Battle of Copenhagen (1807)
|Battle of Copenhagen 1807|
|Part of Napoleonic Wars|
Copenhagen on fire, painted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|5,000 soldiers, militia and civilians. Entire fleet surrendered to the British.|
The Second Battle of Copenhagen (or the Bombardment of Copenhagen) (16 August – 5 September 1807) was a British bombardment of Copenhagen in order to seize the Dano-Norwegian fleet. The attack gave rise to the term to Copenhagenize.
Despite the defeat and loss of many ships in the first Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Denmark-Norway, possessing Schleswig-Holstein and Iceland, still maintained a considerable navy. The majority of the Danish army under the Crown Prince was at this time defending the southern border against possible attack from the French.
There was concern in Britain that Napoleon might try to force Denmark to close the Baltic Sea to British ships, perhaps by marching French troops into Zealand. The British believed that access to the Baltic was "vitally important to Britain" for trade as well as a major source of necessary raw materials for building and maintaining warships, and that it gave the Royal Navy access to help Britain's allies Sweden and (before Tilsit) Russia against France. The British thought that after Prussia had been defeated in December 1806, Denmark's independence looked increasingly under threat from France. George Canning's predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Lord Howick, had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Denmark into a secret alliance with Britain and Sweden.
The reports of British diplomats and merchants in northern Europe made the British government feel uneasy and by mid-July the British believed that the French intended to invade Holstein in order to use Denmark against Britain. Some reports suggested that the Danes had secretly agreed to this. The Cabinet decided to act and on 14 July Lord Mulgrave obtained from the King permission to send a naval force of 21 to 22 ships to the Kattegat for surveillance of the Danish navy in order to pursue "prompt and vigorous operations" if that seemed necessary. The Cabinet decided on 18 July to send Francis Jackson on a secret mission to Copenhagen to persuade Denmark to give its fleet to Britain. That same day the Admiralty issued an order for more than 50 ships to sail for "particular service" under Admiral James Gambier. On 19 July Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, ordered General Lord Cathcart at Stralsund to go with his troops to the Sound where they would get reinforcements.
In January 1808, Lord Hawkesbury told the House of Lords that he received information from someone on the Continent "that there were secret engagements in the Treaty of Tilsit to employ the navies of Denmark and Portugal against this country". He refused to publish the source because he said it would endanger their lives During the night of 21/22 July Canning received intelligence from Tilsit that Napoleon had tried to persuade Alexander I of Russia to form a maritime league with Denmark and Portugal against Britain. Spencer Perceval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote a memorandum setting out the government's case for sending forces to Copenhagen: "The intelligence from so many and such various sources" that Napoleon's intent was to force Denmark into war against Britain could not be doubted. "Nay, the fact that he has openly avowed such intention in an interview with the E[mperor] of R[ussia] is brought to this country in such a way as it cannot be doubted. Under such circumstances it would be madness, it would be idiotic... to wait for an overt act".
The British assembled a force of 25,000 troops, and the vanguard sailed on 30 July; Jackson set out the next day. Canning offered Denmark a treaty of alliance and mutual defence, with a convention signed for the return of the fleet after the war, the protection of 21 British warships and a subsidy for how many soldiers Denmark kept standing. On 31 July Napoleon ordered Talleyrand to tell Denmark to prepare for war against Britain or else Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte would invade Holstein. Neither Talleyrand nor Jackson persuaded the Danes to end their neutrality so Jackson went back to the British fleet assembled in the Sound on 15 August. The British published a proclamation demanding the deposit of the Danish fleet; the Danes responded with "what amounted to a declaration of war".
On 12 August the 32-gun Danish frigate Frederiksværn sailed for Norway from Elsinor and Admiral Lord Gambier sent the 74-gun third rate Defence and the 22 gun sixth rate Comus after her, even though war had not yet been declared. Comus was much faster than Defence in the light winds and so outdistanced her. On 15 August 1807 Comus caught Frederiksværn off Marstrand and captured her. The British took her into service as Frederikscoarn.
The Danes rejected British demands to surrender, so the British fleet under Admiral Gambier bombarded the city from 2 to 5 September 1807. The British bombardment of Copenhagen killed more than 2,000 civilians and destroyed 30% of the buildings. The bombardment had included Congreve Rockets, which caused fires.
