Battle of Copenhagen (1807)

The Second Battle of Copenhagen (or the Bombardment of Copenhagen) (16 August – 5 September 1807) was a British bombardment of the Danish capital, Copenhagen in order to capture or destroy the Dano-Norwegian fleet, during the Napoleonic Wars. The incident led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Russian War of 1807, which ended with the Treaty of Örebro in 1812.

Battle of Copenhagen 1807
Part of the Gunboat War and the Napoleonic Wars

Copenhagen on fire, painted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg
Date16 August – 5 September 1807
55°40′46″N 12°34′22″E

Decisive British victory

  • Danish navy surrendered to the United Kingdom.
 United Kingdom Denmark–Norway
Commanders and leaders
James Gambier
Lord Cathcart
Ernst Peymann
25,000 10,000
Casualties and losses
42 killed
145 wounded
24 missing[1]
fleet surrendered[1]
195 killed
768 wounded

Britain's first response to Napoleon's Continental system was to launch a major naval attack on the weakest link in Napoleon's coalition, Denmark. Although ostensibly neutral, Denmark was under heavy French and Russian pressure to pledge its fleet to Napoleon. In September 1807, the Royal Navy bombarded Copenhagen, seizing the Danish fleet, and assured use of the sea lanes in the North Sea and Baltic Sea for the British merchant fleet. A consequence of the attack was that Denmark did join the war on the side of France, but without a fleet it had little to offer.[2]

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 Jutland, Norway, Greenland, Schleswig-Holstein, Iceland, and several smaller territories, 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.[3] 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.[4]

On 21 January 1807, Lord Hawkesbury told the House of Lords that he had 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".[5] He refused to publish the source because he said it would endanger their lives.[6]

The reports of French diplomats and merchants in northern Europe made the British government 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.[7]

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".[8]

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.[9] 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".[10]

On 12 August, the 32-gun Danish frigate Friderichsværn sailed for Norway from Elsinor. 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.[11] Comus was much faster than Defence in the light winds and so outdistanced her. On 15 August, Comus caught Friderichsværn off Marstrand and captured her.[12][13][14] The British took her into service as HMS Frederikscoarn.


The British troops under General Lord Cathcart were organised as follows:[15]

  • Cavalry Brigade : Major General von Linsingen, 1st, 2nd, 3rd Light Dragoons King’s German Legion
  • Artillery & Engineers : Major General Blomefield, 84 field guns and 101 siege guns
  • First Division : Lieutenant General Sir George Ludlow
    • Guards Brigade : Major General Edward Finch, 1/Coldstream Guards, 1/3rd Guards
    • 1st Brigade : Brigadier General Warde, 1/28th, 1/79th
  • Second Division : Lieutenant General Sir David Baird
    • 2nd Brigade : Major General Grosvenor, 1/4th, 1/23rd
    • 3rd Brigade : Major General Spencer, 1/32nd, 1/50th, 1/82nd
    • 4th Brigade : Brigadier General Macfarlane, 1/7th, 1/8th
  • Reserve : Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley
    • Brigadier General Stewart, 1/43rd, 2/52nd, 1/92nd, 5 coys. 1/95th, 2/95th
  • KGL Division : Major General van Drechel
    • 1st Brigade : Colonel du Plat, 6th, 7th, 8th Line Batts.
    • 2nd Brigade : Colonel von Drieburg, 3rd, 4th, 5th Line Batts.
    • 3rd Brigade : Colonel von Barsse, 1st and 2nd Line Batts.
    • 4th Brigade : Colonel von Alten, 1st and 2nd Light Batts.

The Danish forces in the city amounted to 5,000 regular troops and a similar number of militia. Most of the civilian inhabitants of Copenhagen were evacuated in the few days before Copenhagen was completely invested.

On 26 August, General Wellesley was detached with his reserve and two light brigades of British artillery, as well as one battalion, eight squadrons and one troop of horse artillery from the King's German Legion (KGL) to disperse a force which had been sent to relieve the beleaguered city. On 29 August, at the rivulet of Køge, this significant British force swiftly overpowered the Danish troops, which amounted to only three or four regular battalions and some cavalry (see Battle of Køge).[16]

The Danes rejected British demands,[17] so the British fleet under Admiral Gambier bombarded the city from 2 to 5 September 1807. In addition to the military casualties, the British bombardment of Copenhagen killed some 195 civilians and injured 768.[18]

The bombardment included 300 Congreve Rockets, which caused fires.[lower-alpha 1] Due to the civilian evacuation, the normal firefighting arrangements were ineffective; over a thousand buildings were burned.[20]

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.

Peymann had been under orders from the Crown Prince to burn the Danish fleet,[21] which he failed to do, though the reason for his failure is unknown.[lower-alpha 2]

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 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.

On 21 October 1807, the British fleet left Copenhagen for the United Kingdom. However, the war continued until 1814, when the Treaty of Kiel was signed.


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.[22] 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".[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

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".[25]

The British bombardment frustrated the first attempt to publish a modern edition of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf as 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.[26]

A horse foaled in 1808 (the year following the battle) was named "Copenhagen" in its honor, and was eventually sold to Wellesley and became his favored mount, most notably at the Battle of Waterloo.

Ships involved

126 ships, large and small, were involved at Copenhagen, included those named below.[27]
In addition to those named here, 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.[lower-alpha 3]

The following ships sailed with Gambier from England on 26 July 1807:

The following vessels joined on 5 August off Helsingør:

  • Superb 74 (Captain Donald M'Leod)

The following further vessels joined on 7 August off Helsingør:

The following vessels joined on 8 August or later:

Lieutenant-General Lord Cathcart arrived in the Africaine on 12 August to take command of the ground forces.

