The Gordon Riots

George Rudé analyses the events of what started as an anti-Catholic protest, but ended with violence and looting.

In more ways than one the Gordon Riots were remarkable. They left a profound impression on contemporaries — on Horace Walpole, at least, as profound as that left by any event within memory. For seven days London was at the mercy of the rioters and, on the night of June 7th, 1780, it seemed that the whole of the City and Southwark were ablaze.

For the Government the riots were the culmination of a long series of disasters at home and abroad. After the surrender to the Americans at Saratoga in December 1777, the French had entered the war against England, to be followed shortly by the Spaniards. Lord North’s administration faced equally serious problems at home. Threatened with disaffection in Ireland, and a prey to the continuous harrying of a hostile House of Commons, the Government appeared to be on its last legs and was only maintained in being by the obstinacy of George III.

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