Well, not so much a battle as a widespread civil insurrection, the Gordon Riots, often described as the worst riots London has ever seen, resulted in considerable property destruction and numerous deaths.

Houses-of-Parliament10The riots, which took place against a backdrop of high taxation, widespread poverty, and unjust laws, had its origin in the passing of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 which intended to reduce entrenched discrimination against Roman Catholics in Britain and redress some of anti-Catholic laws which had been introduced 80 years earlier, partly in an attempt to get more Catholics to join the British Army to fight against the United States of America in what’s now known as the War of Independence.

While it initially passed without any real hostility, an attempt to extend the Act’s provisions to Scotland in 1779 provoked such a serious response there that the action was withdrawn. Following the Scottish success in having the provisions withdrawn, the Protestant Association of London was founded with the aim of spear-heading opposition to the act’s provisions. Lord George Gordon was elected president of the newly formed Protestant Association of London in November of that year.

Following failed attempts to have King George III repeal the Act (Lord Gordon had several audiences with the King but failed to convince him of his case and was eventually banned from His Majesty’s presence), on 2nd June, 1780, Gordon and the members of the association marched on the Houses of Parliament (pictured above although the current buildings date from much later than these events) to deliver a petition demanding the Act be repealed.

They crowd, estimated to have been as big as 60,000 strong although a figure in the mid-40,000s is generally accepted, attempted unsuccessfully to force their way into the House of Commons before Lord Gordon, wearing a blue cockade (the symbol of the Protestant Association in his hat) was granted access to deliver the document.

Outside, meanwhile, things went from bad to worse and the crowd erupted into rioting, attacking members of the House of Lords, including bishops, as they attempted to enter and damaging carriages (including that of Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield). Soldiers were eventually summoned to quell the riot which they did without violence. Inside, the members of the House of Commons voted down the petition by an overwhelming majority.

That night violence flared up again with the Roman Catholic Sardinian Embassy Chapel in Lincoln’s Inn Fields set alight while the chapel of the Bavarian Embassy in Golden Square, Soho, was destroyed and random violence carried out in streets known to be the residence of wealthy Catholics.

The next day, a crowd gathered in Moorfields – known to be home to many poor Irish Catholic immigrants – and that night attacked many homes.

The violence spread over the following days and among the buildings attacked was Newgate Prison (which was set on fire), the Fleet Prison, and the Clink in Southwark – hundreds of prisoners escaped – as well as Catholic churches, more embassy chapels, homes of known Catholics and politicians who had been associated with the passing of the act (including that of Lord Mansfield and Sir George Savile, who had proposed the Catholic Relief Act) and the Bank of England (the attack on the bank led to the long-standing tradition of soldiers guarding the bank).

Without a standing police force to tackle the mobs, on 7th June the army was called out with orders to fire on groups of four or larger who refused to disperse. In the next few days, well over 200 people (possibly more than 300) were shot dead and hundreds more wounded. Hundreds of the rioters were arrested and, of those, about 25 eventually executed. Gordon himself was arrested and charged with high treason but found not guilty.