Wednesday, 23 April 2008

WRONG: Britain hasn't been invaded since 1066

History teachers – especially patriotic ones – like to say that the battle of Hastings marked the last time Britain was invaded. As with so many things, however, it depends on your perspective.

For example, the Channel Islands were invaded during WWII. Strictly, they're not part of the United Kingdom, being Crown Dependencies, with the Queen as their sovereign. Churchill decided in 1940 that they would be of more value to the UK as a drain on German resources than as a tactical location, and so abandoned them to five years of occupation, the last of them under siege and in near-starvation conditions. Even under a force of one armed German (as opposed to a one-armed German) for every five citizens, the locals still managed a cheeky resistance. When commissioned to design postage stamps for local use, artist Edmund Blampied put two artful curlicues in plain view on the threepenny stamp (see bottom right of this link) that to the locals – but not the Germans – clearly spelled “GR” (for George VI).


Despite the German surrender, the occupation is still the most successful attempt to invade Britain since the Norman conquest – even though the Channel Islands aren’t in Britain – because the others have ranged from merely short-lived to farcical.

Geographically if not politically, Scotland has always been part of Great Britain and suffered its own invasion (not counting the English ones, nor the Scots’ invasions of England). In 1263 King Haakon IV of Norway sailed to Scotland with the intention of recapturing the Hebrides, but following a battle at Largs on the Firth of Clyde, the Scots deviously prolonged diplomatic talks in order take advantage of the worsening weather, which played havoc with the invaders’ fleet. Norway renounced its claim to the Hebrides three years later.

In 1797 the French made a hilarious attempt to invade Wales. A 1400-strong force landed near Fishguard, but the largely conscripted troops lived up to the national stereotype and surrendered almost immediately when faced with the wrath of the local womenfolk. (The local menfolk may have observed the invaders with some sympathy.) One Jemima Nicholas, a 41-year-old cobbler, singlehandedly captured twelve using only a pitchfork. The traditional local dress of tall black hats and red cloaks, it would seem, led the invaders to mistake the women for Grenadiers. A huge store of looted Portuguese wine may have contributed to their confusion.

Finally, William of Orange gets an honorary mention for invading England, though with the famed good manners of the Dutch he waited till he was invited. The Protestant grandson of Charles I arrived at Brixham, Devon in 1688 with some 15,000 soldiers, and a month later the Catholic King James II had fled the country, leaving it to the Protestant William and his wife, Mary. The Dutch briefly renamed New York “New Orange” in their honour.

6 comments:

Edward Mansfield said...

Actually, Britain was last successfully invaded was during the Glorious Revolution on 5 November 1688 when William of Orange landed a 15,000 strong army at Brixham in Devon.
Many people claim that this was not an invasion because he was invited to invade by rebels opposed to James II, the rightful monarch at the time, or because James had already been deposed. But, this is not accurate. William invaded a month before James fled the country thereby abdicating by default, and the invitation to invade had no legal standing at the time.

London said...

1066 was the last invasion.
Fishguard was an incursion.
William of Orange was invited.
Only the Channel Islands suffered an invasion and they are not part of the UK.

London said...

1066 was the last invasion.
Fishguard was an incursion.
William of Orange was invited.
Only the Channel Islands suffered an invasion and they are not part of the UK.

rockattack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rockattack said...

I am afraid that the idea of the Dutch "being invited" is a myth made up by the English. William of Orange was leading the invasion but not in charge - the City of Amsterdam was. They initiated, paid and orchestrated the invasion. The Dutch invaded with overwhelming military power and forced the English military to retreat 20 miles outside of London for over 2 years. The English Capital was under Dutch control for 2 years straight and the English had no say nor choice in it.

Historian said...

Edward and rockattack are correct. In addition, New York was briefly renamed 'New Orange' in 1673, not after 1688.