The British Plan to Defend Ireland From an Anticipated French Attack During the American Revolution, From the Library of the British Commander There

Prepared in 1778, in the wake of the French treaty of alliance with America, Britain assesses the risks and responses, and fears that the Americans will join in

This document has been sold. Contact Us

General Sir Henry Clinton’s copy; he was Commander of British Forces in North America during the war for American independence


Clinton has notated the plan in his own hand


England feared France would take advantage of their being absorbed in an overseas conflict, and would not be able to handle...

Read More

The British Plan to Defend Ireland From an Anticipated French Attack During the American Revolution, From the Library of the British Commander There

Prepared in 1778, in the wake of the French treaty of alliance with America, Britain assesses the risks and responses, and fears that the Americans will join in

General Sir Henry Clinton’s copy; he was Commander of British Forces in North America during the war for American independence


Clinton has notated the plan in his own hand


England feared France would take advantage of their being absorbed in an overseas conflict, and would not be able to handle a war on two fronts


This manuscript was also used during the Napoleonic wars, likely by Henry’s son, William Henry Clinton, then quartermaster general of Ireland, to prepare against an invasion of the United Kingdom by France


This unpublished manuscript was sold by the Clinton heirs in 1886 and has long been in the collection of Dr. Otto Fisher, who collected mostly from the 1920s to 1940s


New to the market after nearly a century; the only other copy of the manuscript is in the British Library


On February 6, 1778, France and the fledgling United States of America signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance in Paris. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce recognized the United States as an independent nation and promoted trade between it and France. The Treaty of Alliance created a military alliance against Great Britain, stipulating American independence as a condition of peace. The treaty also required France and the U.S. to concur in any peace agreement.

This was an immediate and direct threat to Britain, which saw itself potentially challenged militarily at home by an old and historic rival: France, which had now taken sides in the American war. They foresaw this commercial and friendship alliance growing into something larger, which it did, but their greatest fear was an attack against the British Isles by France, particularly where Britain felt weakest – in Ireland, which was then very much part of Britain.

Sir Henry Clinton was a British general during the American War of Independence. He first arrived in Boston in May 1775. When General William Howe submitted his resignation as Commander-in-Chief for North America in the wake of the disappointing 1777 campaigns, Clinton was on the short list of nominees to replace him. Clinton was formally appointed to the post on February 4, 1778, just 2 days before the signing of the French treaty. He entered the war with this new threat first in mind. He remained British Commander-in-Chief in North America from 1778 to 1782.

General Sir David Dundas was a British Army officer who fought in the Seven Years’ War and French Revolutionary Wars, wrote important texts on the Principles of Military Movements, and was elevated to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Forces from 1809 to 1811. On December 31, 1777 he was appointed Quartermaster-General in Ireland.

So on the eve of the French treaty with the fledgling United States, Britain had a new commander in charge of its forces in America and a new QM of forces in Ireland.

In late March 1778, with news of the French alliance now circulating widely, Dundas sent to London his assessment of the threat to the homeland. The only other version of this document known to exist is in the British library. Our copy was created for Henry Clinton and he made his own marks in the manuscript.

Clinton retained this document and passed it down to his heirs, among them his son William Henry, who was a successor to Dundas and in an amazing coincidence served as Quartermaster General in Ireland in 1804 and 1805. There are pencil notations within in another hand on the margin and these relate to Ireland in 1804 and 1805, and are likely those of William.

In 1886, the “Magazine of American History” published an article on a sale of mementos by the descendants of Sir Henry Clinton. “The papers of General Clinton, so long Commander in Chief of the British forces in America, appear to have passed at their recent sale in London into the hands of English collectors. The hope may be indulged that they will ultimately find their way to this country. A reference to them in the London Athenæum, and the more satisfactory description given by a correspondent of the New York World, indicated their value. This article notes that among the pieces sold that day was a manuscript “Plan of Defence” for Ireland “in the event of a French invasion (MSS notes in the margin by Sir Henry Clinton).”

This is that book, first sold by Clinton’s heirs in the 1880s, then belonging to Dr. Otto O. Fisher. It appears that it was catalogued with the help of Justin George Turner, attorney, investment executive, historian, author, and collector of Lincolniana. We acquired it from the heirs of Dr. Fisher (who bought primarily from the 1920s to the 1940s, so this not been offered for sale in nearly a century.

Manuscript “Plan of Defense for Ireland”, approximately 85 pages, Sir Henry Clinton’s copy of David Dundas’ report on the vulnerability of the homeland and its protection against the French during the Revolutionary War, in a clerical hand, March 27, 1778, folio with marbled cover, with Clinton’s hand-written notes (dated 1793-4) and those of his son, William Henry Clinton (dated 1804).

