Much like the rest of Scotland, the Lothian region is steeped in history and renowned for its beauty, Lothian is also home to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Not many people can claim the focal point of their home town is a castle, perched atop an extinct volcano, of which the lava flow leads down to a royal palace.
Locals of Edinburgh itself, or of towns across Lothian will often know of stories from their individual areas, or the origin of town names for example, but many may be unaware of the mythology that surrounds Lothian. A story that involves a mixture of sources and differing claims ranging from the legend of King Arthur, to Norse mythology and the life of Saint Kentigern.
An aspect of Lothian’s history not shrouded in myth is its changing face over the centuries. At times it has seen the influence of Roman, Pictish, British, Gaelic and Anglo-Saxon cultures. These small clues into the past have been found through archaeological studies – Roman roads are common place in the area – and through simply looking at place names. Dalry or Currie for example, are names of Gaelic origin, whereas Tranent is firmly Briton in origin.
In the Post-Roman age, Lothian was inhabited largely by Britons, with the language known as ‘Cumbric’ – which is of welsh origin. The Lothian region itself was known as ‘Hen Ogledd’ or ‘Old North’ in the Celtic-Briton culture.
Later on in the millennium, Lothian saw the influence of the Angles, as it was amalgamated into the Kingdom of Bernicia, which later formed the Kingdom of Northumbria and whose king, Aella is renowned for the killing of Ragnar Lothbrok.
This period in Lothian’s history is often overlooked, however it played a crucial role in the cultural development of both lowland Scotland, and Northern England. With the varying mixture of culture and language found throughout the region, Lothian was the perfect melting pot for Angle, British and Gaelic speaking peoples, and its time as part of this kingdom grew the region into a prosperous one.
It is peculiar, as home to the capital, one would associate the Lothian region as always having been ‘Scottish’, but it was not, and in fact it is not acknowledged as being so, or even part of the Kingdom of Scotland until around 973AD, when King Edgar granted the region to the Scots. A near century later, the Normans arrived in Lothian as part of an invasion by William the Conqueror.
Although the history of Lothian is wonderfully vibrant, the mythology surrounding the origin of its name is fascinating. It is said the region owes its name to King Lot, who, depending on sources, was a friend and ally, brother-in-law, or even an enemy of the legendary King Arthur.
Both Latin and Welsh histories of the time point toward there being a King Leudonus, and parts of the biographical story of Saint Kentigern even claim this figure is the Saint’s grandfather. It is not until the twelfth century however, in which the name ‘Lot’ appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’, which claimed we was in fact King Arthur’s brother-in-law.
The story so has it that Lot was one of three brothers, each ruling over individual kingdoms. Leudonus ruled Lothian, while his brothers Urien and Angusel ruled over Moray and ‘Scotland’ – whatever geographical region this encompasses is unknown. It likely points toward areas on the west coast of Scotland. The Strathclyde region was home to a petty kingdom at the time.
Leudonus appears to have been an influential figure in this mythical image of Britain, and he is said to have supported King Uther Pendragon – King Arthur’s father – in a war against the Saxon king ‘Octa’ in southern England.
We see the romantic tales of Chretien de Troyes that speak of love triangles between Lot, his wife Morgause, and King Arthur.
Another story ark, included in Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory takes aspects of earlier tales that include an insurrection against King Arthur himself after the legendary king murders Lot’s son, Mordred, to prevent a prophecy of betrayal from being fulfilled. In the ensuing conflict, Lot is killed in battle by King Pellinore, yet another mythical figure.
Malory also took up aspects of the Prose Lancelot, or Lancelot-Grail. These tales point toward redemption for the mythical King Lot, in which a battle against King Arthur goes array and results in a truce. This unsteady truce leads to an alliance that would see the Saxon menace repulsed from making inroads north into middle-England.
Despite their fantastic ability to capture the imagination of the reader, sadly these tales bear no hard evidence either for the existence of King Arthur, or King Lot. One may like to imagine that the mythical figure existed; it would add an entirely new level of allure to the Lothian region and to our understanding of ancient British history. A Knight of the Round Table, Holy Grail hunter, or a man brave enough to oppose the legendary King Arthur – either way, what’s not to like?
Other myths surrounding the origin of King Lot come from the Norse Sagas. It is believed that this name may stem from the Norse names of Ljot or Hlot, which do come up in the Sagas, but are focused mainly around tales involving the Norse colony in Orkney. These stories merely stand to further the tales found in later works, as a larger pool of mythical information was available to the writer.
The issue with this supposed period of history are obviously the fantastical aspects of it, along with the simple fact that there are very few reliable sources dating to the time in question. The legend of King Arthur, and the idea of a resurgent kingdom of Celtic-Britons still plays on the imagination of many, and has its appeals. The Western Roman Empire was falling – or had already fallen according to later tales – leaving the beleaguered peoples of Britain to fend for themselves and face a ferocious foreign enemy, whose gods bore no resemblance to their own Christian god. One would assume a leader arose?
Britain was far more fragmented then than one can care to imagine – despite how insane it may feel in 2017 – and the reality of a united kingdom encompassing all of England and Wales, with allies in Scotland, is highly unlikely. The peoples of the south of Britain could not have been more culturally opposite to those in the northern reaches.
The reality is that Lothian likely takes its name from one of two possibilities, both of which have been debated fiercely over time. The Welsh name of ‘Lleuddiniawn’ – meaning ‘country of the Fort of Lugus’ is one possibility – this has a firm claim as Lugus was a Celtic god. The other is that it stems from the term Lutna, literally translating into ‘muddy stream’ .
All in all a bit of an anti-climax, but it is still a captivating series of stories, and they are still admired today, with films and numerous literary works having been published on the tales of King Arthur, his noble band, and the tumultuous time in which he supposedly lived.