Book Review-‘Two Battles of Copenhagen 1801 and 1807 :Britain and Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars’ by G. Glover

By Andrew Lambert, published December 2020


The British attacks on Copenhagen have often been confused, or conflated. In reality, they occurred in two separate conflicts, were conducted in strikingly different ways, and had very different outcomes. Gareth Glover sets the battles in context, using a wide range of British and Danish secondary sources, and some British archival material. Key texts by Ole Feldback and Thomas Munch-Petersen are key resources, along with recent Danish scholarship.

Both battles were fought within far wider total wars between a continental hegemon and a dominant seapower. In 1801 the Danes thought joining an Armed Neutrality with Russia, Prussia and Sweden would force Britain to abandon its aggressive assertion of maritime belligerent rights and rigorous economic warfare. After almost a century of profitable neutrality, the government in Copenhagen seemed unaware that Britain could not back down without losing an existential conflict, leaving it exposed to the hatred and greed of Napoleon. The stakes were even higher in 1807, in the interval the other major European powers had submitted to Napoleon. Britain stood alone, ministers did not need to know the terms of the Treaty of Tilsitt. Napoleon’s inexhaustible ambition to conquer and hatred of ‘the Carthaginians’ had already shaped a ‘Continental System’ that would prevent neutral commerce with Britain. Contemporary and modern arguments about whether the Danish fleet was being mobilized were a distraction. Britain could not allow a small weak state to hold the Danish Narrows, or maintain a dozen modern capital ships at a time when Napoleon was straining every nerve to challenge the Royal Navy and break British trade…

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Filed under: Napoleonic War
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics

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