On the cover are faint pencil markings from the previous sale, which can still be read. “Plan of Defence for Ireland, with MSS notes in the margin in the handwriting of Sir Henry Clinton.” The manuscript is filled with various “Considerations, with regard to the Invasion and Defence of Ireland in Case of a Rupture With France.”

“It seems possible that the beginning of a French war will be the end of an offensible American one. The recall of the Foreign troops must be decisive…The Foreign troops recalled, our own National Force remaining in America cannot exceed 25,000 men…. This number would be barely sufficient for the preservation of New York and its dependencies nor is it clear they could be long there in safety…. Philadelphia is our of the question, Rhode Island would never be worth keeping… But the necessary arrangements for altering the nature of the war, for collecting and transporting in safety the troops to their different destinations, and for preventing attempts which the enemy may now meditate and with an an inferior force, in the present divided state of the American fleet and army, are most weighty and serious considerations. It is only in her commerce, and distant settlements that we singly can distress France. Any attack made at home even if we could transport our whole American Army at once, is too chimerical to be mentioned. The experience of the last war in the several [attacks] we made on their coast fully evince this.” Thus the report candidly expresses the difficulties Britain would have in confronting a war on two fronts, and how a conflict in the British Isles would limit the forces the British could deploy to America.

“Our superiority at sea, which we must always suppose, as it gives every advantage in those enterprises, so it also affords the great security of our distantly settlements.” Here, Henry has added to “superiority at sea,” noting that “and which we never scarcely ever had in America.”

The author notes that “Our strength lies in attacking the extremities, so theirs does at aiming directly at the counter. It is the general and avowed opinion in France that at home we are most vulnerable. The invasion of England or Ireland will certainly be in their contemplation…. The want of other present employment for their great Army, the internal convulsions and distress which the landing of ten, or twelve thousand men would occasion in our open and defenseless country, the decided effect it would have on the operation of the empire at large, whose sole attention it would engage, their knowledge of the present situation of this country, the certainty of assistance from the Roman Catholic inhabitants. For though the gentlemen of property, enlightened and sensible of the advantages they enjoy under our present mild government, might concur most heartily in its support….” Dundas adds his caveat that in spite of this landed support, “their indifference would not counterbalance the inveteracy of a great proportion of the lower class, fomented by the arts and the authority of the priests, who have so much to hone from a Popish Establishment, and whose feelings, as men, and as citizens have always given way to what they call the interest of religion.”

Here Clinton notes, in relation to support from the catholic citizens, “which interests were requisite in their supporting the Constitution against all invaders.”

The following paragraph expresses Dundas’s view that an invasion of Ireland would be in France’s interests and, even should she lose her army, she would not have lost. Clinton concurs in the margins, writing, “…. France will no doubt invade Ireland and if she loses her army there, she will gain by the loss.”

The manuscript continues with a threefold set of considerations:

1) To determine where France would likely attack;
2) The best way to prepare for such an attack;
3) What obstacles Britain would face.

It continues:

“In considering the points to which the exertions of the enemy would be probably directed, our allowed Naval superiority must always be recollected. And that an enemy must reason and act under a dread of suffering from it, before landing and in feeling its sufferance after landing, by being cut off from any further supplies. Preparations for invading Ireland must be made in Brittany or in the ports of Brittany, or in those in the Bay of Biscayne.”

Here Clinton adds, “’Tis well known that W wind from SW to NW keeps our fleet in port. A SW and W wind carries them to Ireland…”

What continues is a lengthy analysis of Britain’s assets, options, and vulnerabilities. In pencil, another hand, likely William Henry, Henry’s son, has written how the various facts apply to his position and situation in 1804 and 1805. He has also noted the dates of his father’s notations.

Among the scenarios envisioned by Dundas is this: “The Americans might in a bravado send 1500 or 2000 to land in the north. Their proclaiming liberty and licentiousness to the infatuated multitude, there is no knowing what confusion they might occasion.” Thus he feared that Americans would themselves go on the offensive by landing men in Ireland.

Dundas has outlined a staggering diversity of potentialities in many Irish ports and at sea and further stated what assets England would have to bring to its homeland defense.

Henry Clinton had this document along with a second, “Memorandum 1st July 1779,” which further and later explained the threat to Ireland. This second document lists the quantity of forces required for the Irish defense. We do not have this second document.

This remarkable and historic document’s provenance can be traced directly back to the heirs of Sir Henry Clinton. It has not been offered for sale for nearly 100 years. A document with similar content is in the British Library, being perhaps the copy in Dundas’s hand.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services