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Jack o' Kent


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A legendary wizard, hero of a cycle of humorous anecdotes in Herefordshire and Gwent. Some concern the rivalry between Jack and the Devil, each trying to outwit the other or to set the other a task he could not perform; Jack is invariably the winner. Many common international tales appear here, for example the mowing contest won by cheating, and the trick ‘sharing’ in which the dupe gets only straw when he chooses ‘bottoms’ of a wheat crop, and only leaves when he chooses ‘tops’ of turnips. Jack is also said to have hurled various standing stones in the Wye Valley, and kicked a cleft in the side of the Skirrid mountain; he is credited with magical powers of flight, and over animals. He sold his soul to the Devil ‘whether he was buried inside or outside the church’, but cheated him by having his tomb set in the thickness of the church wall.

These tales were collected in the 19th century, but an allusion in a play of 1597 shows Jack o' Kent was already famous then. Various historical identifications have been proposed, the likeliest being John Kent, vicar of Kentchurch in the early 15th century, who was a poet and theological writer.

Leather, 1912:163–6;B. A. Wherry, Folk-Lore 15 (1904), 75–86;and R. T. Davies, Folk-Lore 48 (1937), 41–59. Leather's tales are reprinted in Briggs, 1970–1: B. i. 106–8, 145;and in Philip, 1992: 288–92.See also J. W. Ashton, Journal of American Folklore 47 (1934), 362–8.


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