Gordon Riots - Day of Death
Modern Britain has a reputation for religious tolerance of which we can perhaps be proud. Until the latter part of the 19th century, however, anti-Catholic legislation held sway here, backed by the sentiment of the generality of the population.
Somewhat ironically it was attempts to reduce discrimination against Catholics, with the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, that led to the worst religious rioting in modern history in this country. At the core of that act was allowing Catholics to serve in the army without swearing the religious oath, though this was already largely ignored.
The Protestant League was vehemently opposed to such relaxation. One of its most prominent members, Lord George Gordon, led a crowd of more than 50,000 to petition Parliament to that effect on June 2 1780. Barred from entry the crowd became a mob, and rioting began which lasted until June 8, as ever some criminals using the violence as a cover for looting and robbery.
On June 7 the government, on the insistence of George III , called out the troops and gave the order to fire on any groups failing to disperse. An estimated 285 rioters were killed, and 173 wounded. Another 135 were arrested and tried, and 26 of them hanged. The Bank of England , Newgate and Fleet Prisons, and more than 100 buildings with Catholic links, private homes as well as churches and chapels, were damaged in the riots, and a Catholic-owned distillery in Holborn burned – having been emptied first by rioters. Lord George Gordon, tried for treason months later, was found not guilty.
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