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The Gordon Riots of June 1780 are considered by some historians to be the closest Britain has ever come to a full-blown revolution. Following legislation passed permitting Catholics greater freedom in society (such as being allowed to join the army) a huge petition seeking repeal of these Acts was drawn up the Protestant Association, under the leadership of the enigmatic Lord George Gordon. On the morning of 2 June a huge crowd nearly 50,000 strong marched to parliament to present the petition to parliament. Events descended into chaos. Members of the Commons and Lords were met with a barrage of abuse and physical violence, with the crowd only successfully dispersed once troops were called to the scene. For a week thereafter violence raged across the capital. Catholic houses and chapels were pulled down by angry crowds, the Bank of England came under attack and prisoners were released from London’s principal prisons. 15,000 troops poured into London to quell the disturbances and nearly 300 rioters were shot dead by soldiers.

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