Steen Bille

Engraving of Bille as a vice admiral, late 1820s. Original artist unknown, original believed to be in the public domain.

Born: 1751
Years of Service

The son of admiral Daniel Ernst Bille, Steen Anderson Bille was not the most physically fit cadet to enter the Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy, but he proved himself quite capable nonetheless. Becoming a midshipman at age eleven, Bille became a junior lieutenant in 1768, and received his first command, the armed merchantman Mercurius, in 1775. Most of the next few years were spent in the Danish West Indies, and Bille became good friends with several governors of the territory. He had a bad run of luck with disease among his crews, and broke his arm while in Cape Town in 1782. The bone was not set correctly, and it never fully healed. Most of the 1780s were spent in poor health, and out of command, but Bille made commander in 1789. On 6 December, 1790, Bille married Frederikke Vilhelmine Charlotte Bornemann, and they had four children between 1792 and 1797. He was captain of several fleet flagships in the 1790s, and was dispatched to the Mediterranean after Triploi declared war on Denmark in 1797. His squadron of three ships handily defeated a larger Tripolitan squadron, and he signed a peace treaty on Denmark's behalf. Bille was made governor of Morocco, and remained in the Mediterranean until 1801. Upon returning home, Bille was thrust into action during the Battle of Copenhagen, though the ships under his command were at the far end of the Danish line, and saw little combat. Promoted to Commodore in 1804, Bille saw service in a number of shore positions, including the Admiralty College, and after a disastrously brief war with the British in 1807, tried to get permission for the fleet to sortie and conduct a death charge against the British. It was denied, and he had to content himself with organizing light patrols in the North Sea after the British took the entire Danish fleet. Bille led the creation of the Royal Danish Navy after Denmark-Norway split, and he was promoted to vice-admiral in 1825, and full admiral in 1829. Bille died in 1833, and is buried in Copenhagen.

Fun Fact: Bille's personal motto was “Do right, and fear nobody".