The Battle of Copenhagen, 2 April 1801

The Battle of Copenhagen, 2 April 1801, fought to force Denmark out of the hostile ‘Armed Neutrality’ of the Northern Powers – Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Prussia –was the second of Nelson's great battles and, like the Battle of the Nile, also against an enemy at anchor. Nelson's intention was to concentrate on parts of the Danish defence and defeat it in detail but despite careful preparations the issue remained in doubt. Nelson ignored his superior's signal of recall: ‘Leave off action! ... Now damn me if I do. You know, Foley, I have only one eye – I have a right to be blind sometimes….I really do not see the signal.’ Eventually he offered a truce to save the Danish wounded in sinking and burning ships. As against this show of humanity, he used diplomacy, threat and bluff to engineer an armistice. With arrival of the news of the assassination the Tsar Paul I of Russia, which in fact preceded the battle, the Armed Neutrality collapsed.

Pocock’s painting shows Nelson’s line anchored and in action against the Danish line, which lies between him and Copenhagen. Nelson’s flagship, the ‘Elephant’, can be seen to the left of centre flying his blue vice-admiral's flag. Bomb vessels anchored on the edge of the Middle Ground shoal at the bottom right fire shells over the heads of both fleets towards Copenhagen. This painting, which is a highly detailed representation of the action, was executed for engraving in Clarke and Macarthur’s ‘Life of Nelson’(1809).

Object Details

ID: BHC0529
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Pocock, Nicholas
Events: Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Copenhagen, 1801
Date made: Early 19th century; 1806 1906
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Frame: 865 mm x 1174 mm x 90 mm;Overall: 18 kg;Painting: 710 mm x 1015 mm

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