The last testament of Alexander Jaffray is the centrepiece of a new exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery. This rare and important document, which dates from 1673, provides a fascinating insight into Jaffray’s faith at a time of religious persecution and political upheaval.
The manuscript was acquired in 2022 by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives with financial assistance from the National Fund for Acquisitions, the Friends of the National Libraries and the Niven Bequest, which was left to the Council’s Archive several years ago. This is the first time the manuscript has been on display.
The exhibition tells the story of Jaffray’s fascinating and turbulent life, which saw the burgh he served turn on him in later life because of his religious beliefs.
Jaffray was twice Provost of Aberdeen (1649-50 and 1651-52). He also represented the city in the Scottish Parliament between 1644 and 1650 and was one of six commissioners sent to liaise with the exiled Charles II in Holland in 1649 and 1650. In June 1653 he was summoned from Scotland to sit in the “Barebones Parliament” at Westminster.
Educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College, Jaffray’s religious affiliations changed during his lifetime and reflect the religious upheaval of wider society. He sided with the Covenanters in 1638, enduring capture and imprisonment by royalist forces in 1644. After his release he moved away from the Covenanter cause and was appointed Director of the Chancellery of Scotland.
Following retirement from political and civic life, Jaffray devoted his time to religious thinking. He had been influenced by contact with Oliver Cromwell who broadened Jaffray’s views on religious liberty and in 1662 he joined the Quakers.
During the 1660s and 1670s, the Quaker community in Aberdeen was probably the largest in Scotland. However, along with their Catholic counterparts, they became the focus of significant repression and persecution by the burgh authorities who viewed them with suspicion and as a threat to the established order.
Several of the leading lights within the Aberdeen Quakers, including Alexander Jaffray himself, were former magistrates or wives of magistrates, which made their break with traditional Protestantism all-the-more infuriating for those who remained within the established church and who perceived the very presence of the Quaker community as an affront to authority.
Councillor Martin Greig, Aberdeen City Council’s culture spokesman, said: “Jaffray lived through revolution and upheaval, so the manuscript offers fascinating and important insights into religious thinking of the time. We are grateful to the National Fund for Acquisitions and to the Friends of the National Libraries for their generous funding which has enabled us to acquire this historic document. This adds to and strengthens Aberdeen's archive collection which has been recognised by UNESCO as the oldest and most complete set of civic records in Scotland.”
Phil Astley, Team Leader – Archives, said, “This year marks the 350th anniversary of Jaffray’s death and the exhibition is a timely chance to see this rare and unusual manuscript conveying the author’s religious thinking at the end of a remarkable life. It provides a fantastic insight into his faith following his conversion to Quakerism, at a time when being a Quaker inevitably meant persecution. The exhibition places the manuscript alongside other related documents to give an insight to Jaffray’s turbulent life.”
The Last Testament of Alexander Jaffray is on display in Gallery 2 at Aberdeen Art Gallery until Sunday 3 September 2023. Admission free.
Aberdeen Art Gallery, Schoolhill, Aberdeen AB10 1FQ www.aagm.co.uk
About Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives
This incredible resource for all kinds of research contains a wealth of documents and records relating to the rich history and heritage of the City of Aberdeen and the three ancient counties of Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine, dating from the 12th century to the present day. The Archives are home to the oldest and most complete collection of burgh records in Scotland, dating back to 1398, and recognised by UNESCO in 2013 as being of outstanding historical importance to the United Kingdom. Find out more at Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives | Aberdeen City Council