It started to go wrong for Revolutionary France when they spread perhaps rather too far and wide.
The Last Invasion of Britain – In February 1797, as a diversionary tactic to take attention away from the main landings in Ireland, a disaffected Irish American commander, William Tate, landed a force in Wales. His family had been killed by pro-British Native American Indians during the American Independence wars and he had therefore been drawn to the Irish republican movement.
Tate had been furnished by the French with more than 1,400 men and around 50 officers to invade Britain. Six hundred were regular soldiers but the other eight hundred were irregulars mostly there against their will – convicts, prisoners of war and slaves – perhaps why they were called La Légion Noire (Black Legion). They were transported by four warships – two frigates, a corvette and a lugger.
A second diversionary attack had been planned for Newcastle-upon-Tyne was disrupted by bad weather. Tate’s force had originally planned to land in Liverpool, but then later changed their plan to land in Bristol. They too encountered bad weather and landed instead near Fishguard, planning to march on Bristol. They were counting on local Celts rising to support them. However arriving in the Welsh port they failed to find any forces to engage and soon alienated the locals.
Instructed to forage the irregulars soon lost discipline and instead set off marauding around the area looting and soon discovered a supply of wine salvaged from a recent Portuguese shipwreck. There is a tale of one Welsh woman armed with a pitchfork capturing a group of twelve drunkards.
The Baron of Cawdor, captain in the Pembroke Yeomanry rallied sailors from Milford Haven and drew on the local voluntary infantry, few with any active military experience. When Tate’s naval support departed, with his numbers depleted by drunkenness and desertion, he agreed an unconditional surrender just two days in to his mission. He and his men would be subject of an exchange of prisoners the next year.
Two British ships encountered one of Tate’s frigates, damaged by storms, and the corvette and after a short engagement both were captured and taken as prizes.
The Pembroke Yeomanry was the first volunteer force to be awarded a battle honour and the only regiment to have an honour for a British mainland engagement. This was the last time that Britain was invaded by a military force.
In 1797 the French did land their major force in County Mayo, Ireland in support of the Irish rebellion led by Wolfe Tone. The force of 1,000 French soldiers arrived a few months after the internal rebellion had been all but defeated. They were joined by 5,000 local rebels and did enjoy early success declaring the Republic of Connacht.
They set off to take Dublin but were defeated. In October 1798 French ships with a large force were sent to land in County Donegal as reinforcement but they were defeated by a larger Royal Navy force, surrendering before they had reached Ireland.
The French had allied with the USA forces against Britain during the 1770s, but after the Revolution the USA reached an agreement with Britain and as part of this agreed to neutrality in the Anglo-French antagonism. Worse the USA decided war debts that had with France had been owed to the French Crown not the Revolutionary authorities.
In 1798, without declaring formal war, the French navy and privateers began to inflict damage on US merchant shipping until 1800.
Other French forces advanced in to Switzerland ostensibly to support the oppressed republics there. Though there were ulterior motives because its passes controlled access to and from Italy and secured positions on Germany.