The Execution of An Atheist: “Jock of Broad Scotland”

World Turned Upsidedown

A seventeenth-century newspaper, Mercurius Politicus, reports in the number for June 26-July 3, 1656, the following account of one of the cases that had come before the Cromwellian Protectorate’s judges, Judge Smith and Judge Lawrence, in their Dumfriesshire circuit of the previous May:—

“Alexander Agnew, commonly called Jock of Broad Scotland,” [apparently an itinerant beggar, or Edie Ochiltree, of Dumfriesshire] was tried on this indictment.—First, the said Alexander, being desired to go to church, answered ‘Hang God: God was hanged long since; what had he to do with God? he had nothing to do with God’.
Secondly, He answered he was nothing in God’s common; God gave him nothing, and he was no more obliged to God than to the Devil; and God was very greedy.
Thirdly, When he was desired to seek anything in God’s name, he said he would never seek anything for God’s sake, and that it was neither God nor the Devil that gave the fruits of the land: the wives of the country gave him his meat.
Fourthly, Being asked how many persons were in the Godhead, answered there was only one person in the Godhead, who made all; but, for Christ, he was not God, because he was made, and came into the world after it was made, and died as other men, being nothing but a mere man.
Sixthly, He declared that he knew not whether God or the Devil had the greater power; but he thought the Devil had the greatest; and ‘When I die,’ said he, ‘let God and the Devil strive for my soul, and let him that is strongest take it.’
Seventhly, He denied there was a Holy Ghost, or knew there was a Spirit, and denied he was a sinner or needed mercy.
Eighthly, He denied he was a sinner, and [said] that he scorned to seek God’s mercy.
Ninthly, He ordinarily mocked all exercise of God’s worship and convocation in His name, in derision saying ‘Pray you to your God, and I will pray to mine when I think time.’And, when he was desired by some to give thanks for his meat, he said, ‘Take a sackful of prayers to the mill, and shill them, and grind them, and take your breakfast off them.’ To others he said, ‘I will give you a twopence, and [if ye] pray until a boll of meal and one stone of butter fall down from heaven through the house-rigging to you.’ To others, when bread and cheese was given him, and was laid on the ground by him, he said, ‘If I leave this, I will [shall] long cry to God before he give it me again.’ To others he said, ‘Take a bannock, and break it in two, and lay down one half thereof, and ye will long-pray to God before he put the other half to it again.’
Tenthly, Being posed whether or not he knew God or Christ, he answered he had never had any profession, nor never would–he had never had any religion, nor never would: also that there was no God nor Christ, and that he never received anything from God, but from Nature, which he said ever reigned and ever would, and that to speak of Gods and their persons was an idle thing, and that he would never name such names, for he had shaken his cap of such things long since. And he denied that a man has a soul, or that there is a Heaven or a Hell, or that the Scriptures are the Word of God. Concerning Christ, he said that he heard of such, a man; but, for the second person of the Trinity, he had been the second person of the Trinity if the ministers had not put him in prison, and that he was no more obliged to God nor the Devil.— And these aforesaid blasphemies are not rarely or seldom uttered by him, but frequently and ordinarily in several places where he resorted, to the entangling, deluding, and seducing of the common people. Through the committing of which blasphemies, he hath contravened the tenor of the laws and acts of Parliament, and incurred the pain of death mentioned therein; which ought to be inflicted upon him with all rigour, in manner specified in the indictment.—Which indictment being put to the knowledge of an assize, the said Alexander Agnew, called Jock of Broad Scotland, was by the said assize, all in one voice, by the mouth of William Carlyle, late bailie of Dumfries, their chancellor, found guilty of the said crimes of blasphemy mentioned in his indictment; for which the commissioners ordained him, upon Wednesday, 21 May, 1656, betwixt two and four hours in the afternoon, to be taken to the ordinary place of execution for the Burgh of Dumfries, and there to be hanged on a gibbet while [till] he be dead, and all his moveable goods to be escheat.’ (Masson, Life of John Milton, V, 92-4.)

The execution of Alexander Agnew allegedly led to the Devil of Glenluce appearing in Galloway.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

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~ by drmarkjardine on February 24, 2015.

2 Responses to “The Execution of An Atheist: “Jock of Broad Scotland””

  1. […] Campbels Son who was then a student of Philosophy in the Colledge of Glasgow,) that after one Alexander Agnew, a bold and sturdy Beggar, who afterwards was hanged at Drumfries for Blasphemy had threatened hurt to the Familie, because he had not gotten such an Almes, as he required, the […]

  2. […] terrorized the family in 1655 to 1656. Ghaist Ha’ may also be where Jock of Broad Scotland, aka Alexander Agnew a renowned atheist who was executed for blasphemy in 1656, allegedly threatened the Campbell family after he was refused […]

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