The Two Battles of Copenhagen 1801 and 1807 - Britain and Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars, Gareth Glover

The Two Battles of Copenhagen 1801 and 1807 - Britain and Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars, Gareth Glover

During the Napoleonic Wars the British attacked Copenhagen twice, in 1801 and 1807, despite Denmark being officially neutral in both occasions. This book looks at Anglo-Danish relations during this entire period, tracing the events that led up to the two attacks, covering the two campaigns in detail, and the aftermath to both of them. I suspect I will be like most readers in that I knew a fair bit about the 1801 battle and was aware of the 1807 campaign, but knew very little about Anglo-Danish relationships for the rest of the period, so this book fills a big gap in my knowledge of the period.

We start with a look at the significance of Denmark to the British. At this date Denmark and Norway were united, so a hostile Denmark could have cut off British access to the Baltic, and with it a trade route that was essential for British naval power, as many key naval supplies came from the Baltic. However the Danes also had much to fear, especially after Napoleon’s victories meant that French troops were dangerously close to the southern land borders of the country. We follow the Danish attempts to stay neutral, and to benefit from that neutrality, before they were caught up in the ‘Second League of Armed Neutrality’ instigated by Tsar Paul of Russia. This posed a direct threat to Britain, leading to the famous battle of 1801, one of Nelson’s three major victories. However Glover makes a good case for this campaign having been failure in the long term, leaving the powerful core of the Danish fleet intact, and only achieving its objectives because of the death of Tsar Paul.

The next five years of fairly peaceful relations don’t take long to cover, and we then move onto the rapidly developing crisis that led to the campaign of 1807. Glover makes it clear that this crisis was a direct result of Napoleon’s victories over Prussia and Russia, which led to the treaty of Tilset, and the high point of Napoleonic dominance of Europe. From what we would now call the public relations point of view the big problem with the British campaign of 1807 is that they jumped the gun. By 1807 Napoleon was determined to cut off British trade with Europe, and after the treaty of Tilset with Russia the last two official routes onto the Continent were through Portugal and Denmark. Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal clearly demonstrated that Britain was right to fear he would soon be after the Danish fleet, and it would appear that he was on the brink of issuing similar demands to the Danes as he had to the Portuguese (indeed might have already done so if Talleyrand hadn’t toned down Napoleon’s demands to the Danes when they met just before the 1807 campaign began). However the British attacked before any such demands had been issued, in the mistaken belief that the Danish fleet had been made ready to go to sea, which would have made it a real threat. When they finally got possession of the fleet at the end of the siege, it soon became clear that most of the Danish warships were ‘in ordinary’, with much of their equipment removed into nearby warehouses.

The story doesn’t end with the siege of Copenhagen and seizure of the Danish fleet. Although the British now had free access to the Baltic, the Danes were determined to strike back, and built hundreds of small gunships which they used to attack British merchant ships and even smaller warships. The British were forced to maintain a fleet in the Baltic for the next few years, and we get a good account of that ‘gunboat war’, which allowed the Danes to strike back, without ever quite being enough of a menace to trigger another major British attack. One side effect of the British attack of 1807 was that it pushed the Danes so firmly into the French camp that they were one of the last of Napoleon’s allies to abandon him.

This is an excellent study of an important but unfamiliar aspect of the Napoleonic Wars, placing the two most famous incidents firmly into their context.

1 - Walking the Tightrope of Neutrality
2 - The Drums ‘Beat to Arms’
3 - The British Mobilization
4 - Parker Delays
5 - Denmark Prepares
6 - The Die is Cast
7 - The Battle of Copenhagen
8 - Battle Continues
9 - Winning the Peace
10 - Five Years of Relative Harmony
11 - Rapid Escalation
12 - The Cabinet Deliberates
13 - The Fleet Forms
14 - The Fleet Arrives in the Sound
15 - Danish Preparations
16 - British Troops Land
17 - The Battle of Kioge
18 - The Bombardment
19 - The Aftermath
20 - Danish Losses Further Afield
21 - The Gunboat War, 1808-1809
22 - The Swedish Question
23 - The Final Years

Author: Gareth Glover
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Year: 2018

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