Canning and the Danes, 1807

The British attacked Copenhagen in August 1807 because, Canning claimed, Denmark was about to become a French satellite. Hilary Barnes asks, was he mistaken?

George Canning was not the man to admit, either to the world or to himself, that he had made a major blunder.

More surprising is that nearly all Canning’s biographers and apologists have been bound by the spell of his enormous self-confidence and have proved as reluctant as Canning himself to pass an adverse verdict on what was admittedly his most controversial act of foreign policy, the attack on Denmark in August, 1807.

But the more carefully one examines the background to the expedition, the less satisfactory seems the traditional Canningite version of the story.

In its least sophisticated version, and the one that Canning and the Cabinet presented to Parliament in the debates during the spring of 1808, he claimed to have received secret information concerning the secret articles of the Treaty of Tilsit.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.