On 5 September the Danes sued for peace and the capitulation was signed on 7 September. Denmark agreed to surrender its navy and its naval stores. In return the British undertook to leave Copenhagen within six weeks.
Thus, on 7 September 1807 Peymann surrendered the fleet (eighteen ships of the line, eleven frigates, two smaller ships, two ship-sloops, seven brig-sloops, two brigs, one schooner and twenty-six gunboats). In addition, the British broke up or destroyed three 74-gun ships-of-the-line on the stocks, along with two of the aforementioned ships-of-the-fleet and two elderly frigates.
After her capture, one ex-Danish ship-of-the-line, Neptunos, ran aground and was burnt on or near the island of Hven. Then, when a storm arose in the Kattegat, the British destroyed or abandoned twenty-three of the captured gunboats. The British added the fifteen captured ships-of-the-line that reached Britain to the British Navy but only four — Christian VII 80, Dannemark 74, Norge 74 and Princess Carolina 74 — saw subsequent active service.
The news of what happened did not reach Canning until 16 September. He wrote to Rev. William Leigh: "Did I not tell you we would save Plumstead from bombardment?" One week later he wrote: "Nothing ever was more brilliant, more salutary or more effectual than the success [at Copenhagen]" and Perceval expressed similar sentiments. The Times said that the confiscation of the Danish fleet was "a bare act of self-preservation" and noticed the short distance between Denmark and Ireland or north-east Scotland. William Cobbett in his Political Register wrote that it was "vile mockery" and "mere party cavilling" to claim that Denmark had the means to preserve her neutrality. William Wilberforce MP said the expedition could be defended on grounds of self-defence. Thomas Grenville wrote to his brother Lord Grenville that he could not help feeling "that in their [the government's] situation we should very probably have given the same order without being able to publish to Parliament the grounds on which we had believed in the hostile mind of Denmark". Lord Erskine condemned it by saying "if hell did not exist before, Providence would create it now to punish ministers for that damnable measure".
The opposition claimed the national character was stained and Canning read out in Parliament the previous administration's plans in 1806 to stop the Portuguese navy falling into the hands of France. Canning and Castlereagh wished to hold Zealand and suggested that when the British evacuated it as part of the peace they should immediately occupy it again. This was strongly opposed by Sir Arthur Wellesley, however, and it did not happen. The opposition claimed that the attack had turned Denmark from a neutral into an enemy. Canning replied by saying that the British were hated throughout Europe and so Britain could wage an "all-out maritime war" against France without worrying who they were going to upset.
The opposition did not at first table a vote of censure on the battle and instead on 3 February 1808 demanded the publication of all the letters sent by the British envoy in Denmark on information regarding the war-readiness of the Danish navy. Canning replied with a three hour speech which Lord Palmerston described as "so powerful that it gave a decisive turn to the debate". Lord Howick said the speech was "eloquent and powerful" but that it was an "audacious misrepresentation" and "positive falsehood" of the correspondence between himself and Benjamin Garlike. The three motions on this subject were heavily defeated and on 21 March the opposition tabled a direct motion of censure on the battle. It was defeated by 224 votes to 64 after Canning made a speech "very witty, very eloquent and very able".
The British bombing frustrated the first attempt to have a modern edition of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf when the subsequent fire destroyed the 20-year work of scholar Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin. Two manuscripts, however, were recovered and Thorkelin eventually published the poem in 1815.
