And when what thou lik'd shall return to her clay,
For so I'm persuaded she must do one day
-- Whatever fantastic John Asgill may say
Matthew Prior from 'An Epitaph' or 'Jinny the Just'
Author, Lawyer and Politician
Born 1659 Died 1738
John Asgill was born on the 25th March 1659 at Hanley Castle in Worcestershire, England and entered the legal profession, being called to the bar and became a member of Lincoln's Inn. He became one of the charter subscribers to the Bank of England and gained a considerable reputation in his profession, augmented by the publication of two pamphlets. The first in 1696 entitled "Several Assertions proved, in order to create another Species of Money than Gold and Silver" and a second in 1698 which advocated the establishment of a central registry for titles of lands. Both of which advocated ideas, that although now common place, were regarded as somewhat revolutionary and impractical at the time.
In 1699, attracted by the opportunities offered by the creation of commission to settle disputed claims in Ireland, he crossed the Irish Sea where he continued his practise as a barrister, amassed a large fortune, purchased an estate, married the daughter of the second Baron Kenmare and was elected as the member for Enniscorthy to the Irish Parliament.
However before leaving London he had placed in the hands of his printer a further tract entitled; An Argument proving that, according to the Covenant of Eternal Life revealed in Scripture, Man may be translated from hence into that Eternal Life without passing through Death.
In this work he applied the principles of English law to the nature of the relationship between and God and man and argued that; since a) the penalty of death had originally been imposed by God as a result of Adam's sin, and b) Christ had expunged Adam's sin by means of his death on the cross that, c) God could no longer impose the penalty of death on those who could now claim exemption by virtue of their faith.
His intent was likely satirical and the quality and style of his prose impressed Coleridge but conventional opinion of the day regarded his contention somewhat differently. The Irish Parliament decided that it was blasphemous and contrary to the established doctrine of the Church of Ireland. On the 11th October 1703 he was expelled from the Irish Parliament and all available copies of his work ordered to be burnt.
On returning to England he was elected to the House of Commons as the member for Bramber. Which was not that impressive an achievment, as Bramber was a rotten borough where he had purchased a majority of the votes. However he eventually suffered the same fate as in Ireland, as on the 18th December 1707 he was expelled from the House of Commons, once more on account of his tract.
His expulsion may also have been influenced by the fact that he was in prison for debt at the time. Having became involved in some tortuous litigation regarding his Irish estates, ran short of funds and was arrested for debt, taken before the King's Bench and placed in the Fleet prison.
He spent the remainder of his life in the Fleet, although this did not prevent him from publishing some further pamphlets in the years 1714 and 1715 defending the Hanoverian succession against the alternative Jacobite claim to the throne.
He died in 1738.
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for ASGILL, JOHN
(or what can be made of out of the entry given the multiplicity of OCR errors)
- Members expelled from the House of Commons since the Restoration at www.election.demon.co.uk/expulsions.html
- Today in Irish History: October 11 at http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/02Hist/aOctober2.html
- John W. Cousin A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature