The Gordon Riots of 1780 began as an anti-Catholic protest in London against the Papists Act of 1778, which intended to reduce official discrimination against British Catholics. The protest evolved into riots and looting. The Popery Act 1698 had imposed a number of penalties and disabilities on Roman Catholics in England; the 1778 Act eliminated some of these. An initial peaceful protest led on to widespread rioting and looting and was the most destructive in the history of London. Painted on the wall of Newgate prison was the proclamation that the inmates had been freed by the authority of "His Majesty, King Mob". The term "King Mob" afterwards denoted an unruly and fearsome proletariat. The Riots came at the height of the American War of Independence, when Britain was fighting American rebels, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic. They led to unfounded fears that they had been a deliberate attempt by France to destabilise Britain before an imminent French invasion. The riots were named after Lord George Gordon (pictured), head of the Protestant Association.

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