Thursday, December 15, 2011

Riot Act

In 1715, faced with serious riots in London, the government needed a vehicle to disperse the crowds before they felt able to resort to force. With this in mind, parliament passed the Riot Act.  This was to be read to unruly mobs before force was used, and to give the crowds a chance to disburse safely.

One of the more unfortunate results of this act was in the case of angry crowds rioting in the outskirts of the Empire, where some poor soul was sent out to read this incomprehensible law to those who didn't speak English.  Their life expectancy in those cases was rather short.  However there is something amusing at the sight of a red coated officer (junior, of course) in full dress unscrolling the parchment before spear-waving natives worked up into a lather.  But perhaps it was good for the character! So next time the phrase "Reading the Riot Act" comes up, remember its history, and say a quiet thank you to those brave people who were sent out to enact a law, in the most difficult circumstances.

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