Manuscript testament of Alexander Jaffray

Item author: (1614-1673)
Item date: c.1675
Grant Value: £5,000
Item cost: £15,000
Item date acquired: 2021
Item institution: Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Libraries
Town/City: Aberdeen
County: Aberdeenshire

Phil Astley, City Archivist, writes:  The testament of Alexander Jaffray is a unique manuscript of major regional and national significance which Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives were delighted to acquire with the generous assistance of the Friends of the National Libraries. Original documents that shed light on religious belief in 17th-century Scotland are extremely rare. This manuscript is an extraordinary example of an individual articulating their moral and spiritual viewpoint at a time of significant change within society. 

While the document shines a bright light on Jaffray’s religious convictions, his civic connections also make the document of special historical relevance to Aberdeen: born into a prominent family, his father was a Provost of the city, while Alexander was himself twice Provost, firstly in 1649-50 and secondly between 1651-52. He also represented the city in the Scottish Parliament between 1644 and 1650. In 1649, and again in 1650, he was one of six commissioners deputed to liaise with the exiled Charles II in Holland, while in June 1653 he was summoned from Scotland, with four others, to sit in the Little Parliament.

Educated at Aberdeen High School and Marischal College, Jaffray’s religious beliefs, which changed during his lifetime, reflect the religious upheaval of wider society. On the moderate wing of the Covenanters after 1638, his contact with Cromwell and his chaplain, John Owen, resulted in his views on religious liberty being significantly broadened. After his career in civic and public life had come to an end in 1661, he became a significant religious leader and thinker, developing a particular affinity with the Quakers, joining their body in Aberdeen in 1662. 

Although far from numerous during the 1660s and 1670s, it is likely that there were more Quakers in Aberdeen at that time than anywhere else in Scotland. Together with their Catholic counterparts in the burgh, they became the focus of significant repression and persecution after 1662. Several of the leading lights within the Aberdeen Quakers, including Alexander Jaffray himself, were former magistrates or magistrates’ wives which made their break with traditional Protestantism all the more galling for those who remained within the established church and who perceived the very presence of the Quaker community as an affront to authority. 

It is his thoughts around Quakerism that are contained within the testament, which is preceded in the manuscript by a number of letters to friends in the quaker community both in England and Scotland. While Jaffray’s memoirs between 1650 and 1661 were rediscovered and published in 1833, they relate mainly to his political life and do not cover his deliberations on Quakerism. Consequently, the present manuscript is a unique record of his thoughts on the subject and his connections to the cause.

The manuscript has been digitised early and, together with a transcript, was made available through the website of Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives in time for the 350th anniversary of Alexander Jaffray’s death in 2023.

Item Provenance
Bought from Quaritch