Labour's debt legacy will cripple us.

The net result is that public service will be cut further and the poor will suffer most. So basically my point is that Labour end up shafting the very people they purport to support! Unfortunately this is often the outcome of socialist govts around the world.

Anonymous said...


you do have quite a few not only "unpleasant" but also deeply stupid people posting on your blog.

why don't they understand how just ugly they and their views appear to real people?

John Gray said...

Hi anon 7.09

Labour did reserve many Thatcher policies. Not enough - but check your facts. Fords which for decades has had a pretty good and constructive relationship with its unions is also actually doing pretty well at the moment comparatively. Most of British industry was destroyed during Thatcher!

"Lets the Banks fail" and completely destroy our economy?
I thought that it was only the ultra left that had la la politics in this country. It seems the ultra right live in a similar world.

Hi Unpleasant anon
So you agree the Bankers are to blame but still also totally blame Labour??? The recent deficit spending was again remember due to the Bankers recession and was needed to stop the recession going into t depression. Which due to ConLibs cuts may still happen.