Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kent, John

Siôn Cent in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

KENT, JOHN, or Sion Kent (fl. 1400), also called John of Kentchurch, Welsh bard, is said to have been born at Cwm Tridwr in the parish of Egllwisilan, or, according to others, at Kilgerran, Pembrokeshire. He was educated by an uncle named Davydd Ddu o Lwyn Davydd Ddu, who lived at Pentyrch, and was afterwards a farm-servant near Caerphilly, but being ill-treated fled to Kentchurch, Herefordshire, and entered the service of the Scudamore family there. His patrons sent him to Oxford, and eventually he became a parish priest, first at Newcastle Emlyn, and then at Kentchurch. He is said to have lived to the age of a hundred and twenty. The popular legends make Kent a magician, and many stories of his power are still current in Monmouthshire; ‘as great as the devil and John of Kent’ is a local proverb. One legend relates that he outwitted the devil by being buried half within and half without the church at Kentchurch. Another tombstone, without an inscription, is shown as Kent's at Grosmont, Monmouthshire (Symonds, Diary, p. 204, Camd. Soc.) In the possession of the Scudamore family at Kentchurch there is an ancient portrait, supposed to represent Kent; it is engraved in Coxe's ‘Tour in Monmouthshire,’ p. 338. The Scudamores are descended from a daughter of Owen Glendower, and hence some have conjectured that Kent was Glendower in disguise.

Kent apparently sympathised with Oldcastle, and it has been conjectured that he was the pretended chaplain John, whose services at the lollard leader's house in Kent excited the censure of Archbishop Arundel (Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 330–1); but for this there is no sufficient authority. Kent satirised the clergy and friars; but there seems to be no evidence for describing him as a lollard. He is one of the best of the Welsh poets, and one of the first and most successful cultivators of ‘continued’ verse. Numerous Welsh poems are extant under his name. Wilkins gives a list of forty-four pieces. Four are printed in the ‘Iolo MSS.,’ pp. 285, 286, 290, 304 (Welsh MSS. Soc. 1848). One of his poems is a ‘Lamentation on the Condition of the Welsh under Henry IV,’ and in another poem he alludes to the death of Sir John Oldcastle. Poems by Kent are to be found in Additional MS. 24980, and in the Myfyr MSS. (Add. MSS. 14962, 14965–7, 14972, 14974, 14977–9, 14984, 14988, 15004–15008, 15010, 15038) in the British Museum. Besides his poems, Kent is said to have been the author of a grammar, of ‘The Apologue of Einiawn ab Gwalchmai,’ ‘Llyfr yr Offeren,’ ‘Araith y Tri Brodyr,’ of a version of St. John's Gospel in Welsh, and of some fables, besides Latin theological treatises.

The suggestion that John Kent is identical with John Kent or Gwent (fl. 1348) is impossible. The latter was a Franciscan, and doctor of theology at Oxford, where he was divinity reader for his order. He was twentieth provincial of the Franciscans in England, is said to have worked miracles, and was the author of a commentary on the ‘Sentences’ of Peter Lombard. He died at Hereford, and was buried there (Monumenta Franciscana, i. 538, 554; Leland, Comment. de Scriptt. pp. 376–7).

[Information supplied by the Rev. M. G. Watkins; Wilkins's Hist. of Literature of Wales, pp. 50–9; Iolo MSS. pp. 676–7, 682, 687; Williams's Eminent Welshmen, pp. 268–9; Coxe's Tour in Monmouthshire, pp. 336–8; Cambrian Journal, Tenby, 1859, pp. 268–75; Phillips's History of Cilgerran, p. 151; two biographical sketches in Welsh are contained in Geirlyfr Bywgraphiadol o Enwogion Cymru, pt. ii. and Geiriadur Bywgraffyddol o Enwogion Cymru.]

C. L. K.