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Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 13 : Copenhagen (July–September 1807)
This chapter was written before the publication of Thomas Munch-Petersen’s Defying Napoleon. How Britain bombarded Copenhagen and seized the Danish Fleet in 1807 (Stroud, Sutton, 2007). Because his emphasis is more on the broad background to the attack and the reasons for it, rather than the actual operation, I have not needed to change any of my original text significantly, although I have incorporated some fresh details. However Munch-Petersen’s work is excellent, giving by far the most detailed and best account of the expedition that is accessible to general readers. He writes well, and has done extensive research, fully achieving his laudable aim of combining sound scholarship and readability. Naturally I disagree with him on some points, but his judgments are sensible and enlightened, and his work deserves to be the standard account of the subject.
There is no indication of the date of receipt on the manuscript of the letter, but I have assumed that it was 1 June, the same date as AW’s letter to Castlereagh.
Castlereagh’s support for AW in 1807
Castlereagh told him in June:
I hope this will relieve your mind from all difficulty upon a question on which your feelings do you so much honor. You have a right to claim from me every interference which can liberate you from embarrassment, and I trust you will believe that, if I was less bound than I consider myself to be, by the assurances I gave you before we parted, that personal regard, and a strong sense of the value of your military reputation in a public point of view, would enable you to command my best exertions. (Castlereagh to AW, ‘Private’, London, 7 June 1807, WP1/170/32.).
Castlereagh’s confidence in Wellesley had grown steadily ever since the two men renewed their connection in 1805: Wellesley’s competence in Ireland strengthened his reputation, and the minister was already looking to consult him on a diverse range of military subjects. (For example, Castlereagh to AW, ‘Private’, 26 May 1807, WP 1/168/63, where he looks to AW’s arrival in London so that he can consult him about plans for South America).
Castlereagh’s Expedition to the Baltic:
Beamish History of the King’s German Legion vol 1 p 104-5 gives details: part had to come from Ireland – it sailed from Cork on 29 May, but bad weather meant it did not reach the Downs until 7 June. Part sailed on 19 June, the rest on 1 July, total force about 8,000 men. The largest commitment to the Continent for twenty years: the Helder Campaign of 1799 may have been larger, but Mackesy Strategy of Overthrow p 320 puts the British force in 1799 as a maximum of 24,500 r&f incl. sick perhaps 28,000 all ranks. Castlereagh intended a very large commitment to North Germany in 1805/6, but the expedition was aborted before it ever really began, and in any case probably did not equal the size of the 1807 expedition.
Captain Stanhope, AW’s ADC:
There is some confusion over the identity of Wellesley’s aide-de-camp in the Copenhagen Expedition. He was the Hon. Fitzroy Henry Richard Stanhope (1787-1864) who later served as Wellesley’s ADC in Portugal in 1809 and was sent home with the Oporto dispatch. He left the army and joined the Church. The Dublin Almanack of 1808 lists the Hon. Capt Stanhope as one of Harrington’s ADCs – this would presumably be one of Harrington’s sons, probably Fitzroy. And AW wrote to Harrington on his return to Ireland, ‘I arrived here on Monday, and Lady Harrington will have informed you of the reasons why I did not bring FitzRoy with me.’ (AW to Harrington, Dublin Castle, 14 Oct 1807, WSD vol 5 p 136-7).
James Hamilton Stanhope (1788-1825), son of the radical Earl Stanhope and half-brother of Lady Hester Stanhope was one of the Duke of Richmond’s aides from 1807 to 1809, however he was not promoted ‘lieutenant and captain’ until January 1808, and AW’s ADC is referred to as ‘Captain Stanhope’. James and his brother Charles were both serving in Sicily and the Mediterranean at the time of the Copenhagen Expedition: James Stanhope Eyewitness to the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo. The Letters and Journals of Lieutenant Colonel the Honourable James Hamilton Stanhope, 1803 to 1825 Recording his Service with Sir John Moore, Sir Thomas Graham and the Duke of Wellington edited by Gareth Glover p 8-10.
AW retains Irish Office while serving in Denmark:
AW’s salary as Chief Secretary for Ireland was £6,566 – see appendix to Parlt Debates vol 11 col clxiii ‘Third Report of the Committee of Finance’.
