Gordon Riots

The Gordon Riots, 1780

Contents

Earlier disturbances

Lord George Gordon

Origins of the American War of Independence

Treaty of Paris 1763

Attitudes to the American War of Independence

To the War itself

To Parliamentary Reform

Catholic Emancipation

Opposition to Catholicism

Intention to Recruit Catholics to fight the Americans

The Catholic Relief Act

Reaction to the Act

The Protestant Association

Protests against the Act

The Riots

The March on Parliament

The Petition presented

Disorder

Debate Adjourned

Rioting on the Catholic issue

In general

What motivated the rioters?

Against Catholics

Against the legal system

Prisons

Black Wednesday 7th June

Repression

Delayed

Troops called in

Shots are fired

Casualties

Legal consequences

For Lord George

For the Rioters

Lord George’s Later Career

Contemporary Verdicts

Significance

In literature

FRESCI

Foreign and Military

Religion and Ideas

Economic and Financial

Social and Cultural

Constitutional and Legal

Individual and Random

Points of View

Linguistic

Alternative Hypothesis

Concepts

Time

Bibliographical Notes

Appendix I Erasmus Middleton & the Protestant Association

Appendix II Lord George and Judaism

Bibliography

 

Earlier disturbances

The Gordon Riots were the result of many things happening in both British politics and the British economy in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. (13) The riots against turnpikes in the 1730s were treated with relative good humour, and even a hint of encouragement from some among the propertied classes who resented tolls as much as their lowlier compatriots. (5) But exemplary sentences inevitably followed. (5) Conditions in cities in Britain in the second half of the 18th century were unsanitary and overcrowded. (11) High taxes, unjust and repressive laws, government profiteering and impressment into the army and navy were among the issues that inflamed the working classes and bred discontent. (11) Decades of political change were brought about by the new King George III who, when he ascended the throne in 1760 sought to sweep away the controlling Whigs. (13) From that time there were hints of a changing attitude towards popular disturbances. (5) George III’s aim was to put he an end to partisan politics. (13) He sought to replace party politics with ‘good men’ who would serve the country well. (13) Old ‘Tories’ were once again welcomed back into the parliamentary fold having spent many decades elbowed to the margins by the Whigs. (13) They were not the old Tory party that had long disappeared, but they were certainly not Whigs. (13) This of course led to a split, between those who favoured King George and those who stood against him. (13) The ousted Whigs were appalled by the King’s desire to return to a monarchy that would use its prerogative and set up a new powerful court around the monarch. (13) There were many critics but perhaps the most significant was John Wilkes, the genius political imp, whose mischief making squeezed the King into a very tight corner. (13) He carried on a protracted and controversial campaign in defence of electoral rights and the freedom of the press produced violent demonstrations on the streets. (5) In 1771 the right to publish speeches in the Commons was established in spite of their protests. (3) The 6th motion to expunge the resolution to reject him, as “subversive of the rights of electors”, was carried in May 1772. (3) The consequent clashes with authority in the names of “Wilkes and Liberty” had too many political implications to be viewed with complacency. (5) Civil disorder bubbled just under the surface of British society, waiting for a reason to explode. (11)

Lord George Gordon

The enigmatic (6) Lord George Gordon was born in 1751. (1,7) He was an English anti Catholic agitator, (7) born in London. (7,16) He was the third and youngest son of Cosmo George Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon, and his wife, Catherine, and the brother of Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon. (16) After completing his education at Eton, he entered the Royal Navy (7,16) in 1763 at the age of 12. (16) He received promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, but his career stagnated and he received no further promotions. (16) His behaviour in raising the poor living conditions of his sailors led to him being mistrusted by his fellow officers, although it contributed to his popularity amongst ordinary seamen. (16) Lord Sandwich, then at the head of the Admiralty, refused to promise him immediate command of a ship, and (16) he resigned his commission in 1772, (7,16) shortly before the beginning of the American War of Independence. (16)  He was  elected (7,16) [OR] returned unopposed as (16) Member of Parliament (7,16) for Ludgershall (16) in 1774, (7,16) (The pocket borough had been bought for him by General Fraser, to fend off Gordon’s threat to oppose him in Inverness-shire, (16)) In parliament he was a strong critic of the government’s colonial policy in regard to America. (16) He became a supporter of American independence and often spoke out in favour of the colonies. (16)  His chances of building a political following in parliament were damaged by his inconsistency and (16) the fact that he attacked both Whigs and Tories. (7,16)  He was just as likely to attack the radical opposition spokesman Charles James Fox in a speech as he was to challenge Lord North, the Tory Prime Minister. (16) He was an enigmatic (6) unstable (10) eccentric (14,15) and flighty (16) individual, (9) who was not looked upon as being of any importance (16) [OR] became a powerful and extreme Protestant. (9)

Origins of the American War of Independence

The European wars of the early to mid C18th were both costly and time consuming to the nations involved and became more entangled as time went on. (13) A whole flotilla of mistrust and complicated political power games were being enacted on many European stages. (13) One of the main problems between Britain and France was their overseas colonial struggle for control of North America and India. (13)

Treaty of Paris 1763

The Treaty of Paris in 1763 allowed King George and his Parliament to have significant control to do what they wanted regarding America and that was to stabilize and strengthen the country, to allow for expansion of the colonies and most importantly, to strengthen it against the next very probable French attack. (13) To do this they were intent on increasing taxes in America to help reduce the post-war debt in Britain. (13) They wanted to bring America closer to Britain. (13) Supporters of the Treaty saw it as a winning situation for the British, leaving them dominant in North America and East India and this was vital if Britain was going to continue its expansion of power and trade in the world. (13) John Wilkes attacked the King’s acceptance of the Treaty of Paris 1763, which he and his followers claimed the King had given away to the French. (13) The merchants, the bankers, the craftsmen of London loved him, because he spoke with patriotic fervour and this pleased those who had made money from the wars Britain had been involved with and didn’t want a peace treaty with France, as it was not good for business. (13) Wilkes was a thorn in the side of the new politicians and the King. (13) His complicated and charismatic character drew people to him. (13) Despite being in exile and prison he was a character that would not go away and when he eventually returned (13) he was made Lord Mayor of London (3,13) and MP for Middlesex. (3) He now had the populist vote behind him. (13) What played out we know is very far from what was envisaged and the result was a more powerful group of American citizens who wanted some measure of independence from Britain. (13)

