Our In the Freethinker's Footsteps project has been made possible thanks to Publishing Scotland's Go-Digital Fund.

Episode Two: Aikenhead's Edinburgh

In late 17th C Edinburgh people were not executed for blasphemy, and had not been for many years. What specifically doomed the twenty-year-old university student Thomas Aikenhead to such a harsh judgment then?

In this episode, Dr Michael Graham, author of The Blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead, provides some key insights into the Aikenhead case and the zeitgeist of 17th C Edinburgh. 

Scroll down for bonus clips from this interview, including details on the messy aftermath of Aikenhead’s execution, the mysterious relationship between him and Mungo Craig, and the man who cast the decisive death vote.

The Freethinker's Footsteps podcast is a literary podcast series. In five episodes it engages with academics and artists to explore the religious, political and gender controversies of 17th C Scotland. It's inspired by Heather Richardson's historical novel Doubting Thomas, based on the strange and sad true story of Thomas Aikenhead, the last man to be executed for blasphemy in Britain.

Bonus Tracks

The Aftermath

In this bonus track, Dr Graham details the messy aftermath of Aikenhead's execution, which was hugely controversial and gained much media attention – particularly in England. 


Thomas Aikenhead vs Mungo Craig

In this bonus track, Dr Graham explores the mysterious relationship between Thomas Aikenhead and his classmate Mungo Craig, who published a statement on all of Aikenhead's sins shortly before his trial – a statement which very likely contributed to Aikenhead receiving the death sentence.


Patrick Hume's Decisive Death Vote

In this bonus track, Dr Graham talks about an interesting key figure in the Aikenhead case: Patrick Hume, whose vote is the one that sent Thomas Aikenhead to his death. Evidence suggests Hume's vote wasn't motivated by moral outrage, but rather by a desire for personal gain.


Quick Executions

It was only two weeks between Aikenhead's sentencing and his execution. In this bonus track, Dr Graham explains why death sentences were often carried out very quickly in 17th C Edinburgh.


Michael F. Graham is a professor of history at the University of Akron in Ohio. 

His most recent book is The Blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead: Boundaries of Belief on the Eve of the Enlightenment, which came out in paperback with Edinburgh University Press in 2013. He earned his PhD from the University of Virginia, and has been a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at Edinburgh University and the Reformation Studies Institute at the University of St Andrews. He is also a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.