Pluralities were not, of course, unusual at this time; and no one would have expected Wellesley to forgo his salary or resign if had been ill for a couple of months (as Castlereagh was later in the year, when his colleagues covered for him); or even if he took an extended holiday (providing it was not, as this was, when Parliament was sitting). Nonetheless it did later lay him open to criticism (see below Ch 17), and Whitbread was right to insist that the position of Chief Secretary was an efficient office requiring personal attendance, not a sinecure that could be performed by proxy.
Meetings to plan attack on Copenhagen and Cathcart’s distaste for operation:
Several meetings of general officers were held on the Admiral’s flagship to discuss possible plans of attack. It soon became evident that Cathcart had no prepared plan and viewed the operation with distaste. The engineer officers reported that Copenhagen’s defences were too strong to be taken by anything less than a regular siege, and that the expedition lacked the resources to undertake this with any assurance of success. One proposal was that an attempt be made to seize the Three Crowns Battery which guarded the naval entrance to the harbour. If this succeeded it might enable the Danish fleet to be seriously damaged, although not destroyed or captured, by long-range mortar fire, but it would be a risky operation for a rather disappointing result. Lieutenant-Colonel George Murray, the Quartermaster-General of the expedition, put forward an alternative plan on 14 August. Murray urged that the army should land first in Zealand, at some distance from Copenhagen, and then on Amager, and invest Copenhagen closely from both sides. If the Danes continued to resist, the town should be bombarded and
to give this mode of attack its fullest effect, it is necessary completely to invest the place, and oblige by that means, all persons of whatever description to undergo the same hardships and dangers – and from the nature of that force which compass the principal part of the garrisons, it is not improbable but that the bombardment of the town itself may be found the speediest means of bringing the garrison to accede to the conditions which it is understood we are disposed to offer.’ (Murray quoted in Munch-Petersen ‘Lord Cathcart, Sir Arthur Wellesley and the British Attack on Copenhagen in 1807’ Wellington Studies II p 115; cf Francis Jackson to George Jackson, 15 August 1807, Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson vol 2 p 194-8).
Murray acknowledged that there was much disquiet among the senior British officers at the prospect of subjecting the civilian inhabitants of one of Europe’s capitals to such a bombardment, but he argued that there was little time for delay, and that the alternatives were unpromising. Wellesley agreed that seizing the Three Crowns Battery and attempting to damage the Danish fleet by long range artillery fire might not be very effective or satisfy the government at home. But he disliked the prospect of bombarding the town, and believed that the necessity might be avoided if the British acted vigorously and brought other pressure to bear on the garrison of Copenhagen by a close investment on all sides and interrupting the supplies of food and water to the city. With this exception, he supported Murray’s plan, and it is possible that he had a hand in drafting it, for he would have known Murray in Ireland (where Murray was Deputy Quartermaster-General) and Murray seems to have consulted him closely later in the campaign. (AW to Hawkesbury 14, 21 and 28 August 1807, WSD vol 6 p 2-3, 3-5 and WD III p 8-10; see below for more on AW’s co-operation with Murray later in the campaign).
Alexander Gordon’s journal (unpublished, copy sent to me by Air-Commodore John Tomes) mentions inconclusive meetings on 12 and 13 August, but gives no details. Munch-Petersen ‘Lord Cathcart, Sir Arthur Wellesley and the British Attack on Copenhagen’ p 113 indicates that Murray’s covering note to his plan says that various ideas had been put forward, while Cathcart clearly did not have a plan of his own. AW to Hawkesbury, 14 Aug 1807, (WSD vol 6 p 2-3) also suggests vacillation and uncertainty; as does Francis Jackson to George Jackson, 16 and 25 August 1807 Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson vol 2 p 198-202, 203-5.
Threat of Bombardment and the Garrison of Copenhagen:
George Murray, in his proposal to bombard Copenhagen, referred to the nature of the force composing most of the garrison of the city. Francis Jackson wrote on 15 August that, ‘The garrison of Copenhagen does not amount to more than four thousand regular troops. The landwehr is a mere rabble….. The people are said to be anxious to capitulate before a conflagration takes place, which must happen soon after a bombardment begins….’ In the same letter he notes the limited preparations being made for a sustained defence of the town. Francis Jackson to George Jackson, 15 August 1807, Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson vol 2 p 194-8.
Wellesley’s command: the Reserve, or Light Brigade
References to the Reserve as the Light Brigade: Castlereagh to Cathcart, 27 August 1807, Naval Miscellany vol 5 p 318-19; Richard Howarth to his father, n.d. Sept 1807: ‘On the 26th, the light brigade, consisting of … [95th, 43rd, 52nd and 92nd]’ HMC Kenyon vol 4 p 560.
Strong battalions: the 1/43rd embarked with 1,050 rank and file for Copenhagen: Levinge Historical Records of the Forty-Third Regiment p 98.
Danes have no hope of successful resistance:
On 16 August Christian Bernstorff, the Danish foreign minister, wrote, ‘There is no room for hiding from ourselves that the inequality of the forces engaged will be such that we hardly dare indulge in the hope of retaining Zealand for any length of time. The island was taken off guard, practically denuded of troops, and is so surrounded by the English, that it is virtually impossible to elude their vigilance and pass reinforcements to it.’ Quoted in Munch-Petersen ‘Lord Cathcart, Sir Arthur Wellesley and the British Attack on Copenhagen’ p 109. See also AW to Hawkesbury, 28 Aug 1807, WD III p 8-10 (Danes fighting only for their credit), and Francis and Jackson to George Jackson, 25 Aug 1807, Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson vol 2 p 203-5 (expects little resistance).
General Castenschiold and his force:
The commander of the Danish troops in Zealand, Lt-General Castenschiold, was faced with the unenviable choice of watching his capital fall to a foreign invader while doing nothing to help it, or making what he was convinced would be a futile and costly attempt to disrupt the siege. He had under his command six battalions of regular infantry and some cavalry and artillery, together with a substantial number of local militia. On 23 August his spirits were lifted by the news that he would soon be joined by Major-General Oxholm with the garrison and levies from Mon, a small island separated from Zealand by a very narrow channel. Together they would have some 8,000 men although many of these were militia of negligible military value and even the regulars were very raw. On 26 August Castenschiold moved south from Roskilde to Kioge where he was joined by Oxholm. (Ryan ‘The Copenhagen Expedition, 1807’ MA thesis p 148-51).
Wellesley advances against Castenschiold:
The British were aware of Castenschiold’s presence at Roskild and on the 26 August Cathcart sent Wellesley with the Reserve, 8 squadrons of KGL Hussars, the 6th KGL Line battalion and two batteries of artillery, to drive him off. Roskilde was some twenty miles west of the British lines and Wellesley marched in two columns: the principal force under his own command directly towards Roskilde, while a smaller column (6 squadrons of Hussars, half a battery of KGL horse artillery; 6th KGL Line battalion, five companies of the 43rd, five companies of the 2/95th) under Major-General Linsingen of the German Legion went on a long detour to the south so as to turn Castenschiold’s flank and ensure that when the Danes were defeated they would flee north, rather than south. Wellesley’s plan was well conceived, but Castenschiold’s unexpected move south to Kioge meant that he escaped the trap. Having been balked on the 27th, Wellesley allowed his troops to rest before turning south and attacking the Danes on the 29th. His plan remained the same: the principal part of his force, under his own command, would attack the enemy in front, while Linsingen’s column would turn their flank (this time, their left flank) and cut off their retreat. The British troops came in sight of Kioge about ten o’clock in the morning and found that the Danes had three or four battalions in line in front of the town with cavalry on each flank and a larger force in reserve behind the town.
Letter from Richard Howarth of the 95th describing action at Kioge:
There is a problem with this. Howarth does not write as a ranker, but he does not appear in the Army Lists as an officer. Possibly he was a gentleman volunteer who never obtained his commission; or perhaps his name has been misread by the editors of HMC Kenyon or appears inaccurately in the Army List. The letter is certainly genuine.
British casualties at Kioge:
Munch-Petersen Defying Napoleon p 185 states that the British casualties at Kioge were ‘extremely light – 29 dead, 121 wounded and 21 missing’ (p 185). But this is actually a gross over-statement, and would suggest some significant fighting given the size of the forces involved. However these figures are wrong: they come from Fortescue History of the British Army vol 6 p 72n where they are given as the casualties suffered by the entire British army for the whole period from the 16 to 31 August: 2 officers and 27 men killed, 6 officers and 116 men wounded, and 21 men missing; and the great majority of these clearly occurred in the investment of Copenhagen.
