Copenhagen, First Battle of


Copenhagen, First Battle of
(1801)
   An early naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars. Great Britain claimed the right to search neutral ships for what she considered inappropriate goods and even to confiscate them. This led Russian Tsar Paul I to get Denmark, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden to form the League of Armed Neutrality of the North, a unity easier to obtain after the defeat of the Second Coalition. This move was a direct threat to Britain’s attempted economic blockade of France and she was determined to act.
   Of the League members, Denmark had the only significant naval force. Britain sent a force under Admiral Hyde-Parker of 26 ships-of-the-line, supported by a number of frigates and other smaller ships. Hyde-Parker was not particularly aggressive, but his second in command was Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was determined to destroy the Danish fleet. That fleet was anchored in an inner harbor and was well protected by coastal batteries and warships. While Hyde-Parker led an essentially diversionary move against the western front, Nelson took 12 ships-of-theline and the support vessels against the main part of the Danish fleet. The battle raged all day, as Nelson pounded the center of the Danish line. Several ships ran aground and Hyde-Parker’s effort to come in support of the attack was unsuccessful. The Danish flagship, Dannebroge, exploded, and one by one the Danish ships were silenced, if not boarded. Nelson’s northern attack faltered, however, and to Hyde-Parker, who was watching from afar, it seemed that Nelson was losing. He signaled Nelson to withdraw, but Nelson was having none of it. He famously held his spyglass to his blind eye to “see” any signal, and the fighting continued. By late afternoon the British were winning, but both sides accepted a truce. Each side lost approximately 1,000 men. Denmark left the Armed Neutrality League, which in any event collapsed with the assassination of Tsar Paul on March 24, 1801.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Knight, Roger. The Pursuit of Victory; New York: Basic Books, 2005;
    Rodger, N.A.M. The Command of the Ocean. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
   J. DAVID MARKHAM

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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