Back To: HOME | Search Collections | Feedback

Kennedy, James, ? 1406-1465, Bishop of St Andrews

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

James Kennedy born about 1406, was sent to the continent to study canon law and theology. In 1437, he was appointed Bishop of Dunkeld, and consecrated in 1438. He set himself to reform abuses, and attended the general council of Florence, in order to obtain authority from Pope Eugenius IV for his contemplated reforms. Eugenius did not encourage him in his schemes, but instead appointed him Abbot of Scone, in 1439. While he was at Florence, Henry Wardlaw, bishop of St. Andrews, died, 6 April 1440, and upon Kennedy's return to Scotland, in 1441, he was installed in the see. He celebrated his first mass in his cathedral of St. Andrews on 30 September 1442, and at once resumed his efforts in reform.

During the minority of James II, Kennedy took a leading part in political affairs, and was frequently able to reconcile contending noblemen. He was made Chancellor, in May 1444, after the expulsion of Sir William Crichton, but resigned the office a few weeks later on finding that his duties interfered with his ecclesiastical work. When the schism in the papacy assumed a very critical character, Kennedy undertook a journey to Rome with the intention of promoting reconciliation. He obtained a safe-conduct through England from Henry VI, dated 28 May 1446. His efforts were unsuccessful, and he probably soon returned home.

In 1450, he founded St. Salvator's College in St. Andrews, endowing it liberally with the teinds of four parishes that had formerly belonged to the bishopric. His foundation was confirmed by Pope Nicholas V in a bull dated 27 February 1451. The new College served as both a collegiate church and a school for the training of priests. By concentrating on the study of Theology, Kennedy was reacting against the trend by ecclesiastics of seeking promotion through a legal career, and attempting to obtain a supply of learned and zealous pastors. The college was endowed with thirteen persons of which three were to be theologians, four to be masters of arts, and six to be poor clerks able and fit for pursuing the speculative sciences.

As a former student in the Faculty of Arts, Kennedy was aware of the problems and needs of St Andrews University. He was also aware of the need to establish law and order if the University were to survive the disintegrating forces of schism and poverty. Kennedy's plan was to intergrate all parts of the University in an ordered whole.

In 1458, Kennedy made some alterations in the foundation-charter of the College of St Salvator, in the light of seven years experience, which received the approval of Pope Pius II by bulls dated 13 September 1458, and 21 October 1458. The revised charter emphasised the need for firm governance and efficiency directed toward a well-ordered moral life and the strengthening of religion. However, Kennedy's scheme for a peacefully united University were not entirely successful, and after his death, bitter rivalries came to the surface, culminating in a struggle between the Provost of St Salvator's and the Principal of the Pedagogy.

Kennedy also established the Grey Friars monastery in St. Andrews. He built a large boat called the Saint Salvator, which was frequently used by royal personages, and regarded as a marvel, until it was wrecked near Bamborough while on a voyage to Flanders in 1472.

After the death of James II in 1460, Kennedy was chosen one of the seven regents during the minority of James III, and to him was committed not only the charge of the kingdom, but the pacification of the nobles associated with him in the government.

Kennedy died on 10 May 1465. He was buried in a magnificent tomb which he had built in St. Salvator's Chapel. He had, it is believed, procured the design and materials from Italy. The ruins are still visible. In 1683, Kennedy's tomb was opened, and there were found hidden in it six splendidly decorated maces secreted there at the time of the Reformation. Three of these were retained at St. Andrews, while the others were presented to the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen.


Kennedy was the third and youngest son of Sir James Kennedy of Dunure, Ayrshire, by Lady Mary (Stewart), countess of Angus, and daughter of King Robert III. He was therefore a cousin of King James II. His eldest brother was, Gilbert, first lord Kennedy

Kennedy had a long and friendly association with Bishop William Turnbull, founder of the University of Glasgow, in 1451. The new University in Glasgow was complementary to St Andrews University, and some of the earliest teachers and administrators at Glasgow brought their experience from St Andrews.

Other Significant Information


Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1437: Bishop of Dunkeld

1439: Abbot of Scone

1441-1465: Bishop of St Andrews

1444: Chancellor

1460-1465: Regent


List of sources for the biographical information:

Dunlop, A.I., Acta Facultatis Artium Universitatis Sanctiandree, 2 Vols., (, Oliver & Boyd, 1964)

Harrison, B. (editor), Dictionary of National Biography, ( University Press, 1995)

Rules or Conventions

Authority record created according to the National Council on ArchivesRules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names (NCA Rules)1997 and International Council on Archives: Ad Hoc Committee on Descriptive StandardsInternational Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR)CPF1995.

Author and Date of Biographical History

Personal name authority record compiled for the GASHE project by John O'Brien, Glasgow University Archive Services, 8 August 2002