By Jean Brittain
Brodie Books, 2012
Hugh Kennedy became a mercenary soldier after abandoning the priesthood in Scotland yet seemed destined to serve France alongside, of all people in history, Joan of Arc. This biography, fully-referenced and with over a hundred illustrations, compares historical sources with an early manuscript’s intriguing tale of ‘Friar Hew’ and corrects the crucial mistakes made by the copyist and transcriber. It traces Hugh’s roots as one of Sir Gilbert Kennedy of Dunure’s nine sons, reduced to seven by fratricide in a deadly chieftainship feud which would continue into the Kennedy houses of Cassillis and Bargany. Detailed examinations are made of his bloodline ties to the Stewart kings, his debated award of the fleur-de-lys, his role as French Ambassador and its curious association with Clan Muntercasduff, his return to the church and connection to Rosslyn Chapel.
Priest, soldier, pillager, diplomat, counsellor to kings, Archdeacon of St Andrews… and mentioned in the birth of Scottish golf. You couldn’t make this man up.
Extract: Chapter 16 – The Fleur-de-lys Debate
The first honour we must look at is knighthood, because the absence of that is highly relevant. Hugh has been in Scottish print as ‘Sir Hugh Kennedy of Ardstinchar’ since 1716 at the least. Many authors seemed to assume that he was a knight throughout his military career, yet his name was not accompanied by a ‘Sir’ or ‘Messire’ or ‘Chevalier’ in the early chronicles when written beside others who were designated so. Indeed, except for the Siege of Lagny, he is mainly referred to only by his surname, variously spelled Quennede, Quenide, Cande, Canede and the like, and described as a Scots Captain. He was never a knight in the traditional dubbed-by-a-king way.
Hugh was excommunicated upon leaving the Blackfriars around 1419-20, but there’s no mention that he had been relieved of the burdens of the priesthood and returned to the status of a layman. Had he done so, knighthood would have been possible. He’d only been a priest for a couple of years, and was nowhere near the lofty level of a papal chaplain and Pope’s nephew who had ‘returned to lay life and taken knighthood’ a century previously.
There can be no doubt that he merited knighthood during his fifteen years working for King Charles, yet it doesn’t seem to have happened. The bestowing of knighthoods was not reserved for kings in the 15th century. Hugh’s commanding officer Patrick Ogilvy of Auchterhouse knighted several of his men at Senlis on the return journey from the coronation in 1429, and Hugh is not on that list. As stated earlier, at the Battle of Jargeau the English Earl of Suffolk even dubbed his French captor a knight rather than surrender to a commoner.
Evidence from the time of the embassy to Scotland directly before his return to the church gives substantial proof that Hugh was never a knight. In his Relation, Regnault Girard writes ‘Messire’ for himself and others, but never for Hugh. Even more tellingly, there is no sign of such a title in Girard’s transcription of King Charles VII’s letter written in the summer of 1435 which Hugh brought back to Scotland. There’s neither ‘Messire’ before his name nor ‘chevalier’ after it. King Charles refers to him only as ‘Hugh Kennedy Our Squire of the Stables’.