" I really did not see the signal! " Lord Horatio Nelson at Copenhagen. 2nd. of April, 1801

work in progress

In 1800, Paul, the Tsar of Russia, had brought the League of Armed Neutrality back on centre stage again. Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia all got together previously and agreed to stay neutral in Britain's war against France. The British decided the best way to break up this League, was to go off and attack Denmark, the closest of the alliance countries to her.

British Fleet sails from Yarmouth.
On the 12th. of March in 1801, the expedition sailed out of Greater Yarmouth bound for the coast of Denmark, having embarked the 49th. Regiment, two Companies of Riflemen, and some artillery, the army component, all commanded by Colonel Stewart.

In the hope that diplomacy might win the day, the Honourable, Nicolas Vansittart had proceeded the fleet to parley with the Danes.Admiral Sir Hyde Parker commanded the British Fleet with Nelson as his deputy.

Tsar Paul assassinated.
On the 25th. of March 1801, Tsar Paul of Russia was assassinated, with his son Alexander 1 succeeding him, he was to take a different Foreign Policy line, and the Northern Alliance was probably doomed even before the Battle of Copenhagen took place.

Map of the Battle of Copenhagen the 2nd. of April 1801
Map of the Battle of Copenhagen the 2nd. of April 1801 with Lord Nelson as second in command to Sir Hyde Parker.

Position of the Danish ships.
Some 18 Danish ships were anchored in Copenhagen Harbour, protected by about 66 guns of the Trekroner Fortress, in addition a wide area of shoals close to the harbour approaches made it difficult for any attacking fleet to easily manoeuvre.

The British Fleet.
Sir Hyde Parker anchored with his ships in the Kattegat, north of Elsinore to wait. As at the Battle of the Nile, Nelson was faced with an enemy fleet at anchor, but here at Copenhagen to attack from the North would be suicidal as the heavily armed Trekroner Fort dominated the northern end of the channel.

Now Nelson with twelve shallow draft ships decided to sail past Copenhagen by an outer but more difficult channel, anchor south of the city, and attack from that direction when favourable winds allowed. By the 1st. of April, Nelson in Elephant and his ships had sailed past the city and anchored. Parker with his heavier ships lay to the north, ready in reserve. By the morning of the 2nd. of April, the wind had shifted to the south, the scene was set for an attack.

Nelson hoisted the signal to his ships to attack, Agamemnon, Bellona, and Russell all immediately ran aground on the shoals. His other ships on reaching their berths anchored by the stern and opened fire on the Danes with their broadsides.

Meantime, Admiral Parker observing two of Nelson's ships were flying distress signals, hoisted a signal for Nelson to disengage his action, this was Signal No. 39. Elephant's signal Lieutenant, Frederick Langford, called out to Nelson to tell him the meaning of Parker's order, but Nelson ignored him, so once again, Langford shouted out the Admiral's order. This time, Nelson is reported to respond " I told you to look out on the Danish Commodore and let me know when he surrendered. Keep your eyes fixed on him. "

But Langford persisted, should he pass on Parker's signal to the other ships? No! said Nelson, he could not.

The Battle of Copenhagen. 2nd. of April 1801
The Battle of Copenhagen. 2nd. of April 1801

Nelson now turned to his Flag Captain Foley, " You know, Foley, I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes. : Raising his telescope to his right eye, he added: " I really do not see the signal."

Once more, we find Lord Nelson blatantly going against his superior's orders, just as we have noted at the Battle of St.Vincent, here he goes again, trusting his own judgement, having faith in his Captain's and their crews ability, that he will prevail and find victory, and therefore be forgiven for any transgression.

The Battle of Copenhagen, as painted by Nicholas Pocock
The Battle of Copenhagen, as painted by Nicholas Pocock. British vessels are in the foreground and the city of Copenhagen in the background.

This furious bombardment to and fro between the British ships, and the Danish ships and the fort continued over three hours, there was no manoeuvering, just bloody bombardment.

The Danes could reinforce their gunners in both their ships and and Trekroner Fort, not so the British, both sides suffering griveous casualities, but still Nelson persisted.

Ships on both sides were critically damaged, the Danish flagship Dannebrog burning fiercely, slipped her moorings. The British boarding parties very active as they captured twelve of the Danish ships.

