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Journals 163). However, Colin Haydon has shown in Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England (1993) that a tradition of anti-Catholic discourse, embedded high and low in British culture and society, was a major factor in the riots. Rage against Catholics also channelled uneasiness over the state of international affairs in which Britain was prosecuting a war with Protestant America. Robert Kent Donovan has argued that rioters were reacting against what was seen as the 1778 Relief Act’s ‘hidden agenda’ – the recruitment of Irish and Scottish Catholic soldiers to fight the American colonists with whom Dissenters and Scottish Presbyterians sympathized (84).
The question of Irish Catholic loyalty, however, caused great anxiety. 12 To further complicate matters, the French took Rome in 1798, the Vatican signed a concordat with the ‘usurper’ in 1801 and Pope Pius VII played a visible though humiliating role in Napoleon’s 1804 coronation. These events triggered a series of questions: would Catholics blindly follow the political orders of a pope, even if he were a puppet of France and Napoleon? Would allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament be giving the enemy a vote?
Crowds hassled and humiliated members of parliament, lords and bishops. After the rioters freed prisoners from Newgate and other jails, a military troop of 10,000 exerted lethal force to stop a similar liberation of the national bank. The historian John Stevenson stresses that the 1780 upheaval in London anticipated, but also exceeded in scale, later events such as the Peterloo Massacre. With almost 300 people killed and many more injured, Samuel Johnson was not alone in calling it a ‘time 20 British Romanticism and the Catholic Question of terrour’ and ‘universal panick’ (Boswell 429, 430).