Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Peace-Making, Horatio Nelson-style!

Commander K. at Nelson's Column
Trafalgar Square, London
Just how did Lord Nelson manage to win a peace with Denmark after the battle of Copenhagen?

An alliance misnamed "The Armed Neutrality of the North" combined the forces of Russia (led by the half-mad Tsar Paul I), Prussia, Sweden and Denmark.  This group was allied with Napoleonic France against Britain and placed an embargo to British shipping throughout the Baltic ports.  This alliance represented a mortal threat to British power as Scandinavia was the principal source of timber and hemp for rope and canvas -- critical components of the Royal Navy.

Commander K. + Nelson
Malta Maritime Museum, Malta
On April 2, 1801 Vice Admiral Lord Nelson led a fleet of twelve ships of the line of the Royal Navy in action against the Danes at the battle of Copenhagen.  He was second-in-command to Admiral Lord Hyde Parker.  Nelson violated the conventional naval tactics of the day by leading his ships against the Danish ships AND the battery of a fixed fortification (Tre Kroner).  At one stage of the battle, it appeared that the British were taking heavy damage from the tenacious Danish forces when Lord Parker sent a signal ordering Nelson to make a tactical withdrawal. Lord Nelson raised a telescope to his blind eye and declared, "I really do not see the signal."

At a critical moment that afternoon Lord Nelson penned a note to the Danes seeking a temporary truce:

"To the Brothers of Englishmen, the Danes

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

After being pounded with broadsides from the British 74-gun ships of the line, the Danes agreed to a temporary truce and the crisis passed.  In spite of Parker's caution, Lord Nelson and the Royal Navy prevailed that day capturing 12 Danish ships, sinking two, blowing up another and setting much of Copenhagen ablaze.  The butcher's bill for the battle of Copenhagen was 350 British dead, about 1,600 Danes killed and 2,000 captured.

Lord Horatio Nelson, Trafalgar Square
Photo: Courtesy Jim Hooper
Lord Nelson came "ashore to deliver the ultimatum to Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark in person.  His deep-lined face and spare, one-armed figure, hung with stars and orders, attracted curious stares when he accompanied his host to the banqueting hall.  As he climbed the wide, wooden staircase Nelson turned to a British officer beside him and, in the hearing of the Crown Prince, say, 'Though I have only one eye, I see all this will burn very well.'  In the negotiations that followed dinner, the Crown Prince agreed to Nelson's initial terms: a truce of fourteen weeks."  Source: The Terror Before Trafalgar, Tom Pockock, 2002.

Commander K. and Nelson, Crypt St. Paul's, London
"Though I have only one eye, I see all this will burn very well."
Unbeknownst to Nelson or the Danes, on March 24 (before the battle of Copenhagen was fought) Tsar Paul I had been assassinated in Russia by his own courtiers with the contrivance of his son and heir who promptly became Tsar Alexander I.   Russian foreign policy immediately veered from being pro-French to becoming pro-British. Why is it that the Russians are so reliably unreliable, so dependably undependable?  This regime change and Nelson's victory at Copenhagen led to the collapse of The Armed Neutrality of the North.  Nelson's combination of force, flattery, credible threats and raw courage had won the peace for Britain.

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Mark Hansen said...

This is great stuff as usual, and ought to be more widely known. Si vis pacem para vellum!

(Tr. from the Latin "If you want peace, prepare for war", CK)

Angela Pena said...

Seeing the slug that killed Lord Nelson at the British Museum was a shock to me...such an insignificant piece of lead killed one of the greatest warriors of all time...