Attitudes to the American War of Independence

To the War itself

Even at its outbreak in 1775 British attitudes to the American war were mixed. (10) Many Protestant dissenters (10,13) including intellectuals such as Joseph Priestly and Thomas Paine (13) regarded the Americans as their brethren, for political and religious reasons. (10,13) The City of London, and other commercial centres such as Glasgow, Norwich, and Newcastle, objected to the war because it disrupted highly profitable Anglo-American trade. (10) Many British newspapers and cartoons adopted a pacifist and sometimes even a pro-American line. (10) Wilkes, too, supported the idea of American colonial rights. (13) Other Britons supported the King (10,13) and Parliament (13) in wanting to keep America close. (10,13) They believed that rebellion against a monarch was sinful and that Parliament’s authority must be preserved. (10) These ‘anti-Americans’ included many high-level Catholics. (13) Conventional patriotism became stronger after 1778, when France, Spain, and belatedly the Dutch, allied themselves with the Americans against Britain. (10) Britain found itself struggling to find a solution to reconciling its desire to form a greater colonial power base, something neither the French nor the Spanish wanted us to have. (13) America was split, Britain divided and France and Spain keen to make much out of the debacle. (13) So began the American War of Independence with France meanwhile stirring things up in India. (13) The next two years proved profoundly difficult. (10) King George increased the size of the Navy and the Army. (13) Taxes rose and Britain was burdened by the costs of such an effort. (13) The men joining the army came from all over, but (13) fears that the French would invade Ireland as a prelude to invading the British mainland led ministers to encourage (10) the creation of a large Irish volunteer force (10,13) some 40,000 strong. (10) The Irish Protestant elite, led by Henry Grattan, used this force and the French threat (10) to extract concessions from London. (10,13)

To Parliamentary Reform

Declining British fortunes abroad also revived the issue of parliamentary reform. (10) By 1779 three different reform groups had emerged, all of whom favoured peace with America. (10) The marquess of Rockingham and his parliamentary supporters (including his secretary, Edmund Burke) wanted to reduce official corruption and George III’s influence in government. (10) Another group, led by Christopher Wyvill, a one-time Anglican clergyman, wanted a moderate reform of the representative system. (10) Wyvill and some of his supporters played with the idea of a national association, an assembly of reformers from each county in Britain, that would exist parallel to Parliament and be superior to it in constitutional zeal. (10) A third small group, led by Charles James Fox, a Whig MP, and by former Wilkite activists, wanted more extensive political reform, including the secret ballot and annual general elections. (10) In 1780 they founded the Society for Constitutional Information, which was designed to build public support for political change through the systematic production and distribution of libertarian propaganda. (10)

Catholic Emancipation

Opposition to Catholicism

Anti-Catholic prejudice had been a powerful emotion in Britain since the Reformation in the 16th Century, and Roman Catholicism was associated by many with political absolutism and persecution. (10) Being a Roman Catholic had been equated to being a traitor since the days of Elizabeth I in the belief that a person could not be loyal to the English monarch and the Pope at the same time. (9) Common thought throughout Britain at this time was that Catholicism was a “slumbering threat” and that “to tolerate popery, is to encourage what by Toleration itself we mean to destroy, a spirit of persecution and bigotry of the most notorious kind.” (12)

Intention to Recruit Catholics to fight the Americans

When the American Revolution began (8) Irish Catholics had long been prohibited from joining the British Army (8,11) under 17th Century repressive laws against Catholics. (11) These prevented arming Irish Catholics, who were seen as subversives by the ruling British protestant class, and was effected by the (8) requirement of all soldiers of the Crown taking a religious loyalty oath which included defending the faith, in this case the faith of the Church of England. (8,9) [OR] The 1698 anti-Catholic laws had largely been ignored for many years and were rarely enforced. (15) Large numbers of Catholics, recruited in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, were already serving in the military. (15) In the crisis caused by the American War (13) British military forces at the time were stretched very thinly in what had become a global American War of Independence, with conflicts ongoing with France, Spain, and the new United States. (15) The recruitment of Catholic people would be a significant help to address this shortfall of manpower. (12,15) Catholics were willing to serve the King and the King responded, (13) but many leading Catholics were opposed to the repeal of the Act, fearing it would stir up anti-Catholic sentiment for little practical return. (15)

The Catholic Relief Act

In spite of this, the government decided to press ahead with the Bill. (15) In 1778 (1,3) under (9) and on the instructions of (15) Lord North’s ministry, (9,15) Sir George Savile successfully introduced a (9,14) [OR] two (13) Catholic Relief Acts, (9,11) [OR] Papists Acts (8,15) an Irish one and a British one. (13) This was part of the Whig tradition of religious toleration. (9) The Act repealed the harsh anti-Catholic legislation (11) contained in the Popery Act of 1698. (15) [OR] lifted restrictions on the civil rights of (11) [OR] made minor concessions to (10) British Roman Catholics, (10,11) who were (10) repressed by being (10,11) excluded from civil rights. (10) Under it (1,9) some of the penal laws against Roman Catholics were repealed: (1,3) Catholics were permitted greater freedom in society; (1,6) restrictions on the activities of priests were removed. (1) Among other things, it allowed for (8) Catholics to join the army, (6,8) because it excused them from the requirement to take an oath to defend the faith on joining the army (8,9) (with its implicit recognition of the Church of England). (11)