Aftermath of Kioge
As Linsingen pursued the fleeing Danes over the next few days the number of prisoners rose to more than 1,500, while many of the militia sensibly dropped their muskets and went home.
The prisoners included Major-General Oxholm.
Munch-Petersen Defying Napoleon p 184 describes how the Danish militia on Zealand ‘ceased to exist as a fighting force’ in the aftermath of the action.
AW, ‘dry nurses’ and Richard Stewart
Years later, in talking about the campaign, Wellesley complained that the Horse Guards had no confidence in his ability and had appointed a ‘dry nurse’ as his second-in-command to manage the brigade. According to the story when they came up with the enemy this ‘dry nurse’ began, as usual, to suggest how the troops should be handled, but Wellesley cut him short and gave his own rapid, decisive orders. (Notes on Wellington’s conversation, Sudborne, Dec 1826: Croker The Croker Papers vol 1 p 343-44). This made a good story, but it was quite unfair. Wellesley’s second-in-command was Colonel Richard Stewart and he had been appointed, not because the Horse Guards lacked faith in Wellesley, but to enable Wellesley to take part in the expedition while retaining his office of Chief Secretary of Ireland. Stewart had done all the dreary work of preparing the troops for embarkation, and may well have misunderstood Wellesley’s character and his intended role, but he evidently accepted Wellesley’s correction with good grace and deserved his gratitude. When the expedition was over Wellesley pressed the Duke of York to have Stewart promoted to brigadier-general, but without immediate success, although Stewart eventually rose to be a major-general and served in several campaigns in the Peninsula under Wellesley’s command, before dying in Lisbon in October 1810 ‘in consequence of a fall from a balcony, whose banister had been removed.’ (AW to Col R. Stewart, Dublin Castle, 8 Jan 1808, WP 1/189/38 tells of the failure of AW’s attempts to get Stewart promoted. Details of Stewart’s death from Hall Biographical Dictionary of British Officers Killed and Wounded… p 623).
Plundering by the Army:
A regimental order issued by the commander of the 92nd on 27 August tells its own story:
Lieutenant-Colonel Napier has observed with extreme concern the bad conduct of great part of the regiment with regard to plundering the houses on the road. The regiment used to be a pattern to others on all marches, but they have now shown a very different one. A great deal has been done through mere mischief and wantonness, and he is sorry to be obliged to say the officers have not done their duty in preventing it. (Quoted in Gardyne Life of a Regiment vol 1 p 130).
See also Major John Macdonald to Sir John Hope, n.d,, Sept 1807, Ward Papers 300/2/6 (original in the Linlithgow Ms 6 f 1-20); William Napier to his mother, 19 Aug 1807, Bruce Life of William Napier vol 1 p 42; and Castlereagh to Cathcart 2 Oct 1807 Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 p 191-2. The issue was raised in Parliament by Whitbread, (Parliamentary Debates vol 10 1808 col 730-1) and played down by Arthur Wellesley and Gen. Gascoyne.
Cathcart’s incompetence and unpopularity with his staff:
Macdonald also wrote:
Things have been altogether conducted in such a way and so completely divested of everything bearing the shadow of system or punctuality (and this ever since we left England) that Colonel Murray and myself had it frequently in contemplation to resign our situations rather than be parties to so discreditable scene. (Major John Macdonald to Sir John Hope, Head Quarters, nd [Sept 1807] Ward Papers 300/2/6 citing Linlithgow Mss 6 f 1-20).
S. G. P. Ward also cites Bourke to Le Marchant: ‘The loudest complaints of Lord C’s extraordinary conduct. The lieutenant-generals, it is said, have declared they will never serve with him again. How strange it is that we cannot find one general in our whole army.’ (London, 13 Nov 1807 Ward Papers 300/3/2 citing Le Marchant Mss 5a). For an example of naval impatience see Charles Paget RN to his brother Arthur Paget, 1 Sept 1807, The Paget Brothers p 69.
So there is more than enough evidence to support Fortescue’s sharp criticism of Cathcart (History of the British Army vol 6 p 65, 69) and to contradict C. T. Atkinson’s well-meaning but misguided defence: Atkinson ‘Gleanings from the Cathcart Mss Pt VI The “Conjoint” Expedition to Copenhagen, 1807’ J.S.A.H.R. vol 30 no 122 Summer 1952 p 80-87.
