TORDENSKJOLD, PEDER (1691-1720), eminent Danish naval hero, the tenth child of alderman Jan Wessel of Bergen, in Norway, was born at Trondhjem on the 28th of October 1691. Wessel was a wild unruly lad who gave his pious parents much trouble. Finally he ran away from them by hiding in a ship bound for Copenhagen, where the king's chaplain Dr Peder Jespersen took pity on the friendless lad, gratified his love for the sea by sending him on a voyage to the West Indies, and finally procured him a vacant cadetship. After further voyages, this time to the East Indies, Wessel was, on the 7th of July 1711, appointed 2nd lieutenant in the royal marine and shortly afterwards became the captain of a little 4-gun sloop " Ormen" (The Serpent), in which he cruised about the Swedish coast and picked up much useful information about the enemy. In June 1712 he was promoted to a 2o-gun frigate, against the advice of the Danish admiralty, which pronounced him to be too flighty and unstable for such a command. His discriminating patron was the Norwegian admiral Lovendal, who was the first to recognize the young man's ability as a naval officer. At this period Wessel was already renowned for two things: the audacity with which he attacked any Swedish vessels he came across regardless of odds, and his unique seamanship, which always enabled him to escape capture. The Great Northern War had now entered upon its later stage, when Sweden, beset on every side by foes, employed her fleet principally to transport troops and stores to her distressed German provinces. The audacity of Wessel impeded her at every point. He was continually snapping up transports, dashing into the fjords where her vessels lay concealed, and holding up her detached frigates. In July 1714 he encountered a frigate which had been equipped in England for the Swedes and was on its way to Gothenburg under the command of an English captain. Wessel instantly attacked her but in the English captain he met his match. The combat lasted all day, was interrupted by nightfall, and renewed again indecisively the following morning. Wessel's free and easy ways procured him many enemies in the Danish navy. He was accused of unnecessarily endangering his majesty's war-ships in the affairs with the frigate and he was brought before a court-martial. But the spirit with which he defended himself and the contempt he poured on his less courageous comrades took the fancy of King Frederick IV., who cancelled the proceedings and raised Wessel to the rank of captain. When in the course of 1715 the return of Charles XII. from Turkey to Stralsund put a new life into the jaded and dispirited Swedish forces, Wessel distinguished himself in numerous engagements off the Pomeranian coast and did the enemy infinite damage by cutting out their frigates and destroying their transports. On returning to Denmark in the beginning of 1716 he was ennobled under the title of " Tordenskjold " (Thundershield). When in the course of 1716 Charles XII. invaded Norway and sat down before the fortress of Fredrikshald, Tordenskjold compelled him to raise the siege and retire to Sweden by pouncing upon the Swedish transport fleet laden with ammunition and other military stores which rode at anchor in the narrow and dangerous strait of Dynekil, utterly destroying the Swedish fleet with little damage to himself. For this, his greatest exploit, he was promoted to the rank of commander, but at the same time incurred the enmity of his superior officer Admiral Gabel, whom he had omitted to take into his confidence on the occasion. Tordenskjold 's first important command was the squadron with which he was entrusted in the beginning of 1717 for the purpose of destroying the Swedish Gothenburg squadron which interrupted the communications between Denmark and Norway. Owing to the disloyalty of certain of his officers who resented serving under the young adventurer, Tordenskjold failed to do all that was expected of him. His enemies were not slow to take advantage of his partial failure. The old charge of criminal recklessness was revived against him at a second court-martial before which he was summoned in 1718; but his old patron Admiral U. C. Gyldenlove again intervened energetically in his behalf and the charge was quashed. In December 1718 Tordenskjold brought to Frederick IV. the welcome news of the death of Charles XII. and was made a rear-admiral for his pains. Tordenskjold's last feat of arms was his capture of the Swedish fortress of Marstrand, when he partially destroyed and partially captured the Gothenburg squadron which had so long eluded him. He was rewarded with the rank of vice-admiral. Tordenskjold did not long survive the termination of the war. On the 20th of November 1720 he was killed in a duel with a Livonian colonel, Jakob Axel Stael von Holstein. Although, Dynekil excepted, Tordenskjold ; s victories were of far less importance than Sehested's at Stralsund and Gyldenlove's at Rugen, he is certainly, after Charles XII., the most heroic figure of the Great Northern War. His courage was fully equal to the courage of " The Lion of the North," but he lacked that absolute selfcommand which gives to the bravery of Charles XII. its peculiar, almost superhuman, character.
See Carstensen and Lutken, Tordenskjold (Copenhagen, 1887).
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)