Napoleon duped the British over Copenhagen
Dr Thomas Munch-Petersen, of the UCL Department of Scandinavian Studies, uncovered the evidence that deliberately misleading reports played a significant role in the British attack on Copenhagen during extensive archival research. The finding is published today by Sutton Publishing, during the bicentenary year of the bombardment of Copenhagen, in the book ‘Defying Napoleon’.
The research shows that false reports from British spies started life as rumour spread by Napoleon Bonaparte himself. One report from a British agent landed on the then foreign secretary’s desk and was an important factor leading to the British terror bombardment in Copenhagen in 1807. The attack set out to force the surrender of the Danish navy by instilling terror in the capital’s civilians.
On 29 April 1807, Napoleon wrote an instruction to his naval minister, Denis Decrès, instructing him to undertake preparations at Brest which would give the impression that an expedition to Ireland was planned and to spread the rumour amongst the exiled Irish Republicans, of the French plan to take the island from English rule.
The report of the British agent, General Danican, to the British foreign secretary, George Canning, was just as Napoleon had planned. It said that Napoleon’s navy was planning a two-pronged advance on Ireland – one of them involving the Danish navy. First, a French fleet was to leave from Brest, Brittany, to take Southern Ireland. The second step was to seize the Danish navy and, with its help, attack Northern Ireland.
The British mobilised their troops in a matter of weeks. The British navy landed in Copenhagen on 16 August 1807 with the intent of taking the Danish navy by force. Batteries were set up around the city and for three nights the city was subjected to British artillery fire as well as mortar and rocket destruction. The rockets, called ‘Congreve rockets’, named after their inventor William Congreve, were described by a British soldier as “fiery serpents in the sky”.