Wellesley’s view of Cathcart:
Wellesley’s views are less clear. Throughout the campaign he wrote regularly to Hawkesbury and occasionally to Castlereagh, which in itself shows what an awkward subordinate he was, for no general could be happy to have one of his junior officers writing frequent, confidential letters to his political masters. Wellesley’s published letters show that he was unhappy at the failure to occupy Amager and the slow progress of the siege works, but at this point, where he might have gone on to criticize Cathcart there is an excision (marked with a row of asterisks) in the printed text. (AW to Hawkesbury, 3 Sept 1807, WD III p 10). The manuscripts of these letters in the Wellington papers consist mostly of mid-nineteenth century copies made when the second Duke was compiling the Supplementary Despatches. This may be because Wellesley lacked the staff to make copies at the time, or it may be more significant, for we cannot know whether these copies are complete or whether some passages were omitted. The Murray Papers in Edinburgh, on the other hand, contain several draft orders for the army, drawn up by Murray with what appear to be amendments and suggestions by Wellesley. S. G. P. Ward, who made this discovery, believed that it indicated that Cathcart was so impractical that Murray formed ‘an unsanctified alliance’ with Wellesley, and that the two men co-operated closely throughout the campaign, laying the foundations for a working relationship that was to last throughout the Peninsular War and beyond. (Murray Papers 12 ff 55-63, 83-85; S. G. P. Ward ‘General Sir George Murray’ J.S.A.H.R. vol 58 no 236 winter 1980 p 195.).
But it is possible that Cathcart may have been happy to allow Murray and Wellesley to co-operate on some of the tasks of running the army: this at least is the implication of a letter from AW to Murray in Portugal in 1808, where he unfavourably contrasts Dalrymple with Cathcart:
I believe your experience of the zeal with which I served Lord Cathcart would convince you that I would not decline performing any duty which the government would require from me. I shall not conceal from you, however, that I consider myself in a very different situation in this army from that in which Lord Cathcart placed me; and I acknowledge that I cannot venture to do many things which I did for him, because it is evident that there exists a want of confidence which never existed in respect to me in any former instance. (AW to Murray 5 Sept 1808 WD III p 112).
In any case, Cathcart’s reputation was seriously damaged by the campaign: he was never to be given another command on active service again, although Castlereagh employed him as a diplomat from 1812 to 1815.
Cathcart’s reluctance to commence the Bombardment:
‘The idea of burning a capital city, the residence of a Court, of destroying a great commercial depot, and shedding much innocent blood, seemed to weigh more heavily upon his mind than on others. It was not like Stralsund, he said, or other fortified cities, and its destruction must not be lightly determined upon. The admirals, thought all this had been fully foreseen and appreciated beforehand, and that every hour was a lost one in which the bombardment was delayed.’ (George Jackson to Mrs Jackson, 14 Sept 1807, Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson vol 2 p 211; see also Gomm to his sister Sophia, 7 Sept 1807, Letters and Journals of William Maynard Gomm p 84-7 who also comments on Cathcart’s reluctance).
These fine feelings would have done Cathcart more credit if he had done more to prevent the situation arising, by frightening the Danes into surrendering before preparations for the bombardment were completed – as Wellesley had proposed.
Precedents for the Bombardment:
French forces in the reign of Louis XIV employed the tactic of bombarding a city rather than breaching its walls on a number of occasions, the most famous (or infamous) being the bombardment of Genoa in 1684 and Villeroi’s bombardment of Brussels in 1695. This method of proceeding provoked some repugnance at the time, and fell out of favour during the eighteenth century, although General Wolfe bombarded Quebec in 1759. It was obviously harsh, for the attack was aimed directly at the civilian population in the hope that this would force the defenders to capitulate; but it is not clear that it was actually worse than the rape and pillage that was likely to follow if a city was stormed.
Effect of the Bombardment:
Munch-Petersen Defying Napoleon p 202 states that by the morning of 5 September most of the burgher militia had abandoned their stations on the ramparts of Copenhagen, and that there would have been little resistance if the British had attempted an escalade. This was one argument which convinced Peymann that there was no choice but surrender. This also shows the direct military effectiveness of the bombardment, as well as its success in bringing pressure on the commander of the defence to surrender.