Reaction to the Act

Much anti-Catholic feeling was roused (8,9) among Protestants, particularly in England, (8,11) [OR] in Scotland, (10) in British cities, including London (8) despite the well-recognized need to recruit additional manpower for the army (8,9) in the face of war against America, France and Spain. (9) [OR]The argument that the Catholic Relief Act was made necessary by the demands of war was dismissed by the majority of the British populace, (12) Protestants were worried about a return of a Catholic majority and wanted to send a very clear message to both Government and monarch that this would never be accepted. (13) Lord George Gordon saw the Catholic Relief Act as a threat to Anglicanism. (9) An articulate propagandist, Gordon inflamed the mob (15) with fears of “Popery” (9,11) and royal absolutism. (9,15) He suggested that Roman Catholics in the British army, especially the Irish, might join forces with their French and Spanish co-religionists and attack England. (9,14) Gordon enjoyed popularity in Scotland (10,15) where he took part in a successful campaign to prevent the same legislation from being introduced into Scots law, although the Act continued in force in England and Wales and in Ireland. (15) The success in obstructing the law in Scotland led Gordon to believe he could enjoy similar success in the rest of Britain. (15) By 1780 antipathy towards the Catholic Relief Act, and the accusations by its Whig opponents of its leading towards Papism and absolute monarchy, had tied it to the Royal propensity to prosecute the war in North America. (8)

The Protestant Association

Following its passage of the Catholic Relief Act into law (1,6) the backlash from Whig pro-American and anti-Popery supporters came swiftly (13) in 1779 (15,16) [OR] 1780, (9) with the strongly pro-American (13,16) Whig (13) MP Lord George Gordon leading the way (13,16) He (1,6) set up the Protestant Association (9,10) [OR] Society, (14) and led it as President. (14,15) It demanded the repeal of the Act. (9,11) The Association attracted extremists (9) [OR] had the support of leading Calvinist religious figures, including Rowland Hill, Erasmus Middleton1, and John Rippon. (15)  Early in 1780 Gordon had several audiences with King George III but was unable to convince him of what he saw as the dangers of the Act. (15) George III initially humoured Gordon, but grew increasingly irritated with him and eventually refused any future audiences. (15)

Protests against the Act

The political climate deteriorated rapidly. (15) The crisis came when (9) the movement reached London. (10,15) On 29th May, Gordon called a meeting of the Protestant Association (15) and arranged for a huge (6) petition seeking repeal of the Acts (6,7) to be drawn up by (6) the Protestant Association, of which he was the leader. (1,6)

The Riots

The March on Parliament

On the morning of (6) Friday (14) 2nd (6,7) [OR] 6th (13) June (6,7) 1780 (1,3) a huge crowd (6,7) associated with the Protestant Association (11) gathered (11,15) in St. George’s Fields, (11,16) in London (11) [OR] just south of London (16) with their leader, Lord George Gordon. (11) They numbered 40,000 to 50,000 (11) [OR] 40,000 – 60,000 (13,15) [OR] 50,000 (7) [OR] around 50,000 (16) [OR] nearly 50,000 (6) [OR] some 60,000 strong. (9,11) From there they marched (6,7) in procession (7,16) to parliament (6,7) in the Palace of Westminster. (13) It was a large and orderly protest. (15) [OR] it included a riotous element (9) Many carried flags and banners proclaiming “No Popery”, and most wore blue cockades which had become the symbol of their movement. (15) The participants were dressed in their Sabbath best by Gordon’s orders. (13) They intended to present (11,14) the vast (14,16) petition, with its (11,14) 44,000 (11) [OR] nearly 120,000 (14) signatures (11,14) for against (6,7) (partial) Catholic Emancipation (16) and in favour of ‘A repeal of the Act passed in the last session in favour of the Roman Catholics’ (14) and a stop to further Catholic emancipation (3) because ‘popery’ was a threat to the Church of England. (11) As they marched, their numbers swelled. (15)

The Petition presented

Thus far, the protest was peaceable, but it did not remain so. (14) The marchers’ frustration and tension reached a boiling point and chaos ensued. (12) On arriving at parliament (13,14) the whole event got out of hand. (8,9) Lord George (11,14) petition in hand, (15) (although it was a huge roll of parchment, almost as much as a man could carry, (14)) and wearing in his hat the blue cockade of the Protestant Association (15) entered the House and presented his petition, (11,14) demanding that it be considered immediately. (14)

Disorder

Outside, the situation quickly got out of hand (15) and a riot erupted. (8,15) The crowd attempted (15) [OR]  threatened (16) to force their way into the House of Commons, but without success; (15,16) their invasion was cheered on by the Whigs. (13) Then the mob dispersed. (16) [OR]  A shocked (13) Parliament found itself subject to (6,13) a barrage of abuse (6) and physical violence (6,13) during which ministers, judges and Bishops lost their wigs and their composure. (13) Members of the House of Lords (15) [OR] those who they held responsible for passing the Act (14) were attacked as they arrived, and a number of carriages were vandalised and destroyed. (14,15) Despite being aware of the possibility of trouble, the authorities had failed to take steps to prevent violence breaking out. (15) The Prime Minister, Lord North, had forgotten to issue an order mobilising the small number of Constables in the area, (15) so despite the size of the mob, constables in the area had not been called out. (13) [OR] Those that were present in the House of Commons were not strong enough to take on the angry mob. (15)

(They) obliged almost all the members to put blue cockades in their hats, and call out, ‘No Popery!’ (14) Some they compelled to take an oath to vote for the repeal of the act. (14) They took possession of all the avenues from the outer door to the door of the House of Commons, which they twice attempted to force open. (14) The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, had the glasses of his carriage broken and the panels beaten in; the Bishop of Litchfield had his gown torn; and the Duke of Northumberland had his watch stolen. (14) Lord Mansfield’s nephew, Lord Stormont, fared even worse: They stopped Lord Stormont’s carriage, and great numbers of them got upon the wheels, box, &c taking the most impudent liberties with his Lordship, who was as it were in their possession for near half an hour, and would perhaps not have so soon got away had not a Gentleman jumped into his Lordship’s carriage, and by haranguing the mob persuaded them to desist. (14)

