Lord George Gordon - Encyclopedia

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LORD GEORGE GORDON (1751-1793), third and youngest son of Cosmo George, duke of Gordon, was born in London on the 26th of December 1751. After completing his education at Eton, he entered the navy, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant in 1772, but Lord Sandwich, then at the head of the admiralty, would not promise him the command of a ship, and he resigned his commission shortly before the beginning of the American War. In 1774 the pocket borough of Ludgershall was bought for him by General Fraser, whom he was opposing in Invernessshire, in order to bribe him not to contest the county. He was considered flighty, and was not looked upon as being of any importance. In 1779 he organized, and made himself head of the Protestant associations, formed to secure the repeal of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. On the 2nd of June 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 continued several days, during which the city was virtually at their mercy. At first indeed they dispersed after threatening 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. His life was henceforth full of crack-brained schemes, political and financial. In 1786 he was excommunicated 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 ambassador 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 commanded to quit that country, and, returning to England, was apprehended, and in January 1788 was sentenced inference from carefully surveyed fact; with many variations of mood he mixed, as we often see in people less famous, an invincible faith in his own rapid prepossessions while they lasted. Everybody now discerns that to despatch a soldier of this temperament on a piece of business [the mission to the Sudan in 1884] that was not only difficult and dangerous, as Sir E. Baring said, but profoundly obscure, and needing vigilant sanity and self-control, was little better than to call in a wizard with his magic. Mr Gladstone always professed perplexity in understanding why the violent end of the gallant Cavagnari in Afghanistan stirred the world so little in comparison with the fate of Gordon. The answer is that Gordon seized the imagination of England, and seized it on its higher side. His religion was eccentric, but it was religion; the Bible was the rock on which he founded himself, both old dispensation and new; he was known to hate forms, ceremonies and all the ` solemn plausibilities'; his speech was sharp, pithy, rapid and ironic; above all, he knew the ways of war and would not bear the sword for nought." to five years' imprisonment in Newgate, where he lived at his ease, giving dinners and dances. As he could not obtain securities for his good behaviour on the termination of his term of imprisonment, he was not allowed to leave Newgate, and there he died of delirious fever on the 1st of November 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, with a Philosophical Review of his Political Conduct, by Robert Watson, M.D. (London, 1795). The best accounts of Lord George Gordon are to be found in the Annual Registers from 1780 to the year of his death.

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