Ships involved 
The following ships sailed with Gambier from England on 26 July 1807:
Prince of Wales 98 (flag of Admiral James Gambier, 1st Captain Sir Home Riggs Popham, 2nd Captain Adam Mackenzie)
Pompee 74 (Vice-Admiral Henry Edwyn Stanhope, Captain Richard Dacres)
Centaur 74 (Commodore Sir Samuel Hood, Captain William Henry Webley)
Ganges 74 (Commodore Richard Goodwin Keats, Captain Peter Halkett)
Alfred 74 (Captain John Bligh)
Brunswick 74 (Captain Thomas Graves)
Captain 74 (Captain Isaac Wolley)
Goliath 74 (Captain Peter Puget)
Hercule 74 (Captain John Colville)
Maida 74 (Captain Samuel Hood Linzee)
Orion 74 (Captain Sir Archibald Collingwood Dickson)
Resolution 74 (Captain George Burlton)
Spencer 74 (Captain Robert Stopford)
Vanguard 74 (Captain Alexander Fraser)
Dictator 64 (Captain Donald Campbell)
Nassau 64 (Captain Robert Campbell)
Ruby 64 (Captain John Draper)
Surveillante 38 (Captain George Collier)
Sibylle 38 (Capt. Clotworthy Upton)
Franchise 36 (Capt. Charles Dashwood)
Nymphe 36 (Capt. Conway Shipley)
The following vessels joined on 5 August off Helsingor:
Superb 74 (Captain Donald M'Leod)
The following further vessels joined on 7 August off Helsingor:
Minotaur 74 (Rear-Admiral William Essington, Captain Charles John Moore Mansfield)
Valiant 74 (Captain James Young)
Inflexible 64 (Captain Joshua Rowley Watson)
Leyden 64 (Captain William Cumberland)
The following vessels joined on 8 August or later:
Defence 74 (Captain Charles Ekins)
Mars 74 (Captain William Lukin)
Agamemnon 64 (Captain Robert Devereux Fancourt)
Africaine 32 (Capt. Richard Raggett)
Note that Lieutenant-General Lord Cathcart arrived in the Africaine on 12 August to take command of the ground forces.
In addition, there were another three dozen smaller frigates, sloops, bomb vessels, gun-brigs and schooners (e.g.HMS Rook attached to the British fleet), and a very large number of merchant or requisitioned ships carrying troops or supplies.[Note 3]
Ships surrendered 
The Danes surrendered the following warships on 7 September under the terms of the capitulation following the attack:[Note 4]
Christian den Syvende 84 – sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as Christian VII 80
Neptunus 80 – sailed for Britain, but wrecked and burned en route
Valdemar 80 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Waldemar 80
Danmark 76 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Danmark 74
Norge 78 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Norge 74
Fyen 70 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Fyen 74
Kronprins Friderich 70 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Kron Princen 74
Tre Kroner 74 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Tree Kronen 74
Arveprins Friderich 70 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Heir Apparent Frederick 74
Skjold 70 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Skiold 74
Odin 74 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Odin 74
Justitia 74 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Justitia 74
Kronprinsesse Maria 70 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Kron Princessen 74
Prindsesse Sophia Frederica 74 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Princess Sophia Frederica 74
Prindsesse Caroline 66 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Princess Carolina 74
Ditsmarsken 60 – not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt
Mars 64 – not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt on Saltholm
Sejeren 64 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Syeren 64
Perlen 46 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Perlen 38
Rota 40 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Rota 38
Freja 40 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Freya 36
Iris 40 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Iris 36
Najaden 44 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Nyaden 36
Havfruen 40 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Hasfruen 36
Nymfen 36 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Nymphen 36
Venus 36 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Venus 36
Frederiksten 26 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Frederickstein 32
St Thomas 22 – not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt
Triton 24 – not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt on Saltholm or the Swedish coast.
Lille Belt 20 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Little Belt 20
Fylla 22 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Fylla 20
Eijderen 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Eyderen 18
Elven 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Elvin 18
Glückstadt 12 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Gluckstadt 16
Nidelven 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Nid Elven 16
Sarpen 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as HMS Sarpen 18
Glommen 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Glommen 16
Mercurius 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Mercurius 16
Delphinen 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Delphinen 16
Allart 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Allart 16
Brevdrageren 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Brev Drageren 12
Flyvende Fiske 14 (brig-rigged cutter)– sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Flying Fish 14
Ørnen 10 (schooner) – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Ornen 12
Stege 2 (gunboat) – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as Warning 2
There were a further 25 gunboats similar to the Stege, of which 23 were lost in the October storm in the Kattegat or destroyed rather than be sailed to Britain – these lost were
- the Aalborg, Arendal, Assens, Christiansund, Flensborg, Fredericksund,Helsingoer, Kallundborg, Langesund, Nakskov, Middelfart, Odense, Roskilde, Rødbye, Saltholmen, Staværn, Svendborg, and Wiborg.
- Six gunboats (Faaborg, Holbek, Kjerteminde, Nestved, Nysted and Nykjobing) abandoned or stranded in the Kattegat were recovered by the Norwegians or Danes and returned to naval use.