There followed six hours of debate. (12) Gordon’s petition was defeated 192 votes to 6. (13,15) Meanwhile, when constables did eventually arrive (13) [OR] with the arrival of troops, (14,15) only a small number of arrests were made; (13) the crowd was peaceably dispersed’ (13,14) onto to other areas of the city and they camped themselves on Moorfield, (13) one of the poorest parts of the city. (15) [OR] they went to Moorfields on the following day, 3rd June. (15) It was the home of many Irish immigrant workers and had a large area of open ground where crowds could assemble. (15)

Debate Adjourned

Once the mob around Parliament had dispersed, it seemed to the government that the worst of the disorder was over. (15) [OR] With no clear decision in sight. (11) The House decided that the matter would be revisited the following Tuesday. (12,14)

Rioting on the Catholic issue

In general

But that was not the end of it. (14,15) On the night of the 2nd/3rd, (14) the mob reassembled. (16) Huge numbers of people started on a destructive rampage, (14) the most devastating outbreak of urban violence in British history. (4) It started with the looting and burning of Catholic chapels in foreign embassies. (15) A crowd gathered and attacked the Roman Catholic Sardinian Embassy Chapel in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. (15) There was no regular police force, (11) [OR] Bow Street Runners and soldiers were called out and made thirteen arrests, although most of the ringleaders had managed to escape. (15) The same night the chapel of the Bavarian Embassy in Warwick Street, Soho, was destroyed. (15) Gordon Riot llFor the first time there was a real state of terror in London. (5) The masses vented their anger; (11) in anarchic behaviour. (3,13) Despite the appeal of a prominent Irish merchant, James Malo, to the Lord Mayor, Brackley Kennett, no additional protection was offered to the area when, by nightfall on 3rd, the crowd which had gathered in the area of Moorfields began to go on the rampage. (15) Malo’s house was amongst the many to be sacked and burned. (15) The city was in the hands of the mob (3,7) which looted (9,13) and waved placards, (9) and violence raged across the capital (4,6) for three days (3) [OR] five days (7,12) [OR] almost a week (4) [OR] a week (6,7) [OR] eight days. (10) [OR] several days (13,14) [OR] many days (11) [OR] from 2nd June to 9th June, 1780. (13) The riots (1,3) developed (3,6) into chaos (6) in London. (1,3) There were drunken orgies and brawls, (3) and large parts of central London (4) were set on fire. (4,9) The rioters’ actions became known as the Gordon Riots (4,12) after Gordon, the instigator of the riots (11) [OR] although Lord George himself remained firm in his disassociation with the destruction and tried to disperse the rioters. (12)

What motivated the rioters?

There was no, and still is no clear understanding of why or how the rioters’ actions devolved into mayhem after a few short days. (12) [OR] hours. (14) The riots were motivated by anti-Catholic sentiment (14,16) and were an extreme Protestant reaction to the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. (14) Further riots then occurred involving (14,15) people from the march reassembling (14) [OR] new groups. (15) The new rioters were spurred on by alcohol, (14) [OR] Aside from the issue of Catholic emancipation, it has also been suggested that the driving force of the riots was Britain’s poor economic situation: the loss of trade during the war had led to falling wages, rising prices, and periodic unemployment. (15) The mob had grievances which were nationalist, economic, or political, rather than religious. (15) In many cases a mix of issues blended together and drove people to take part in the rioting. (15) Voting in parliamentary elections was restricted by a property threshold, so most Londoners were unable to vote and many hoped for reforms to make Parliament more representative of the people. (15) Shortly after the riots had broken out, the Duke of Richmond suggested that they were directly attributable to the passing of the Quebec Act six years before, a view that was ridiculed by many of his colleagues. (15) Another suggested cause was Britain’s weakened international position, which had arisen from the country’s isolation in Europe and the disappointing news coming from the ongoing war. (15) Some rioters were against the continuation of the war, and many strongly supported American independence, while others were angry that Britain’s war effort was being mishandled by Lord North. (15)

Against Catholics

Serious (4,6) anti Catholic (1,3) rioting took place. (4,6) Protests were violent and aimed at Catholic targets (9,11) although, as Rudé noted, there was no general attack on the Catholic community, (15) ‘the victims of the riots’ being distinguished by the fact they were ‘on the whole, persons of substance’. (14,15) 15 seems to contradict itself when it speaks of ‘random violence in streets known to house rich Catholics’. (15) Individual Catholics were attacked (9,14 by angry crowds, (6)) and Catholic churches, (8,9) two (14) chapels (6,7) belonging to prominent (9,14) wealthy (14) Catholics (9,14) one the Sardinian ambassador in Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the other the Bavarian ambassador in Warwick Street, near Golden Square (14) were destroyed (6,7) They destroyed presbyteries (9) schools, (8) a distillery owned by a Catholic (11,14) (Mr Langdale (14) in High (11) Holborn, (11,14)) and the homes (6,7) of prominent (9,14) Catholics (6,7) such as Irish merchant James Malo (14) with their belonging set ablaze. (12)

Against the legal system

The violence continued as the rioters targeted those responsible for making and upholding the law. (7,9) The London homes of Rockingham, Devonshire, (9) Chief Justice (7,14) William Murray, (15) Lord (7,14) 1st Earl of (15) Mansfield (7,9) and Sir George (14) Savile, who had been responsible for instigating the hated Catholic Relief Bill, were attacked, (9,14) along with many other London buildings and institutions. (8,14) Those of Mansfield (9,14) in Bloomsbury Square (14) and Savile (9) were burned (9,14) and the others had to be defended by the militia. (9) Perhaps the worst of the protestors’ anger was directed at Lord Mansfield:

