1902 Encyclopedia > Lord George Gordon

Lord George Gordon
English politician and instigator of the anti-Catholic Gordon riots (1780)

LORD GEORGE GORDON, (1751-1793), third and youngest son of Cosmo George, duke of Gordon, was born in London 26th December 1751. After completing his education at Eton, he entered the navy, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant; but on account of a disagreement regarding promotion with Lord Sandwith, then at the head of the admiralty, he resigned his commission shortly before the commencement of the American war. In 1774 he entered parliament as member for the small borough of Luggershall, and possessing some wit, great ease of address, and the confidence arising from sincere conviction, he advo-cated his individual notions on any subject with great volu-bility and with something of the eagerness of monomania. After supporting the ministry for some time, he began to attack both ministry and opposition with such ceaseless pertinacity that it became a common saying that " there were three parties in parliament, the ministry, the opposi-tion, and Lord George Gordon." He vehemently opposed the passing of the Acts for the removal of the Roman Catholic disabilities, and took a leading part in organizing the Protestant associations of Scotland and England. Of both associations he was chosen president, and on June 2d 1780 he headed the mob which marched in procession from St George's Fields to the Houses of Parliament in order to present the monster petition against the Acts. After the mob reached Westminster a terrific riot ensued, which con-tinued several days, during which the city was virtually at their mercy. At first indeed they dispersed after threaten-ing to make a forcible entry into the House of Commons, but reassembled soon afterwards and destroyed several Roman Catholic chapels, pillaged the private dwellings of many Roman Catholics, set fire to Newgate and broke open all the other prisons, attacked the Bank of England and several other public buildings, and continued the work of violence and conflagration until the interference of the military, by whom no fewer than 450 persons were killed and wounded before the riots were quelled. For his share in instigating the riots Lord Gordon was apprehended on a charge of high treason; but, mainly through the skilful and eloquent defence of Erskine, he was acquitted on the ground that he had no treasonable intentions. In 1786 he was excom-municated by the archbishop of Canterbury for refusing to bear witness in an ecclesiastical suit; and in 1787 he was convicted of libelling the queen of France, the French am-bassador, and the administration of justice in England. He was, however, permitted to withdraw from the court without bail, and made his escape to Holland; but on account of representations from the court of Versailles he was com-manded to quit that country, and, returning to England, was apprehended, and in January 1788 was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in Newgate, where, after refusing to grant the guarantees required as a condition of his obtaining his liberty at the conclusion of his original term of imprison-ment, he died of delirious fever November 1, 1793. Some time before his apprehension he had become a convert to Judaism, and had undergone the initiatory rite. A serious defence of most of his eccentricities is undertaken in The Life of Lord George Gordon, vjith a Philosophical Review of his Political Conduct, by Robert Watson, M.D., London, 1795.

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