My novel Exiled from Eden begins during the riots in London in 1780. Legislation had been passed for the civil relief of Catholics in England that would allow them to own land. It seems harmless enough to our modern sensibilities, but there were Protestant fundamentalist extremists at the time who thought that this was going a step too far.
The protest was spear-headed by an eccentric called Lord George Gordon, brother of the Duke of Gordon, and head of the militant Scottish Protestant Association. On the day he presented his petition for the repeal of this legislation to Parliament, he called for twenty thousand supporters to accompany him. Tens of thousands more amassed at St. George’s Fields wearing blued cockades and carrying “No Popery” banners. From there, they marched to Westminster, clogging the bridges and growing more unruly as they progressed.
A full-scale riot shortly broke out in which members of Parliament were assaulted. Events went from bad to worse and peace was not restored for 7 days, during which time buildings, both private and public, were broken into and set ablaze, Newgate Prison was opened up and its prisoners freed, and the Old Bailey was plundered. It was a terrifying time for the citizens of London.
What was the result of the madness? The Catholic Relief Act was repealed and would not be revived for another decade or so. As for George Gordon, the man who started it all, he was acquitted of treason. Later he converted to Judaism, grew a beard, and kept the Mosaic Laws. Eight years after the “Gordon Riots”, he was found guilty of libel and sentenced to Newgate, which had since been rebuilt. There he died in 1793.