There seems to be no authoritative figure and the number sometimes given of 800 wounded and injured and 2,000 killed looks very odd in its proportions. Alexander Gordon (Journal 7 Sept 1807, p 20) heard the figure of ‘near 1,000 people. We also hear that 20,000 inhabitants were unhoused by the Bombardment.’ Thomas Henry Browne (Napoleonic War Journal p 61) criticizes Peymann for not having sent most of the women and children out of the city before the bombardment began, permission having been granted by the British for them to leave. (And why didn’t they take refuge in Amager: a few nights in the open at the beginning of September does not seem an extraordinary hardship?) James Naval History of Great Britain vol 4 p 208 says that the Danes lost about 250 casualties in the fighting and 2,000 ‘men, women and children’ in the bombardment, but it is not clear if this meant killed or killed and wounded. He thinks that the figure was probably exaggerated, and joins in the criticism of Peymann. He also states that 305 houses were destroyed and that most of the houses in the city suffered some damage. (Munch-Petersen Defying Napoleon p 200 repeats the figure of 2,000 dead but says that many inhabitants were killed in their cellars by bombs and shells; the fire would also have contributed to this; but the proportion of killed:wounded still looks much too high.
The Terms of Capitulation:
These were not solely Wellesley’s responsibility, of course, and Wellesley, Popham and Murray were acting on instructions from Cathcart and Gambier. Francis Jackson and his fellow diplomat Brooke Taylor had been asked to attend the meeting to discuss the terms to be demanded, but ‘Lord Cathcart and Sir A. Wellesley decided that, the negotiation being no longer with the Danish Government, but with the military Governor of Copenhagen, the pending negotiation should be a purely military one, whereupon we withdrew.’ (Francis Jackson to George Jackson, 5 & 7 Sept 1807, Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson vol 2 p 24). Jackson would have demanded more and made no commitment to evacuate the city.
Munch-Petersen Defying Napoleon p 205, 208 points out that while liberal in some respects, the terms were onerous in regards to the fleet: there was no promise to restore it at the end of the war; and Danish hopes that they might be permitted to retain a few smaller vessels were denied.
Even though the Danish government knew from the outset that Copenhagen could not be saved, and Peymann had forced the citizens to endure three nights of bombardment and then only capitulated with the unanimous approval of all the other leading officials in the city, he was still punished. ‘The day after Prince Frederick’s return to Copenhagen in November 1807, Peymann along with some of his senior officers and the three men who had negotiated the capitulation were placed under arrest. They were to be tried by a court martial for dereliction of duty. Frederick drew up a list of eighteen questions for the court to investigate. Some of the questions dealt with fairly secondary matters, but the main ones were aimed at Peymann. Had he obeyed his orders to resist to the last extremity and had capitulation been a necessity? And if capitulation could not be avoided, why had the fleet not been destroyed rather than surrendered? [Because Peymann had not been ordered to do so, and the idea had been left too late].’ After proceedings lasting a full year Peymann was convicted and sentenced to death, as were two of his subordinates. These sentences were commuted to dismissal from the service without a pension, and in 1816 the pension and right to wear uniform were restored. Nonetheless the injustice of the proceeding is flagrant; whoever was to blame for the fall of Copenhagen, it certainly was not Peymann. (Quote and information from Munch-Petersen’s Defying Napoleon p 235-6).
The Ministers’ inclination to retain Zealand:
This achievement would certainly have satisfied the British ministers when the expedition set sail, but over the course of the campaign their hopes and objectives had changed. Remarkably, they were surprised when the Danish government declared war, although it is hard to imagine that the Danes would have failed to do so when their country was invaded and their capital subjected to ruthless attack. The ministers were alarmed for the safety of Sweden, fearing that the French would occupy Zealand after the expedition withdrew, and use it as a base from which to invade Sweden. And they were interested in unofficial messages from the Emperor of Russia, who expressed private understanding for the attack on Denmark and urged them not to evacuate Zealand: was this just a ruse to forestall a British attack on the Russian naval base at Cronstadt, or had the Tilsit alliance with Napoleon been the ruse from which Alexander was now beginning to detach himself? (Castlereagh to Cathcart, n.d. and 22 Sept 1807, Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 179-82, 182-6; Canning to the King, 19 Sept 1807, Later Correspondence of George III vol 4 p 628-30; Canning to Granville Leveson Gower, ‘Private’, 25 Aug and ‘Private’ 29 Sept 1807 PRO 30/29 8/4 f 450-3, 454-7. See also Ryan ‘The Copenhagen Expedition’ p 176-201).
