Grissel Jaffray was the last so called “witch” to burn in Dundee. Not a huge amount is known about the charges brought against her as documents relating to her trial were mysteriously destroyed.
She was a respectable citizen of Dundee, married to a burgess and later was accused of the crime of practising witchcraft.
Adapted from the book Haunted Dundee by A.H. Miller:
One memorable case in which the Magistrates of Dundee imposed the extreme penalty of the law, with all the barbarity prescribed by the statutes was the martyrdom of Grissel Jaffray in the Seagate of Dundee in November 1669.
On 11th November, 1669, the Privy Council, having been informed that Grissel Jaffray was then a prisoner in the Tolbooth of Dundee, at the corner of High Street and Overgate, accused of ” The horrid crime of witchcraft,” issued an order for her trial.
The remit to the ministers and Dundee Town Council ordained that “If by her own confession, without any sort of torture or other indirect means used, it shall be found she hath renounced her baptism, entered into paction with the devil, or otherwise that malefices be legally proven against her, that then and no otherwise they cause the sentence of death to he executed upon her.”
For whatever reason, she was found guilty, and then executed by strangulation and her body burnt thereafter.
Local folklore states that her son was a sailor, and he arrived back in Dundee on the day of his mother’s execution. It’s said when he realised his mother’s body was on the funeral pyre, he jumped back into the ship and sailed away never to return to his home town.
Three men were responsible for her death and they all happened to be leading ministers in the Dundee Presbytery at the time – Harry Scrymsour of St Mary’s, John Guthrie of South Church and William Rait of St Paul’s. There is a suggestion that her death was brought on for religious reasons.
From website http://www.ninetradesofdundee.co.uk/:
“In the 1663 Register of Deeds there is reference to a Grissell Jaffrey whose husband was Thomas Boutchard, a merchant in Dundee.
In the same year another reference is made to a Bessie Lyn, relict of James, mariner in Dundee and spouse of Thomas Butchart, merchant in Dundee.
There is also a reference to James Butchard, a maltman in Dundee. There were quite a number of Jaffreys’ in Aberdeen at that time who were prominent Quakers at a time of great religious upheaval. One of them was a
member of the ‘board’ who gave Charles I a hard time in Breda. Bear in mind that one of the Jaffray’s from Aberdeen, which is where we think she originated, went to Breda before the Restoration to negotiate with Charles II. They laid down such conditions that, although Charles was forced to agree them, there was no chance that he could ever keep them, and indeed had no intention of keeping them.
He never forgave those who gave him such a hard time. The Jaffrays’ were Quakers and Charles II persecuted Quakers for many years. They were also a wealthy merchant family, as were the Butchards’. There is a suggestion that
her death may have been a put up job for religious reasons and it is very likely that her burning took the form of something more like a religous assassination”
Traditions state that Grissel Jaffray was burned in the Seagate, almost opposite Horse Water Wynd where the first Cross of Dundee stood. There is a flame mosiac at the top of Peter Street and a blue plaque erected in her memory there.
She has also been immortalised in a work of fiction, The Curewife by Claire-Marie Watson.
There is a certain stone marker in Dundee’s Howff Cemetery which may or may not be linked to Grissel. Howff is an old Scots word for meeting place. In 1564 Mary, Queen of Scots granted the land to the burgh of Dundee for use as a burial ground. It became a meeting place for those in the nine incorporated trades of Dundee and the last burial took place in 1857. There is a stone in The Howff known locally as The Witches’ Stone and people today believe it is a marker for Grissel or some other unknown accused witch before her. People today visit that stone and leave offerings, usually such things as coins, buttons, bits of cloth and shells, perhaps in offering for her aid.
I visited the stone last year with some friends and laid down a few coins as an offering in her memory. I didn’t feel the need to ask for her aid, and thought it would be rude to do so on the first visit anyway. I just thought of her and all that she suffered, and wished her some peace. I’m glad the people of Dundee haven’t forgotten her.