The Siege of Copenhagen

May 13, 2022

The Siege of Copenhagen

In 1807 the British descended on Copenhagen and in an preemptive strike bombarded the city and took off with Danish navy. An infamous event that caused controversy in Britain, intense hatred in Denmark and solidified the idea of Perfidious Albion in Germany.

This even would mark the beginning of the Gunboat war between Denmark and Britain (as Denmark no longer had a navy, they had to use gunboats), a relatively minor part of the Napoleonic Wars.

In Denmark the loss of the navy was a national trauma and in the beginning of the 19th century, the hatred to the “damned English thieves” were intense.
Pictured: The bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 as portraied by C.W. Eckersberg

The Siege of Copenhagen

Calm was the eve; the sun had set in gold,
And silent to the beach the billows rolled,
When England’s banners, rising on the view ,
Awakened half -forgotten fears anew ,
But peals of friendly omen hail the shore ,
And Denmark’s towers return the welcome roar ;
While playful groupes let fall their gathered shells,
And every little heart with transport swells.
Slowly the veterans to the ramparts mount,
Gaze fearless on the force they cannot count ;
Or through the empty embrasures apply
The long-drawn tube, to aid the failing eye.
Even heaven -rapt Science quits the starry train ,
To view the host that studs the placid main .
From many a turret Hafnia’s blue-eyed dames
Survey the ships, nor dread the lurking flames ;
Or bind their flaxen tresses with the hue
To British sailors dear, the faithful blue ;
Or on the bosom, nearest to the heart,
Suspend the anchor, and displace the dart.
But soon these peaceful emblems disappear,
Soon love and friendship change to hate and fear;
For now a thousand keels are launched and filled ,
And gleaming arms the slumbering surges gild ;
Perfidious foes approach the guardless strand,
Spread o’er the coast, and redden all the land.
To arms ! To arms ! within the Danish walls,
The drum, half -braced, with deep -toned summons calls ;
The solemn bell that slowly knolled to prayer ,
With hurried notes now peals — prepare ! prepare !
To arms the sons, the fathers eager fly,
And tears and terror fill each mother’s eye.
Meanwhile the hostile bands extend around ,
Scoop the deep trench , and pile the massive mound ;

Till all complete, destruction’s engines ranged ,
The menace and defiance interchanged ,
Each cannoneer his waving match applies,
And thunders fill the sulphur-shrouded skies :
But not until the shades of night extend ,
The fire- fraught globes their meteor orbits bend,
One ruin showering on the princely dome,
And on the poor man’s low, once happy home.
Nor longer pause ensues than till the cloud
That veils stern slaughter’s eyes disperse ; then loud
The roar again is up, the meteors fly ,
And day infernal lights the midnight sky.
Close to each mother cower an infant ring,
Or round her neck in frenzied terror cling ;
Ah, refuge vain ! on iron pinions sped,
The heaved volcano tracks the heavens with red ,
Resistless on the fated roof descends,
Crashing from floor to floor, its passage rends,,
Till stopt at last, it darts presaging fire,
( Dread pause of fate !) then bursts with havoc dire.
The mother, safe, looks round in horror wild ,
And, lifting from the ground her darling child,

Frantic beholds two sightless eyeballs roll,
Where beamed those orbs, that spake a seraph soul :
Another’s limbs lie quivering in their blood,
While hissing fragments drink the reeking flood .
And now on every side rise sights of woe ;
Here instant death, there lingeringly slow .
In yonder roofless dwelling, mark the blaze,
That round the cradled infant lambent plays,
And see the little arms outstretched for aid ;
Alas, thy watchful mother low is laid !
Meantime the father , in the hottest fight,
Oft backward looks upon the dreadful light,
Which still he trusts surmounts some lofty dome,
As yet far distant from his humble home ;
And still he hopes to see the infant smile,
Whose wicker couch is now its funeral pile.
Ah me ! the whispers round the sick man’s bed,
The cautious step, that fears its own light tread ,
Are now in vain ; the stunning, ceaseless noise,
O’erpowers affection’s soft and soothing voice ;
Looks, signs, the place of useless words supply ,
And sorrow bending scans the languid eye.

