The Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 made witchcraft and consorting with witches, devils and spirits, an offence which was punishable by death.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries many women were accused of witchcraft for behaviour such as gossiping or acting out of jealousy. Periodic ‘witch-hunts’ often targeted women who performed ‘suspicious’ acts such as mixing herbs or chanting verse.
In 1669 Grisell Jaffrey was the last person to be executed in Dundee for the crime of witchcraft and cavorting with the devil. She was strangled and burnt at the stake, as was the common practice in those days.
Details as to the exact crimes committed, or supposedly committed, are scarce. She was a reputable citizen who was married to a reputable city burgess. The only records that remain are the names of her accusers, who were three local ministers, and the method by which she was put to death. Her husband is also believed to have been accused but was set free and eventually died in the poor house.
Her body was burned in the playfield of Dundee and today a mosaic that depicts her punishment, along with a small plaque, can be seen Peter Street in the Seagate. At either side of the short pedestrian alley is a tiled art piece on the shape of cone. One appears to contain water and the other looks to be holding fire. In between the two, a plaque reads ‘Grissel Jaffrey (Spaewife ? – 1669). ‘Spaewife’ is a Scottish term meaning female fortune-teller or prophetess.
It is said that, on the day of her execution, Jaffrey’s son sailed into Dundee only to be told that the smoke rising above the city came from the burning of his mother’s body. He turned and sailed away, never to be seen again.
It is also claimed that the Convener’s Stone in Dundee’s Howff cemetery marks the final resting place of Grissell Jaffrey. It can be identified by the collection of coins that appear on top of the stone. Some say that the ‘Witch’s Stone’ was in fact one of the largest stones in the graveyard before those in power opted had it removed.
- Dundee but not as we know it! Susan McMullan