The Moray Kennedies

Commentary on the Moray section of Black's Surnames of Scotland

Iain Kennedy
January 7th, 2009

Copyright © 2009 Iain Kennedy


The Moray Firth from the Inverness-Culloden road

According to the oft-quoted George Black in 'Surnames of Scotland',

'The Moray Kennedys, it is believed, came north with the possession of the earldom of Moray by Janet Kennedy and her son by James IV.'

Whilst Black may be a good starting place in researching a surname, it is often necessary to dig much deeper, especially when presented with unsourced statements such as this.

In order to analyse this claim, we first need to get something straight - what exactly is Moray? This is no dry academic point, for reasons which will become clear.

In more recent times Moray was the name of a shire or county, officially re-named Elgin in 1919. However this shire was quite small and not at all associated with the Kennedy surname, ranking only 28th out of 37 counties in the OPR with a measly 42 Kennedy baptisms.

The area we are looking at is the older province of Moray as it existed at the turn of the 16th century.

In his detailed history of Moray, the Rev. Lachlan Shaw describes the extent of Moray thus:

'I include within the province as it was before the division into counties or shires, all the plain country by the sea side from the mouth of the river Spey [at Lossiemouth] to the river Farar or Beaulie at the head of the Frith; and all the valleys glens and straths situated betwixt the mountains south of Badenoch and the Frith of Moray and which discharges rivers into that Frith.'.

I am primarily interested in Moray's extent southwards, since working along the coast will not make much difference to the number of Kennedys we sweep up.

On this, Shaw says

'And that the whole of the River Spey even to Lochaber was in the province of Moray can be shown by a charter of King Robert Bruce to Thomas Randulph Earl of Moray.'

Using Shaw's definition of Moray then, it extends right down to the source of the Spey, Loch Spey, just 15 miles NE of Leanachan in Lochaber and encompassing amongst other locations, Kingussie, which I have recently demonstrated has the highest concentration of Kennedys in the whole of Scotland. Kingussie is normally thought of being in Badenoch district. Shaw not only grabs Kingussie but also even claims a bit of Kilmonivaig and squeezes in a mention of what is undoubtedly a Lochaber Kennedy group!

'From the south end of Loch Eoich to the north end of Loch Lochie - the utmost boundary of Moray - is one mile, called Achadrom, a fertile little valley ... The inhabitants of Achnadrom are Kennedies, called Clan Ulric, from one Ulrick Kennedy, of whom they are said to be descended.'

Another lengthy discussion can be found in Charles Rampini's History of Moray and Nairn, who starts off his book with a map comparing the boundaries of the province, bishopric and earldom of Moray. Of these only the bishopric extends as far south as Kingussie.

For the remainder of this article I will defer these controversies and concentrate discussion on the central or northerly parts of Moray - Inverness and the Moray earldom.

Janet Kennedy was the daughter of John Lord Kennedy and Elizabeth, daughter of George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. She had several partners in her lifetime and with King James IV had two children, a daughter and a son. Although not a great deal is known about her, she has been the subject of a book by Ishbel Barnes, 'Janet Kennedy, Royal Mistress'. Usefully for our purposes, Barnes has dug into the Treasurer's Accounts and other sources to track her movements quite closely and these may shed some light on the theory of the Kennedys of Moray.

On June 1st, 1501, just three months after bearing him a son, Janet Kennedy was granted Darnaway Castle in Moray, south west of Forres by James[1]. This wasn't her first castle as former partner the Earl of Angus had given her Bothwell castle in Lanarkshire and James had already given her Doune castle the previous year. On the 12th June James gave their son James the lands and earldom of Moray, with Darnaway being reserved to Janet for life as long as she did not take a husband. Darnaway is in Edenkeillie parish in Morayshire.

Whilst preparations were made for Janet to set up home at Darnaway, it should be emphasised that this was not to enable her to bring up the young earl of Moray; in fact this was never her responsbility. After spending a few months at Darnaway she moved back south in 1502 to Stirling castle to give birth to the King's daughter; he meanwhile was getting ready to marry Margaret Tudor. By the end of that year she was on the move again - to Bothwell castle, but her daughter stayed at Stirling with her nurse. Meanwhile 'her son James, earl of Moray, had from a very young age been brought up away from his mother, in the charge of Master James Watson... much of their time at Stirling castle.' [Barnes].

