The Battles of Copenhagen



When the history student thinks of Denmark, he will not think of that Scandinavian country as a bristling enemy of Britain, except possibly during Denmark (and Norway’s) Viking stages. But the fact is that in 1801 and 1807 Britain found herself at grips with peaceful Denmark. It was all the fault of Bonaparte or course . . .

These dates occurred during The Napoleonic Wars. The Baltic Powers of Russia, Prussia, Denmark and Sweden had formed a League of Armed Neutrality (they thought) to prevent Britain interfering with their normal maritime trade with France. As a result the British, without bothering to declare war, sent a fleet to destroy the Danish Navy at Copenhagen (port and capital of Denmark) in 1801. Such an action now sounds amazing, and indeed plenty of MPs in London at the time found it amazing too.

Admiral Sir Hyde Parker attacked from the north, and Nelson, no less, from the south but the weather was terrible and Nelson lost three ships, though he still managed to capture or sink all but three of the Danish vessels. The League was finished. The Danes realised they might have joined the wrong side, but complaining bitterly, set about re-building their damaged fleet.

In 1807 London learned from intelligence that Bonaparte was about to seize the newly constructed Danish fleet in order to drive Britain out of the Baltic. Britain promptly sent a military and naval expedition to bombard and invade Copenhagen. Now the Danes were really furious and became Bonaparte’s most reliable ally in enforcing the Continental Blockade (q.v.) against Britain. She paid dearly for this perfectly reasonable decision when Britain and her allies won the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna (1815) awarded Norway (Denmark’s closest ally) to Sweden!

Some might say Britain was thus revenged for the Norse attacks during the Dark Ages on northern and eastern Britain which led to around seven centuries of Danelaw in parts of East Anglia and Kent. Luckily things were patched up diplomatically in the early nineteenth century between Scandinavia and Britain. Indeed at the commencement of the Second War Hitler invaded Norway and Sweden knowing they were partners with Britain. Oddly enough, he respected Sweden’s neutrality, most abnormal for Hitler.

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