- Stubbekjobing had been destroyed by a mortar fired from the land at Svannemølle Bay on 26 August.
- Gun Barges
Four barges (stykpram), floating gun platforms each with 20 cannon, were incapable of being moved far and so were scuttled by the British during their occupation of Copenhagen. Of these four barges (Hajen, Kiempen, Lindormen and Sværdfisken) only Hajen was not raised and refurbished by the Danes after the British departure. A further "unsinkable" floating battery ( Flådebatteri No 1) of twentyfour 24-pound cannon was rendered inoperable and decommissioned the following year.
(Note that in 1809 there was a plan to give almost all of captured vessels more traditional British warship names, but this plan was later cancelled, and most Danish vessels retained their original names, or at least, anglicised versions thereof, until they were broken up.)
- Within a few days, Copenhagen was completely encircled. The British forces included a Hanoverian force (the King's German Legion), under General Lord Cathcart.
- The order came from the Crown Prince as Christian VII of Denmark was not mentally stable.
- In total, 126 British ships (listed in the reference) were awarded prize money at the rate of £3 8s per able seaman and £22 11s per petty officer for their presence on 7 September 1807 at Copenhagen.
- * The initial listing in the London Gazette names almost all of the ships, once one adjusts for ad hoc translations of names from Danish to English, and for transliterations. This initial list does not include the frigate Nymphen, the two brigs Allart and Delphinen, the schooner Ornen, or the gunboat Stege. Though it mentions that twenty-five gunboats were taken, it does not list them by name.
* In this list, ships' names and number of cannon are as recorded in the individual ships record cards by the Danish Naval Museum Orlogmuseet Skibregister but see below
- Smith, D. p. 254
- Hinde, p. 168.
- Hinde, p. 169.
- Hinde, p. 170.
- Hinde, p. 171.
- Hinde, pp. 170–1.
- Hinde, p. 173.
- Hinde, p. 174.
- James (1837), Vol. 4, pp.226-8.
- The London Gazette: . 5 September 1807.
- Ludvig Flamand, Kjøbenhavns Bombardement 1807, Copenhagen, 1860, p. 27-28. In Danish.
- Munch-Petersen pp 171-172
- Munch-Petersen p 206
- Hinde, p. 175.
- Hinde, pp. 177–78.
- Hinde, p. 186.
- Hinde, p. 188.
- Garnett, James (2008). Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Poem, a the Fight at Finnsburg . BiblioBazaar, p. 27. ISBN 0-554-84145-2
- The London Gazette: . 11 July 1809.
- The London Gazette: . 16 September 1807.
- Munch-Petersen pp215-216
- Wendy Hinde, George Canning (Purnell Books Services, 1973).
- Smith, D. The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book. Greenhill Books, 1998.
- Winfield, Rif. British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793 – 1817. Chatham Publishing, 2005.
- Munch-Petersen, Thomas. Defying Napoleon. How Britain bombarded Copenhagen and seized the Danish Fleet in 1807. Sutton Publishing, 2007
Individual record cards in Danish for ships of the Danish Royal Navy used to be found on the internet at Orlogmuseet Skibregister,but this is now a dead link (from February 2013). A new Danish naval Museum website listing for ships is available here linking to a page of ships' names for which there is data.
The following website in Danish or in English gives the list of ships, as recorded by the Danes, "forcefully taken" by the British in September 1807 at Copenhagen. The references, in Danish, are as follows
- (Danish) Efterretning om det bekendte af den danske Flaades Tjeneste, efter Alphabetisk Orden, med adskillige Bilage, fra Aar 1752 og til den Dag, da Engelland voldsom bortførte samme i 1807, by Rear Admiral P. Ramshart, published by Hof- og Universitetsbogtrykker E. U. H. Møller, Copenhagen, 1808
- (Danish) De så det ske - ENGLANDSKRIGENE 1801-14, by Lars Lindeberg, Lademann Forlagsaktieselskab, Copenhagen 1974
Historical fiction 
Author: Bernard Cornwell; Title: "Sharpe's Prey"- Richard Sharpe and the Expedition to Copenhagen, 1807
Author: Alexander Kent; Title: "The Only Victor"- Richard Bolitho and the siege of Copenhagen, 1807
- The Bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807; by Jens Rahbek Rasmussen; translated by David Frost, British Ambassador in Copenhagen