FRANCES ABBOT remembers the victim of Dundee’s last witch burning
Long, long ago, when I was a lowly office junior recently left school, I used to tramp the streets of Dundee once a month delivering payments for bills to my employer’s suppliers.
I know my labour was cheap but was it cheaper than 20 second class stamps?
I didn’t question his motives; I just enjoyed finding my way through the maze of streets and alleys and pends that wound their path through the city centre.
In this way I often passed through the cobbled Seagate and paused when I came to the circle of stones inlaid in the centre of the road reputed to mark the spot where the last witch of Dundee was burned.
This was Grissel Jaffray, an Aberdonian married to a respectable merchant in Dundee.
Her trial and execution featured in a book Haunted Dundee by A.H.Miller first published in 1923.
In 1669 she and her husband were imprisoned in the Tollbooth accused of ‘the horrid crime of witchcraft’ when on 11th November the Privy Council issued an order for her trial.
Three church ministers from the Dundee Presbytery were her judges and their remit was that if she confessed ‘without any sort of torture or other indirect means’ that she had renounced her baptism, or entered into a pact with the devil she was to be sentenced to death.
There is no record of what her crimes were, but her punishment was recorded. She was to be strangled, then burned at the stake.
It is said that her son was a sailor returning from a voyage on the very day of her death.
When told that the smoke he saw rising from the Seagate was from his mother’s funeral pyre he sailed away never to return to his home town.
I rarely visit Dundee now, but I know that the story of Grissel Jaffray is more prominent in local history than when I lived there.
She is the heroine of, I think, two novels based on her life, she is on a tourist trail and a shiny mosaic has taken the place of the plain circle of stones which used to halt me in my tracks each time I passed by.
A.H.Miller classed her as a martyr; maybe a martyr to the cause of tourism?
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- The 1895 “Witch-Burning” of Bridget Cleary