Amid the public wards of pain and woe,
Where art attempts to lull the anguished throe,
No slumber, save the slumber of the dead ,
Is o’er the couches of the wounded shed .
Alas! even here the fateful spheres explode,
And scatter death through misery’s last abode,
Add wound to wound, compassion’s aid withstand,
Scorch the skilled eye, and maim the healing hand .
Behold yon edifice, whose summits tower
Through clouds of smoke ; there, in one little hour,
The British Vandals, with relentless rage,
Destroy the mental labours of an age ;
Extinguish Iceland’s half rekindled light,
And shroud in treble gloom the Arctic night.
Nor is the temple spared : the arrowy fire
Clings to the nave, and grapples with the spire ;
The spire, enveloped in the bursting blaze,
A waving pinnacle sublime displays,
And in the unruffled deep , reflected far,
Seems with its point to kiss the polar star ;
While, dazzled by the vast colossal brand,
Leviathan heaves grounded on the strand.

From street to street the conflagration spreads,
Along the rows a ruddy lastre sheds,
Illumes each battlement and dialled tower,
And shews despairing eyes the midnight hour.
In vain the firemen ply the veering fount,
Uncoil the tubes, and to the summits mount ;
The vollied torrents stream aloft in vain,
To save the private roof, or sacred fane ;
For now yon steeple threats the crowds below ,
The leaden sheets in molten currents flow ,
And bells that chimed a peaceful Sabbath sound,
Now fall in showers upon the hallowed ground ;
And still where’er the fiercest flames prevail,
The British ordnance hurls it’s iron hail.
Not even the dead find refuge in the tomb ;
The grave is entered by the mining bomb :
Deep sunk awhile the slumbering sulphur lies,
Then bursts, a mimic earthquake, to the skies ;
In awful caverns yawns the peopled mould,
Disclosing sights ‘ twere impious to unfold .
One house there is, whose inmates feel no fears,
Who danger’s form see dimly through their tears ;

One man there is, who, as he lifts his eyes,
A beam of hope in every flash descries ;
He hopes the thunders of a foreign state
His country’s justice will anticipate ;
When suddenly unfolds the ponderous door,
Quick are his feet unbolted from the floor,
And ʼmid the general wreck he’s freed to save
His forfeit life from fire’s devouring wave.
Confounded by the scene, he scarcely feels
The joys of freedom , as he dazzled reels
Through well-known streets, now double walls of fire,
That almost meet, and to the heavens aspire.
But when with sight recovered from the blaze,
He death in every dreadful form surveys,
Infuriate for revenge his eyeballs roll,
And patriot feelings fire the felon’s soul :
Upon the ramparts, in the battle’s strife ,
He ends with honour ignominious life ;
And feels, even with the latest gasp he draws,
How sweet to suffer in an honest cause !
Three nights the growing conflagration raged,
Three nights the war was with the feeble waged :

O what a spectacle the last displayed !
Fire staunched but by the ruins it had made,
Dismembered trunks in sewers that streamed with blood,
And bombs extinguished in the carnaged flood.
But suffering nature in the path of woe,
Thus far enduring, could no farther go,
And, ere the fourth day’s sun had gained its height,
The white flag floated o’er a bleeding state ;
Submission’s sign, tinged with reflected red ,
Seemed , as it waved, a blushing glow to shed.
But subjugation is not always shame,
Nor conquest always honourable fame ;
No : Britain, blush ! and, Denmark, look erect !
And duly prize the blessing, self respect :
No blood of infants murdered at the breast,
No mother slaughtered, as she lulled to rest
Her babe affrighted by a world of fire,
Against thee calls for heaven’s avenging ire :
Against the weak , from sex , disease, and age,
Thy arm was never raised in dastard rage.
What, Britons, if the Gaul had seized the prize,
And stowed each ship with sword – compelled allies !
Ere long they had been yours in open war ,
And triumph hailed a second Trafalgar;
Or had they reached with stealthy sail the coast,
No cause had we to, fear, or they to boast.
Should slavery’s foot the land of freedom soil,
Who but would burn to join the bloody toil !
Yes ! let them now their legions on us pour !
They’ll find each British field an AZINCOUR.

Arthur Wellesley the future Duke of Wellington was present at the bombardment of Copenhagen, and led the British forces to victory at the so called “clog-battle of Køge”.


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