“The furniture, his fine library of books, invaluable manuscripts, containing his lordship’s notes on every important law case for near forty years past … were by the hands of these Goths committed to the flames; Lord and Lady Mansfield with difficulty eluded their rage, by making their escape through a back door, some minutes before the savages broke into, and took possession of his house. So great was the vengeance with which they menaced him, that, if report may be credited, they had brought a rope with them to have executed him: and his preservation may be properly termed providential. A group of rioters went out to Hampstead to similarly destroy Kenwood House, Lord Mansfield’s country residence. They were not successful. A guard was there before them and the rioters were diverted by being plied with free ale at nearby Spaniard’s Inn. The Bow Street offices and home of Sir John Fielding were likewise attacked, as were the shops of Mr Rainsforth, the king’s tallow chandler, and Mr Maberly for bringing evidence against the rioters. (14)

Prisons

The riots also seem to have expressed a more general frustration: (11) government buildings were attacked (12) including prisons. (8,11) A witness described how ‘about a thousand mad men, armed with clubs, bludgeons, and crows, set off for Newgate, to liberate, they say, their honest comrades’. (11) The mob attacked Newgate Prison (8,13) (now the Old Bailey (11)) where rioters arrested on 2nd June were being held. (15) The attackers released the prisoners and largely destroyed the prison (14,15) by burning it to the ground. (12,14) This allowed large numbers of prisoners to escape, many of whom were never recaptured. (15) Other (14) OR] All the other (16) prisons (14,16) The Clink, the Fleet (14,15) and the New, (15) suffered similar fates whilst other prisons were severely damaged. (14)

Black Wednesday 7th June

The Gordon riots reached their climax on “Black Wednesday,” (12,15) (so-called by Horace Walpole) (15) June 7th, 1780. (12,13) Prime Minister Lord North’s house in Downing Street was attacked unsuccessfully (14) and there was an attempt (12,13) to destroy (12) [OR] break into (13) the Bank of England. (4,6) It was unsuccessful (14,15) [OR] it suffered heavy damage at the hands of the mob (8) before a combination of the London Military Association and regular troops repulsed rioters, resulting in heavy casualties. (15) The events at the Bank of England started a tradition where a detachment of soldiers, usually from the Brigade of Guards would march to the bank to perform security duties. (15) Until 1963 the duty was performed by the Guards in Home Service Dress with bearskin, though tennis shoes were worn inside the bank. (15) From that date until 31st March 1973, the detachment became more functional than ceremonial, doing their duties in service dress with automatic weapons. (15)

Repression

Delayed

There was at first no repression. (13,15) Parliament had failed to take preventative measures against the possibility of mob violence. (14) Lord Shelburne complained that

“though … notice was given to the ministry, that a large body was to assemble in St George’s-fields, no measure, no precaution was made use of to stem the torrent of outrage, which might be expected to join those who had too much religion, tho’ they themselves had none.” (14)

There was no regular police force, (11) [OR] constables in the area had not been called out. (13) There seemed to be a remarkable reluctance to call in the militia and give them the authority to forcibly disperse the mob. (14) There was a widely held belief (14) that troops could not act (13,14) to open fire on a lawless mob unless specifically instructed to do so (13,14) after a reading of the Riot Act. (13) No one read the Riot Act, quite why not is uncertain. (13) [OR] Local magistrates did not issue the Riot Act because they were afraid of reprisals. (also 13,15) [OR] because there was often no magistrate at the scene of the riot prepared to give troops the order to shoot when they arrived. (14) Thirteen of the perpetrators were arrested and three of the most notorious were incarcerated in Newgate Prison. (14) For many observers it seemed that (4,6) England (4) [OR] Britain (6) was on the verge of a revolution. (4,6)

Troops called in

The guards being found to be insufficient to defend the various parts of the metropolis, all the troops and militia within thirty miles were sent for on 6th June. (14) Following the events of Black Wednesday (12,15) King George III (9,11) eventually insisted that the troops should be called out. (9) As ‘King in Council’ he proclaimed martial law (12) to suppress rebellion in the kingdom: (11) the army was called in to restore order. (11,13) It took a week for the government to collect enough militia and troops (9) [OR] the thousands of troops that had been brought into London over the past week were now permitted to shoot rioters. (12) [OR] Once (6) troops (4,6) were called out, (7,8) the number in the city swelled. (6,14) As many as 15,000 (6) [OR] 12-14,000 according to Walpole, (14) soldiers poured into London (6,14) to quell the disturbances. (6,8) The military units which dealt with the rioters included those normally stationed in the city, such as (14) the Horse Guards and the Foot Guards, (14,15) the Inns of Court Yeomanry, the Honourable Artillery Company, and line infantry including the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey). (15) and units of the Home Guard (8) [OR] the militia from neighbouring counties. (14,15) The defence of the Bank of England was conducted by the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot under the command of Thomas Twisleton, 13th Baron Saye and Sele. (15) A strong guard was placed at Buckingham-house, now called the Queen’s Palace, their majesties’ town residence. (14) A camp was formed in St. James’s-Park, and a detachment of the marching regiments of militia formed another in Hyde-Park. (14)

Shots are fired

On 9th June (15) the Army finally moved in (13) and the soldiers were ordered to fire into the mob (8,14) [OR] on groups of four or more (13,15) whenever and wherever (8) they refused to disperse (8,13) peaceably. (14) The soldiers started shooting. (9,13) The Gordon Riots marked, incidentally, the end of the Wilkesite movement (9,13) destroying the popularity of the radical politician. (15) John Wilkes was in command of the troops (9,13) outside the Bank of England (9) [OR] all the troops (13) [OR] citizen militiamen (15) and many saw it as a betrayal on his part (13,15) when he ordered his men to fire on the crowd, (9) some of whom may have been his former supporters. (15) Opening fire was an alarming step for both Parliament and people. (13) At this point, Lord George Gordon turned on the mob and proclaimed that he wished to “join the forces of law and order.” (12) [OR] Lord George Gordon was the leader of the rioters. (11) As Thursday evening drew to a close, the rioting had finally subsided, (12) and the crowd was successfully dispersed. (6,9)

