Battle of Copenhagen

Nelson’s line anchored and in action against the Danish line, which lies between him and Copenhagen
Nelson’s line anchored and in action against the Danish line, which lies between him and Copenhagen

Historical Context

The Battle of Copenhagen was fought to force Denmark out of the hostile ‘Armed Neutrality’ of the Northern Powers – Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Prussia. It was the second of Horatio 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 defense 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 center 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).

Painting Info


Artist: Painted by Nicholas Pocock
Location painted: Copenhagen harbour, Copenhagen, Denmark

Source: National Maritime Museum

Related Events

  • 1801-04-02 Napoleonic Wars: The British led by Horatio Nelson destroy the Danish fleet in the naval Battle of Copenhagen

Historical Paintings