Battle of Copenhagen Roads April 2, 1801.
 (Painting by C. A. Lorentzen - from the archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

Battle of Copenhagen Roads April 2, 1801. (Painting by C. A. Lorentzen - from the archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

Nelson penned an ultimatum, addressed to the " The brothers of Englishmen, the Danes."

" Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when no longer resisting, but if the firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire all the floating batteries he has taken without having the power of saving the Danes who have defended them ."

Dated on board, His Brittanic Majesty's ship Elephant, Copenhagen Roads, April 2nd. 1801.
Nelson and Bronte.
Vice Admiral under the command of Sir Hyde Parker.

Nelson's Letter to the Danes, and their reply
Nelson's Letter to the Danes, and their reply

This letter was given to Commander Fredick Thesiger, who spoke Danish, he went ashore under a flag of truce, secured to an oar and delivered the letter to Crown Prince Frederick. A truce resulted, with Nelson claiming victory, but at a great cost, six ship seriously damaged, Elephant had now grounded, and almost 1,000 British sailors were dead or wounded, the Danes reported to have had 2,000 casualities.

Nelson now repaired to the London to report to his C-in-C, not sure of his reception.

" I have fought contrary to my orders, and I shall perhaps be hanged. Never mind, let them."

But, having secured victory, he was on safe ground, and he received approbation from Sir Hyde. Nelson asked by Sir Hyde Parker to go ashore to negotiate with the Danes. Nelson was asked by his Admiral to proceed ashore the next day to negotiate a settlement with the Danes, although he did not fancy himself in that role, he readily agreed.

Nelson landing at Copenhagen after winning the Battle.
Nelson landing at Copenhagen after winning the Battle. He is going to negotiate a truce with the crown Prince of Denmark.

The following day which happened to be Good Friday, Nelson met with the Crown Prince at Amelienborg Palace, built in the 1750's, that evening he was the guest of honour at a State banquet. Nelson left the Crown Prince in no doubt that the Northern Alliance must be rescinded, or the Danes would face indescribable consequences. The 9th. of April found Lord Nelson again ashore with an agreement he hoped the Danes would accept, after a deal of negotiation, the Danes signed.

Amelienborg Palace Copenhagen

Amelienborg Palace Copenhagen, where Nelson conducted peace negotiations with the Danes after winning the Battle of Copenhagen, April 2nd. 1801.

By the 1st. week of May, Sir Hyde was recalled home, he had not done well by leading from the rear, and had proven to be rather a weak leader, he had Nelson to thank for victory, having contibuted little to that result. Ultimately he was never to be employed again, and Nelson assumed the role of C-in C in the Baltic.

Lady Emma Hamilton's Birthday.
On Sunday the 26th. of May, Nelson threw a party on board his flag St. George to celebrate the 36th. birthday of his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton, inviting hisAdmirals and Captains to join him in this display of his besottedness. In his cabin was the green morocco chair she had given him, plus a blue cushion, another gift from her, three portraits of Emma also graced Nelson's cabin.

At Tallin.
The British Fleet was at Tallin, in an attempt to break Russia out of the Northern Alliance, but the new Tsar Alexander 1, refused to negotiate as long as ritish ships remained uninvited in Russian waters. Although it was Nelson's inclination to reply by bombarding the city, for once, he let discretion dictate his actions, and he soon learned that the Armed Neutrality of the Northern Alliance had been disbanded.

Once more Lord Nelson had prevailed to give immense service to his country.

Nelson relieved.
Nelson took his ships back to Copenhagen Roads, and learned on the 12th. of June he was to go home, as soon as Vice Admiral Charles Pole could arrive to assume command. A week later Pole arrived, and Nelson prepared to leave for England. Nelson had entrusted Captain William Bligh in Monarch with a piece of exquisite Copenhagen porcelain to deliver to Lady Hamilition in the hope that:

"It would bring to you recollection that have you attached, Nelson fought and conquered."

Nelson left for England on the 19th, of June to arrive at Greater Yarmouth on the 1st. of July.

Once more, the toast of England, Lord Horatio Nelson, had defied his orders, to again be victorious, on this occasion at the Battle of Copenhagen.

The hat worn by Nelson at Copenhagen
The hat worn by Nelson at Copenhagen






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