Thomas Aikenhead, a sometime University of Edinburgh student, was in 1697 the last person executed for blasphemy in Britain. Michael Graham uses the case to open a window into the world of late seventeenth-century Edinburgh and Scotland, exploring the core historical themes in a country in transition from confessional Reformation to polite, literary Enlightenment. Graham traces the roots of the Aikenhead case and the law of blasphemy which was evolving in response to new intellectual currents of biblical criticism and deism.
He analyzes Aikenhead's trial and the Scottish government's decision to uphold the sentence of hanging and details the debates surrounding the execution which were carried out in print media across Scotland and England.
Aikenhead's case grew into a media event which highlighted starkly the intellectual and cultural divisions dominating late seventeenth-century Britain.