Casualties

Over the course of Wednesday night and Thursday, (12) estimates vary as to how many people lost their lives in the riots. (7,14) Hundreds (4,6) [OR] 285 (7) [OR] about 285 (7,13) [OR] 290 (9) [OR] nearly 300 (6,8) [OR] more than 300 (10) [OR] 300-700 (15) [OR] Hibbert estimated as many as 850; Pelham reckoned about 500 (14) of the rioters were killed, (4,6) by the British military, (12) and 173 (7) [OR] another 200 (13,15) were wounded. (7,13) [OR] around 450 people were killed or wounded. (16)  Londoners looked upon the city and saw bodies throughout the streets and destroyed homes and establishments. (12) Some had been killed by gunfire, and others had died in fires or through alcohol abuse. (14)

Legal consequences

For Lord George

For his role in instigating the riots, (14) Lord George Gordon (7,8) was arrested (13,14) charged with high treason, (16) and (13,14) taken to the Tower of London (14,16) where he was comfortably (16) imprisoned (12,16) for eight months. (12) Walpole said: “The Tower is much too dignified a prison for him, but he had left no other.” (14) He was therefore in prison when the 1780 General Election took place in the autumn of that year, and so lost his seat in parliament. (17) He was permitted to receive visitors, and the Methodist leader Rev. John Wesley visited on Tuesday 19th December 1780. (16)  Gordon was then tried for high treason, (7,8) before the Court of King’s Bench. (11) Thanks to a strong defence by (7,16) his cousin, Thomas, Lord (16) Erskine, (7,16) he was acquitted (7,8) on the grounds that he had no treasonable intent. (16)

For the Rioters

Around 450 rioters (14,15) [OR] around 160 (13) [OR] 139 (7) were arrested, (7,13) and the following months were filled with convictions and executions of those who took part in the rioting. (12) [OR] 20 or 30 were later tried and executed. (15) Brackley Kennett, the Lord Mayor, was convicted of criminal negligence for not reading out the Riot Act and given a £1,000 fine. (15) Among the mob were two men, John Glover and Benjamin Bowsey, described in newspaper records as ‘Black’ or ‘Mulatto’. (11) Both were free men. (11) John Glover was indicted with several others and charged with ‘riotous and tumultuous assembly; assaulting Newgate and setting loose the prisoners and setting fire to and destroying the prison’. (11) These events were confirmed by the black writer Ignatius Sancho, who witnessed the uprising. (11) Similarly charged as a ‘disorderly person’ was Benjamin Bowsey, a footman to General Honeywood. (11) The General described his servant as ‘a very honest and very foolish fellow … that got into idle company’ while working in the kitchen of the St Alban’s Tavern. (11) The register shows that Bowsey and Glover, prisoners at the gaol in Newgate were sentenced to death. (11) On 19th July 1780, from the Court of St James’s, Judge Hillsborough announced a stay of execution for both men. (11) The complexity of the rioting made the process of convictions both confusing and strenuous. (12) A more humane attitude was emerging in the judicial process in the late 18th Century, as the philosophy of the Enlightenment encouraged moves towards a less violent society. (11) Because of this, many prisoners of the time had their sentences commuted from death to transportation. (11) On 30th April 1781, Judge Hillsborough informed the group of rioters, including Bowsey and Glover, that they were to be pardoned on condition that they entered and continued to serve as soldiers in the Corps of Footmen on the coast of Africa. (11) Only a handful (14) [OR] 21 (7) [OR] 25 ringleaders (9) [OR] about twenty or thirty (13) were tried and convicted (14) and executed (7,9) by hanging. (9) Property to the value of £180,000 was destroyed. (7) £70,000 was paid in compensation to individuals and £30,000 worth of damage was done to public buildings. (9) More damage was done to property than would be done in Paris during the French Revolution. (10)

Lord George’s Later Career

After the riots Lord George remained close to political life, (14,16) and after being acquitted at his trial in 1781, he declared his intention of standing for the City of London, but withdrew. (16)  He subsequently turned Jew, (7,16) calling himself Israel Abraham George Gordon, (7) for which he was ostracised. (16) Continuing his extremist political activity, (14) in 1786 he was excommunicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury for refusing to bear witness in an ecclesiastical suit; (16) and in 1787 he was convicted of (7,14) publishing a pamphlet (14) defaming Marie Antoinette, (7,14) the French ambassador (16)  and the administration of justice in England. (14,16) He was, however, permitted to withdraw from the court without bail, and (16) made his escape to the Netherlands. (7,16) On account of representations from the court of Versailles he was commanded to leave that country (16)  [OR] was extradited (7) and, returning to England, was apprehended in Birmingham. (16) in January 1788 (16) he was convicted on both charges and (14) sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. (16) He was imprisoned in (7,14) the rebuilt (14) Newgate Prison, (7,14) under some harsh additional conditions. (16) On 28th January 1793, Lord George Gordon’s sentence expired and he had to appear to give claim to his future good behaviour. (16) When appearing in court he was ordered to remove his hat, which he was using as a kippah, he refused to do so. (16) The hat was then taken from him by force, but he covered his head with a night cap and bound it with a handkerchief. (16) He defended his behaviour by quoting the Hebrew Bible “in support of the propriety of the creature having his head covered in reverence to the Creator.” (16) Before the court, he read a written statement in which he claimed that “he had been imprisoned for five years among murderers, thieves, etc., and that all the consolation he had arose from his trust in God.” (16) Gordon JewAlthough his brothers, the 4th Duke of Gordon and Lord William Gordon, and his sister, Lady Westmoreland, offered to cover his bail, Gordon refused their help, saying that to “sue for pardon was a confession of guilt.” (16) In October (16) 1793 (7,14) Gordon caught typhoid fever, (16) (‘jail fever’ (7) which had been raging in Newgate prison throughout that year. (16) Christopher Hibbert, another biographer, writes that scores of prisoners waited outside the door to his cell for news about his health; friends, regardless of the risk of infection, stood whispering in the room and praying for his recovery – but George “Yisrael bar Avraham” Gordon died on 1 November 1793 at the age of 42. (16)