By early September the British government, and Canning in particular, was anxious to at least leave open the possibility of keeping a permanent garrison in Zealand. Castlereagh had hinted as much to Cathcart in a letter which was received before the negotiations for the capitulation began. Cathcart and Gambier did not dismiss the ‘hint’ out of hand, but gave it a considered and sensible response, pointing out the obvious difficulties (Ryan ‘The Cophenhagen Expedition’ p 177-8). They did not let it influence the terms of the capitulation they demanded, but their instructions had not been altered. Indeed after the matter was first raised by Castlereagh on 3 August his interest in it dropped and on 27 August he ordered Cathcart to send home a large part of the army as soon as possible – it was only when news of the Danish declaration of war reached London on 4 September that interest in retaining Zealand revived leading to several letters on 5 September including Pole’s to AW (Ryan ‘The Copenhagen Expedition’ p 180-1; letters of 3 and 27 Aug 1807 in Naval Miscellany vol 5 p 311-12, 318-19; Castlereagh to Cathcart 5 Sept 1807 p 322).
Wellesley rejects the idea of retaining Zealand, but regrets involvement in the Convention:
Wellesley saw the letter from Castlereagh containing the ‘hint’, but had no hesitation in rejecting the idea with characteristic decision:
it is quite out of the question. In the first year it would be necessary to have in Copenhagen a garrison of 10,000 men, and twice that number in the country. These numbers might be diminished afterwards in proportion as we should bring the native population forward in our defence. But it could not be much diminished and the naval blockade would have to be kept up. (AW to Hawkesbury, 8 Sept 1807, WD III p 10-11 see also Ryan thesis p 177-78).
However over the next week Wellesley’s satisfaction with the success of the campaign was undermined by letters from England indicating the importance which the ministers now placed on the retention of Zealand. He was particularly upset by a letter from his brother William Wellesley-Pole which implicitly urged him to persuade Cathcart and Gambier to break the terms he himself had negotiated. He remained convinced that the occupation of Zealand over the winter would be a grave mistake which would risk the loss of the whole army, and he was clear that he British had no right to break the capitulation. (AW to William Wellesley-Pole, Braesenborg, 15 Sept 1807, ‘Some Letters of Wellington to … Pole’ p 1-4).
Wellesley goes home:
Fortunately Wellesley did not have to remain in Denmark while the tedious work of securing the Danish prizes was accomplished. He wrote to Cathcart reminding him of his position as Chief Secretary of Ireland and asking leave to go home. ‘When I left England … I acknowledge that I was very uncertain and very indifferent whether I should continue to hold the office. I find, however, that I am still in it, and your Lordship will readily believe that there is much to do in Ireland. The long nights are approaching fast, and if I am to have any concern in the government of that country, it is desirable that I should be there.’ (AW to Cathcart, 14 Sept 1807, WSD vol 6 p 24-25). Cathcart was happy to agree, for if anyone could reconcile the ministers to the terms of the capitulation it would be Wellesley. Both Cathcart and Gambier were determined to honour their word and abide by the capitulation, but they were uncomfortable with the pressure they were under from London, and Cathcart entrusted Wellesley with a letter to Castlereagh to be delivered at Wellesley’s discretion. This probably contained Cathcart’s resignation, possibly combined with a formal protest, but Wellesley did not have to use it. (AW to Cathcart, London, 1 Oct 1807, WSD vol 6 p 26-27).