Ships surrendered

The Danes surrendered the following warships on 7 September under the terms of the capitulation following the attack:[lower-alpha 4]


  • Christian den Syvende 84 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal 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
  • Friderichsstein 26 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as HMS 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
  • Eyderen 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 HMS Nid Elven 16
  • Sarpen 18 – sailed to Britain, added to Royal Navy as 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 HMS 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[29] or destroyed rather than sailed to Britain – these lost were:

  • Aalborg, Arendal, Assens, Christiansund, Flensborg, Frederiksund,Helsingør, Kallundborg, Langesund, Nakskov, Middelfart, Odense, Roskilde, Rødbye, Saltholmen, Staværn, Svendborg, and Wiborg.
  • The Norwegians or Danes recovered and returned to naval service six gunboats (Faaborg, Holbek, Kjerteminde, Nestved, Nysted and Nykjøbing) abandoned or stranded in the Kattegat.
  • Stubbekjøbing had been destroyed by a mortar fired from the land at Svanemølle Bay on 26 August.

Gun Barges

Four barges (stykpram), floating gun platforms each with 20 cannon, were incapable of being moved far and so the British scuttled the barges during the British 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 (Flaadebatteri No 1) of twenty-four 24-pound cannon was rendered inoperable and decommissioned the following year. [lower-alpha 5]

See also


  1. Various accounts say that between 10,000 and 120,000 rockets were launched. Congreve, who was present in Copenhagen, stated that "only 300 were fired";[19] other documents agree with these numbers.
  2. The order came from the Crown Prince because the King, Christian VII of Denmark, was not mentally stable.
  3. All 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.[28]
    • In this list, ships' names and number of cannon are as recorded in the individual ship's record cards by the Danish Naval Museum Orlogmuseet Skibregister
  4. 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.


  1. Smith 1998, p. 254.
  2. A. N. Ryan, "The Causes of the British Attack upon Copenhagen in 1807." English Historical Review (1953): 37–55. in JSTOR
  3. Hinde 1973, p. 168.
  4. Hinde 1973, p. 169.
  5. Hansard 1808, col 28.
  6. Hinde 1973, p. 171.
  7. Hinde 1973, p. 170.
  8. Hinde 1973, p. 170–171.
  9. Hinde 1973, p. 173.
  10. Hinde 1973, p. 174.
  11. James 1837, pp. 226228.
  12. "No. 16062". The London Gazette. 5 September 1807. p. 1157.
  13. Ludvig Flamand, Kjøbenhavns Bombardement 1807, Copenhagen, 1860, p. 27-28 Archived 24 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. In Danish.
  14. Munch-Petersen 2007, pp. 171–172.
  15. Fortsecue 1910, pp. 64–65.
  16. Fortsecue 1910, pp. 70–72.
  17. London Gazette issue 16062 page 1153 −4 dated 5 September 1807
  18. Københavns Bombardement 2013, "Statistik" cites Jelsdorf 2007
  19. Congreve 1810, p. 
  20. Københavns Bombardement 2013, "Statistik" cites Vibæk 1964, p. 292
  21. Munch-Petersen 2007, p. 206.
  22. Hinde 1973, p. 175.
  23. Hinde 1973, pp. 177–178.
  24. Hinde 1973, p. 186.
  25. Hinde 1973, p. 188.
  26. Garnett 2008, p. 27.
  27. London Gazette Issue 16275 page 1103 – names listed alphabetically
  28. "No. 16067". The London Gazette. 16 September 1807. p. 1232.
  29. Munch-Petersen 2007, pp. 215–216.


  • Congreve, William (1810), A concise account of the origin and progress of the Rocket System, London: Whiting
  • Fortsecue, Sir John (1910), History of the British Army, VI, pp. 64–65, 70–72
  • Garnett, James (2008), Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Poem, at the Fight at Finnsburg, BiblioBazaar, p. 27, ISBN 0-554-84145-2
  • Hinde, Wendy (1973), George Canning, Purnell Books Services
  • "Statistik", Københavns Bombardement (in Danish), 21 February 2013 cites:
    • Jelsdorf, Hans Michael (June 2007), "Hospitalsberedskab og lægelig behandling under belejringen i 1807" [Hospital Emergency and medical treatment during the siege in 1807], Krigshistorisk Tidsskrift
    • Vibæk, Jens (1964), Politiken Dansmarkshistorie, p. 292
  • James, William (1837), The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV., 4, R. Bentley
  • Smith, D. (1998), The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book, Greenhill Books
  • Munch-Petersen, Thomas (2007), Defying Napoleon. How Britain bombarded Copenhagen and seized the Danish Fleet in 1807, Sutton Publishing
  • UK Parliament (1808), "The Lords Commissioners' speech (House of Lords 21 January 1808)", Hansard, 10 (Online ed.), MillbankSystems, columns 1–32

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

  • Ramshart, Rear Admiral P. (1808), 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 (in Danish), Copenhagen: Hof- og Universitetsbogtrykker E. U. H. Møller
  • Lindeberg, Lars (1974), De så det ske – Englandskrigene 1801–14 (in Danish), Copenhagen: Lademann Forlagsaktieselskab OCLC World Catalogue Number: 741989841

Further reading

  • Winfield, Rif (2005), British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793–1817, Chatham, ISBN 1-86176-246-1
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.