Contemporary Verdicts

Horace Walpole wrote to his friend, the Reverend Mr Cole, on 15 June:

You may like to know one is alive, dear Sir, after a massacre, and the conflagration of a capital. I was in it, both on the Friday and on the Black Wednesday; the most horrible sight I ever beheld, and which, for six hours together, I expected to end in half the town being reduced to ashes. I can give you little account of the original of this shocking affair; negligence was certainly its nurse, and religion only its god mother. (14)

And to the Earl of Strafford:

Religion has often been the cloak of injustice, outrage, and villainy: in our late tumults, it scarce kept on its mask a moment; its persecution was downright robbery; and it was so drunk, that it killed its banditti faster than they could plunder. (14)

Significance

The Gordon Riots mark the most (12) [OR] some of the most (14) destructive urban outbreak in British history. (12) Past studies and summaries of the events that took place in London during June 1780 have stated this devolvement and described it through a chronological essay form. (12) While this is beneficial to one’s understanding of the unravelling events, it does not visually depict the intricacies of the riots. (12) Being able to see where the riots took place and where troops were stationed throughout London provides researchers with a greater understanding of the riots’ magnitude and impact on the city. (12) For many observers it seemed that (4,6) England (4) [OR] Britain (6) was on the verge of a revolution. (4,6) They were an incredibly important full stop in British history. (13) They caused political and economic damage. (13,15) by bringing an end to the belief in Europe and the rest of the world that the rule of the British Parliament was absolute and in control. (13) Many now saw British constitutional monarchy as an inherently unstable form of government. (15) The Riots came at a bad time near the height of the American War of Independence, (8,15) when Britain, with no large ally, was fighting American rebels, France, and Spain. (15) Britain was desperately (8) trying to garner international support against the Americans and their allies, (8,15) particularly from Catholic Austria. (15) Austria was discouraged from entering into an alliance with England against the French by the riots. (8) Britain had also initiated secret negotiations with Catholic Spain to end Spanish support of the United States. (15) After learning of the riots, the Spanish government pulled back from peace negotiations with Britain, concerned that the disorder would lead to a widespread collapse of the current British administration. (15) In 1783 Ireland was granted legislative independence, though it remained subject to George III. (10) The Whigs denounced the King for his action. (13) The riots, on top of the news of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown the following year, impelled the collapse of the government of Lord North and British overtures for peace. (8) [OR] Public opinion, especially in middle-class and elite circles, repudiated anti-Catholicism and lower-class violence, and rallied behind Lord North’s government. (15) Thus one of the critical battles which led to American independence occurred on the streets of London, far removed from Washington’s army and battlefields of North America. (8) For too long the significance of the Gordon riots has been overshadowed by the impact of the French revolution on British society and culture: this book restores the riots to their central position in late eighteenth-century Britain. (4) For a time these riots gave reform and popular agitation a bad name. (10) They marked a further important stage in the process by which the establishment began to fear the mob. (5) It had never been likely that any of the various proposals for parliamentary reform would be implemented. (10) But the Gordon Riots of June 1780 made it certain that they would not be. (10) To many, the very name of Wyvill’s National Association was dangerously suggestive of the Protestant Association, and the parliamentary reform movement lapsed until the 1790s. (10) It needed only the French Revolution in the following decade to complete the destruction of the old tolerance and to install the popular riot among the bugbears of the propertied mind. (5) Although the riots only lasted for one week, the implications of it lasted far longer. (12) Tensions between Catholics and Protestants did not yield, nor were the rioters successful in repealing the Catholic Relief Act. (12) The process of rebuilding London was a constant reminder of the chaos, as well as the swift way in which the British military had acted upon British civilians. (12) One could argue, therefore, that the riots only increased fear of popery, and aroused a fear of the British state itself. (12) Both of these fears would play a major role in the formation of the British state throughout the late 18th and early 19th century. (12) Painted on the wall of Newgate prison was the proclamation that the inmates had been freed by the authority of “His Majesty, King Mob”. (15) The term “King Mob” afterwards denoted an unruly and fearsome proletariat. (15) The riots highlighted the need for a standing police force (13,15) in London to control events before the troops were called. (13) a notion which was opposed as it was considered foreign and absolutist. (15) Demands were made for a London police force. (15) The Earl of Shelburne shocked many the day after the riots broke out by proposing in parliament that Britain should consider forming a force modelled on the French police. (15) And it showed the genuinely borne grievances of British people fed up with high taxation and war and with the prospect of a return to Catholicism which the dissenters would never allow. (13)

In literature

The Gordon Riots play a small but important part in A Perfect Match, which was based on the Gordon Riots. (14) The hero, Christopher Merry, has never really got over the trauma of what he witnessed during that fateful week. (14) In his pursuit of love, he is forced to confront the truth. (14) A pamphlet and a book of poems defending the role of Gordon were written and published by the polemicist and hymn-writer Maria De Fleury. (15) George Walker’s anti-Jacobin novel The Vagabond (1799) anachronistically resituates the Gordon Riots amidst the political events of the 1790s. (15) Its narrator unwittingly becomes a prominent figure in the riots, which Walker depicts as solely destructive and acquisitive. (15) Maria Edgeworth’s 1817 novel Harrington contains a vivid evocation of the Gordon Riots, with two characters readers would find unsympathetic taken for Papists and finding refuge in the home of the rich Spanish Jew, the father of the young Jewish woman at the centre of the love story. (15) Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge depicts the Gordon Riots (13,15) written in 1841, features Lord George in a prominent role. (15) John Creasey’s 1974 novel The Masters of Bow Street depicts the Gordon Riots and the recalcitrance of Lord North to the establishment of a police force. (15) In Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels (1981–2007), the protagonist Richard Sharpe’s mother was killed during the riots while he was still a child. (15) Miranda Hearn’s 2003 historical novel A Life Everlasting depicts the main protagonists caught up in the riots as innocent Londoners. (15)