Wellesley’s return to England:
Wellesley re-embarked on the Prometheus on 18 September and sailed for England next morning leaving his brigade in the capable hands of Richard Stewart. The weather was boisterous and the general and his suite were sea-sick and consequently very glad to land at Yarmouth about 10 o’clock on the morning of 28 September. (Chambers ‘Journal’ in Naval Miscellancy vol 3 p 423-8). Wellesley went straight to see Castlereagh who was staying at Sudborne Hall, Suffolk. He found that the ministers were now keen on proposing an alliance with Denmark and actually believed that there was some chance that the Danes would accept. On the other hand, if the alliance was declined, Castlereagh had resolved to leave the final decision to evacuate Zealand to Cathcart and Gambier, even though he knew that they would abide by the capitulation. Having talked to Wellesley, Castlereagh was eager that he should be sent back to the Baltic to conduct the negotiations with the Danish court. (Castlereagh to Hawkesbury, Sudborne Hall, 29 Sept 1807, Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 p 187-88). Fortunately the ministers in London quashed this proposal to which there were many obvious objections – and even with Wellesley’s eagerness to take part in whatever was happening, it is hard to imagine that he was disappointed. (Castlereagh to Hawkesbury, 1 Oct 1807 and Castlereagh to Canning, 3 Oct 1807, Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 p 188-89, 192; AW to Castlereagh, 1 Oct 1807, WSD vol 6 p 28-29). In London he saw Canning and the other ministers. One suggestion considered at this time was that the British abide by the letter of the capitulation by evacuating Zealand as required, only to re-occupy it immediately, but fortunately this idea was not pursued. Anthony Merry was sent to propose an alliance to Denmark, but the Danish court naturally refused to see him. And Canning reluctantly came to accept that military and naval opinion was too decided and too unanimous in opposing any attempt to retain Zealand for the government to over-rule it. (Canning to Granville Leveson Gower, 5 Nov 1807, PRO 30/29 8/4 f 466-70; George Jackson’s diary, 1 Oct 1807, Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson vol 2 p 221-222; AW to Cathcart, 1 Oct 1807, and AW to Castlereagh 1 Oct 1807, WSD vol 6 p 26-27, 28-29).
Lasting effects on Wellesley’s relations with the Government
One lasting effect of the government’s vacillation over the convention and the evacuation of Zealand was to sow the seeds of doubt (or perhaps to strengthen existing doubts) in Wellesley’s mind, that a commander in the field could rely on the ministers to support him if he made a mistake or misjudged their intentions. It is notable how quick he was to assume that he would be blamed for the Convention – how little confidence he placed in Castlereagh’s friendship or the government’s good faith. Possibly this dates back to the row with Lord Wellesley over the peace terms with the Marathas – if so, the distrust must have been strengthened by this episode where the ministers certainly behaved badly. (Even the final decision was not an honest order to abide by the Convention, but a passing of the responsibility to Cathcart and Gambier). This helps to explain Wellesley’s marked lack of confidence in his political masters from Cintra to the Regency crisis and beyond.
Almost all the reservations and criticism in Britain concentrated on the morality of the expedition as a whole; perhaps fortunately for the government, the decision to proceed by bombarding Copenhagen, and the contemplated retention of Zealand, attracted much less scrutiny. Whether morally justified or not, the expedition was a great success. Seventeen ships of the line, eleven frigates, several smaller vessels and a vast quantity of stores were captured, while many gunboats and other small vessels were destroyed (James Naval History vol 4 p 209, 212). The captured ships sailed to Portsmouth where most were condemned as unseaworthy – much to the disgust of all the naval and military officers who believed that the dockyard authorities acted from party political motives, and whose feelings were made more intense because the condemnation sharply reduced the amount of prize money they received. Gambier’s estimate that the prize would amount to almost £1 million was reduced to not much over £700,000, but even so each lowly subaltern ultimately received £97; Wellesley, £1,700 and Cathcart and Gambier some £18,000 each. (Gambier’s estimate of £960,000 is in Chatterton’s Memorials… vol 2 p 86; on the great reduction see Major John Macdonald to Cathcart, London, 25 Nov 1808, Castlereagh Correspondence vol 6 p 202-5). Only four ships were added to the Royal Navy. The government responded by granting the forces nine tenths of the value of the prize rather than the more usual three quarters – retaining one tenth simply to preserve the principle that the forces were not entitled to the whole: Castlereagh to AW, 6 Dec 1808, WSD vol 6 p 187.
For a subaltern’s share see Browne Napoleonic War Journal p 64; Wellesley told William Wellesley-Pole in Sept 1809 that he had received £1,700 prize money (AW to Pole, 13 Sept 1809, Letters to Pole p 25). Complete Peerage vol 3 p 107 gives Cathcart’s share as £18,000.
© Rory Muir