A Trickster or Medieval Wizard?

A Trickster or Medieval Wizard?

As you know we love researching our folklore tales but what we have noticed is that one name keeps popping up. That of Jackie Kent or as some others refer to him as Jack O’Kent. Known as the local trickster, he would manage to get himself out of any trouble and always come out on top. Or so it would seem. He was a man who could barter with and outwit the devil on more occasions than you would have thought possible. His true identity is not known but many point in the direction of Owen Glendower. Others refer to him as the powerful medieval wizard who came from the village of Kentchurch. So was he a trickster or medieval wizard?

First stories about him emerge around 1595 but it is thought that he lived a century or so earlier.

A boy or gifted demon?

When Jack was a boy he was adventurous and curious and happened upon the Devil while out one day exploring. Rumours have it that Jack sold his soul to the Devil and in return he was gifted a demon. The demon would do his bidding until the day he died. At which point the demon would happily carry his soul off to hell. Now don’t go thinking that this demon was one of those ghastly things you see in horror movies. No, he was said to be no bigger than a fly and Jack kept him inside a stick which he hid in his coat.

An usual child

Jack was unsurprisingly an unusual child. Strange in many ways. Ways which could not be ignored and some which could not be explained. When Jack was nine years old the farmer who he worked for asked him to guard some newly sown fields. The farmer was having trouble with the crows pinching his grain. Jack was tasked with keeping them away.

But that day Jack had other ideas. It was the day of the Hereford fair and he was desperate to go and have fun with his friends. So he left the field unguarded much to the farmer’s annoyance. As the day grew into the evening the angry farmer waited for Jack to return from Hereford so that he could confront him over his dereliction of duty. He was ready to give him a beating.

But cool as a cucumber Jack appeared without a care in the world. Grinning at the farmer he told him not to fret. All the crows were safely locked up in the barn so his grain would be safe. To the farmer’s surprise Jack was right. As he opened the barn door there they all were neatly lined up in rows waiting for sunset. For it was then that the spell cast by Jack would be broken and they would fly free again.

It was rumoured too that Jack had a spare set of clothes that could do the work of ten men. So when Jack was tasked with threshing or bailing he would order his suit of clothes to do the work while he rested nearby playing his fiddle.

An accomplished trickster

Jack’s talents didn’t end there. He was said to be able to conjure up the Devil at will. On one occasion Jack got the Devil to plough all of the fields across Kentchurch. As the Devil ploughed Jack followed behind sowing his seeds. With the hard work done he asked the Devil what he would like in payment, the top of the crop or the bottom. Unbeknown to the Devil Jack had sown gravel and not seed. So when the Devil answered the bottom, Jack just grinned. When the Devil left Jack sowed some grain so when it came to harvest time the Devil got the straw and Jack got the grain.

Not willing to fall for a trick like that again the following year the same thing happened. But this time the Devil was ready for Jack when he asked the question and picked the top of the crop, but again he was duped. Jack had planted turnips this time, so the Devil was only left with the leaves.

A hungry pooch

One day Jack asked the Devil to build him a bridge over the River Monnow. The Devil agreed to do it but wanted in return the soul of the first person to cross it when it was built. The Devil worked hard and the bridge was built in a night. But before anyone could walk over it Jack threw a loaf of bread onto the bridge and a dog chased after it. So the only soul the Devil took that night was that of a poor unsuspecting hungry pooch.

Funeral wishes

Jack always seemed to be able to outwit the Devil but could Jack trick the Devil into not taking his soul when he died? Some people say that he did. Before he died Jack left a letter regarding his wishes for his funeral. He detailed how he was to be buried, in a cavity hollowed out of the wall in Kentchurch Church. Stories tell that when the time came for Jack’s demon to carry his soul to hell, he found that Jack had been buried neither inside or outside of the church. Unable to take his soul he returned to hell empty handed. A medieval painting of Jack hangs in Kentchurch Church which is said to be mounted on the site of his unusual burial.

We’ll never know exactly who Jackie Kent was but his stories have stood the test of time. We’ve really enjoyed reading about his antics. Keep a look out as there are a few more stories yet to be told about this ardent trickster!

If you’ve enjoyed reading A Trickster or Medieval Wizard? and love Herefordshire Folklore and History follow our weekly Facebook ‘Folklore Friday’ feature here.

Click here to return to our Herefordshire History and Folklore page for more great stories.