In October 1504 James visited Janet at Darnaway, the last time the castle was in her possession. Within a year she had married John Ramsay and was legally forced to give up her Moray castle under the terms of the original gift. As ever, this had no impact on the residence of the earl of Moray who by now was at St. Andrews, still in the care of Master Watson. Janet's lands in Moray were lost to her and this was reflected in their entries in the Exchequer Roll in November 1505 (although the king's daughter appears to have continued her upbringing with her nurse there). The Earl meanwhile was sent off to Italy to continue his schooling.

In summary, Janet only owned Darnaway for about four years and probably only spent at most half of that duration actually living there; and her son the earl was not brought up there. This is not a convincing case for introducting the Kennedy surname to the area, particularly if we examine residue populations once the post-Reformation parish registers start up. Edenkeillie parish register contains 5 Kennedy baptisms from two families between 1728 and 1756. The register dates from 1702. The registers for ancient Inverness burgh go back to 1604 and might for various reasons be expected to give a strong showing to the Kennedys but they do not; the first Kennedy to turn up was in 1694 and a visual inspection of the whole register up to that date, in case there is some strange spelling variation occurring, proves their total absence. I also note that the Camerons and MacDonalds, the two main Lochaber names, are also entirely absent during this period so general migration up from Lochaber seems not to have been a factor during the 17th century. (It is always possible that they were all present but had clung on to their Catholicism, but this tended to be a localised effect and I consider it an unlikely explanation for their absence from the Kirk registers).

We hear less about Janet Kennedy once her new husband left her for another woman; and in a dreadful year in 1513, mostly but not entirely due to Flodden, Janet lost her brother David Earl of Cassillis and all four of her former lovers/partners. In 1515 her son was formally admitted to the Moray earldom given to him as a baby boy.

Domestic politics and clan feuding continued to play a part in Moray's life after Flodden. Clan Chattan attacked Darnaway castle and Moray obtained permission from the king to raise forces to take it back and punish them. His wife was daughter of a member of the Gordon family.who had owned Lochaber since 1501. This was not the first or most direct marital connection between the lowland Kennedys and the Gordon family. Huntly received a commission to enforce the peace in Lochaber and it may be worth noting that amongst the many stories in circulation locally about the Kennedys, one tells that the Kennedys were brought up from the lowlands to pacify the Highlanders - only for the plan to backfire when they turned out to be even worse. If we are looking for a mechanism whereby this move might have happened, perhaps we should look no further, in view of the connections between Gordons and Kennedys at the time (ie Janet Kennedy being cousin to Huntly).

Moray finally died in 1544; we do not know exactly when his mother died but most likely it was around that time too. James had at least continued his connections with the Kennedy family right up to his final illness, having appointed Hew Kennedy of Girvanmains as one of the executors of his will.

Although I remain unconvinced about an early Kennedy move into Moray, what I did find of interest were as follows:

1502-07 Johannie Kennedy lets and immediately re-lets lands in Murray [Exchequer Rolls v12]
1548 Duncan Kenyde notary witnessed a letter of reversion in Inverness [NAS GD176/62]
1651 Dingwall Mr. Colline Kinneddie [Dingwall Presbytery Records]
1696 first Kennedy baptism in Inverness burgh [OPR Inverness town]

These early records all bear further investigation but the two 16th century records are unlikely to refer to local residents. A Register of Notaries was not formally set up until 1573 but it is possible that some record of Kennedy's appointment exists, if he was a genuine notary. There is no evidence as yet as to the identity of Johannie Kennedy (Janet had a brother John but that is inconclusive) but as the date range of the transaction overlaps the birth of Janet Kennedy's son and the move to Darnaway it is certainly interesting. As is the case with Inverness, Dingwall parish register indicates a very late arrival of the Kennedy surname.

[1] RMS ii no. 2585 cited in Barnes


Exchequer Rolls
New Spalding Club 'Records of Elgin 1234-1800'
'Records of Inverness Burgh courts 1556-1586'
'Inverness and Dingwall Presbytery records 1643-1688'
Ishbel Barnes 'Janet Kennedy, Royal Mistress' , Edinburgh 2007
Charles Rampini 'History of Moray and Nairn'
Rev. Lachlan Shaw 'History of the Province of Moray'