Peter Willemoes depicted by Jacob Rieter (1801)
May 11, 1783|
March 22, 1808 (aged 24)|
Great Belt, Denmark
|Buried||Odden Cemetery, Zealand|
|Service/||Royal Danish Navy|
Battle of Copenhagen|
Battle of Zealand Point
Peter Willemoes (11 May 1783 – 22 March 1808) was a Danish naval officer.
Willemoes was born on 11 May 1783 in Assens on the island of Funen, where his father was a public servant. At the age of twelve he was sent to the Naval Academy in Copenhagen, where he was a mediocre student who chafed under and rebelled against the harsh discipline. He became a cadet in 1795 sekondløjtnant in 1800.
At seventeen he commanded a floating battery, "Flaadebatteri Nr. 1", during the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. He had 129 men and 20 cannon under his command and fought with such gallantry that the English Admiral Horatio Nelson commended him to the Crown Prince Frederick after the battle, supposedly recommending that he be promoted to admiral. To this the Danish prince firmly answered: "If I were to reward all my men for their bravery, I would have a fleet of admirals". After the battle, Willemoes became a celebrity and a member of the Danish Order of Freemasons before setting off to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the frigate Rota.
After his return to Denmark, he began to study law but discontinued his studies in 1807 to briefly go into Russian service. After the Bombardment of Copenhagen and the British confiscation of the Danish fleet, he returned to Denmark where he enrolled on Prinds Christian Frederik, the only remaining Danish ship-of-the-line. On 22 March 1808, in the Battle of Zealand Point, the ship was driven onto the sandbar by a British. Willemoes was among the 69 Danish casualties, hit by a bullet to his head, and was afterwards buried at Odden Cemetery.
Reputation and status
His indominatable good cheer, courage and good looks combined to make Willemoes an instant celebrity in Northern Europe. Locks of his curly hair became a fashion item among ladies in Copenhagen and he was praised in verse by poet and politician N. F. S. Grundtvig.
An frigate in the Royal Danish Navy is named for him.