Gordon Riots

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The Gordon Riots of 1780 were an anti-Catholic uprising against the Papists Act of 1778.

The Popery Act of 1698 had imposed a number of penalties and disabilities on Roman Catholics in England; the 1778 act eliminated some of these. The uprising became an excuse for widespread rioting and looting[1][2][3] and was the most destructive of the eighteenth century in London.[4]

It came at the height of the American War of Independence with Britain fighting American rebels, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic. It led to inaccurate fears that it had been a deliberate attempt by France to destabilise Britain before an imminent French invasion.



The ostensible intention of the Papists Act of 1778 was, as its preamble states, to mitigate some of the more extreme manifestations of official discrimination against Roman Catholics in the Kingdom of Great Britain at the time. Particularly and notably, it absolved Catholics from taking the religious oath when joining the British Armed Forces. There were very strong expedient reasons for this particular act of seeming benevolence. 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. Opening the door to recruitment of Catholics was a significant factor in the eventual resolution of this shortfall of manpower.

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