Next

FRESCI

Foreign and Military

In time of war v. American Colonists & their allies France, Spain and Holland; need for soldiers and for alliance with Catholic countries to balance Catholic countries France and Spain. Popery Act blocks RCs in army. Dublin Irish already have an army. Sympathy with American colonists; attacks on embassy chapels; Scottish origin of P Association;

Religion and Ideas

Residual anti-Catholicism – Bloody Mary – Guy Fawkes – Popish Plot – James II. Popery Act oath blocks RCs in army. Tradition of toleration since 1689, but excluding Catholics Catholic Relief Act removes oath requirement. Fear that RCs in Br Army will be 5th column. RCs have executed Jean Calas 1762. Petition 40k plus, with celebrity support; nonconformist opposition to Catholics. Enlightenment ‘A more humane attitude’ – sentences commuted from death to transportation. Wilkes supported the American colonists’ rights, but Wilkism killed by his opening fire on rioters.

Economic and Financial

Damage and compensation for it; Concentration on RICH Catholics;

Social and Cultural

Possible parallel grievances; absence (or was it) of police; attacks on prisons;

Constitutional and Legal

Royal absolutism; “the King’s desire to return to a monarchy that would use its prerogative and set up a new powerful court around the monarch.” End of Whig supremacy since 1714; Petitioning; fear of RC state within a state; parliamentary debate and adjournment; Riot Act and failure to read it; King in Council; arguments against police force; Attacks on the law courts and No 10 Downing St.

Individual and Random

Lord George’s personality; Error over police call out; King’s relationship with Lord George and eventual executive action’; celebrity Calvinist supporters Rowland Hill. Lord George dissociates himself from the violence; defence by Erskine;

Points of View

Conventional: anti Catholic; pro American Colonists;

Marxist: High taxes, unjust and repressive laws, government profiteering and impressment into the army and navy were among the issues that inflamed the working classes and bred discontent. quoted in the ‘Black History’;

Linguistic

 

Alternative Hypothesis

Not applicable

Concepts

  • Causes; War crisis and political revolution.
  • Consequences; Fear of mob
  • Comparison; Peterloo, Fall of Bastille? Hastings impeachment?

Time

 

Bibliographical Notes

2 duplicates 1 – so do 15 and 16

Appendix I Erasmus Middleton & the Protestant Association

During the late 1770s, Middleton, a Methodist preacher expelled from Oxford for unlicensed preaching, was a close supporter of Lord George Gordon and the Protestant Association. He has been credited with being the Association’s founder. At Gordon’s trial, Middleton was a principal defence witness, and detailed the setting up of the Association, up to the date 12 November 1779, when Gordon took it over as President. On Middleton’s account the Association was formed in 1778.[27] The early London meetings in Coachmakers’ Hall in imitation of the Scottish Protestant Association were open to all Protestants. They were procedurally lax but required civility, concentrated on opposition to Popery, and were made fun of by George Kearsley. On the issue of the petition to parliament, the direct cause of the Gordon Riots of June 1780, Middleton’s evidence was that he was Gordon’s sole supporter on the Association’s committee for proceeding immediately rather than delaying the presentation.

Appendix II Lord George and Judaism

In 1787, at the age of 36, Lord George Gordon converted to Judaism in Birmingham, and underwent brit milah (ritual circumcision, circumcision was rare in the England of his day) at the synagogue in Severn Street now next door to Singers Hill Synagogue.  He took the name of Yisrael bar Avraham Gordon (“Israel son of Abraham” Gordon—since Judaism regards a convert as the spiritual “son” of the Biblical Abraham).  Gordon thus became what Judaism regards as, and Jews call, a “Ger Tsedek”—a righteous convert.   Not much is known about his life as a Jew in Birmingham, but the Bristol Journal of 15 December 1787 reported that Gordon had been living in Birmingham since August 1786: Unknown to every class of man but those of the Jewish religion, among whom he has passed his time in the greatest cordiality and friendship… he appears with a beard of extraordinary length, and the usual raiment of a Jew… his observance of the culinary (kashrut) laws preparation is remarkable.   He lived with a Jewish woman in the Froggery, a marshy area now under New Street station.   He was surrounded by a number of Jews, who affirmed that his Lordship was Moses risen from the dead in order to instruct them and enlighten the whole world… It appears that (he) has officiated as a chief of the Levitical Order… While in prison, Gordon lived the life of an Orthodox Jew, and he adjusted his prison life to his circumstances.  He put on his tzitzit and tefillin daily.  He fasted when the halakha (Jewish law) prescribed it, and likewise celebrated the Jewish holidays.  He was supplied kosher meat and wine, and Shabbat challos by prison authorities.  The prison authorities permitted him to have a minyan on the Jewish Sabbath and to affix a mezuza on the door of his cell.  The Ten Commandments were also hung on his wall for Shabbat to transform the room into a synagogue.   Lord George Gordon associated only with pious Jews; in his passionate enthusiasm for his new faith, he refused to deal with any Jew who compromised the Torah’s commandments.  Although any non-Jew who desired to visit Gordon in prison (and there were many) was welcome, he requested that the prison guards admit Jews only if they had beards and wore head coverings.   He would often, in keeping with Jewish chesed (laws of mercy and charity), go into other parts of the prison to comfort prisoners by speaking with them and playing the violin.  In keeping with tzedaka (charity) laws, he gave what little money he could to those in need.   Charles Dickens, in his novel Barnaby Rudge, which centres around the Gordon Riots, describes Gordon as a true tzadik (pious man) among the prisoners: The prisoners bemoaned his loss, and missed him; for though his means were not large his charity was great, and in bestowing alms among them he considered the necessities of all alike, and knew no distinction of sect or creed…”  (16)

Bibliography

Gordon Riots Bio

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1780_British_general_election
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