Lord George Gordon

c.1752 - 1793

Infamous politician. Born in London, the third son of Cosmo George, 3rd Duke of Gordon and god-son of King George II. After school at Eton, Gordon joined the navy. In 1772, still barely 20, he stood against Fraser of Lovat and became Member of Parliament for Inverness-shire. Lovat was aggrieved to have lost his hereditary political possession to a young upstart but a compromise was agreed through Gordon's elder brother, the 4th Duke.

In return for Gordon giving up Inverness-shire, Lovat bought him property at Ludgershall (England) and Gordon was duly elected for that seat in 1774. Thus began an eventful parliamentary career. Initially a government supporter, he became a vocal opponent of his former colleagues, who he claimed tried to bribe him. He soon fell out with the opposition too; indeed it was said that there were three parties in Parliament: the Tories, the Whigs and Lord George Gordon.

The most infamous events in Gordon's career began in 1778, when a Bill came to Parliament to permit free Roman Catholic worship. Protests started in Scotland, but soon spread to England, with Gordon as leader. Violence against Catholics broke out in Edinburgh and Glasgow. By 1780, when parliament resisted the bigots, 100,000 protested on London streets, rioters entered the House of Commons and burned the homes of prominent Catholics. Perpetrators were jailed, but the mob broke into Newgate Prison and released the prisoners. The house of the Lord Chief Justice was attacked and the army called onto the streets. Almost 300 were killed and more than 200 taken prisoner, of whom 45 were later executed. Gordon was arrested and confined to the Tower of London.

To great popular rejoicing, especially in Scotland, Gordon was acquitted after a trial at Westminster Hall. Further charges were brought and Gordon was found guilty, imprisoned and heavily fined. He escaped to Holland, but was recaptured, by then in a wretched condition and jailed, where he died six years later.

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