Fact or Fiction? The Murky History of Lothian


Much like the rest of Scotland, the Lothian region is steeped in history and renowned for its beauty. The area is also home to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.

There are few who can say the focal point of their home town is a castle perched atop an extinct volcano – the ancient lava flow from which leads down to a royal palace. Locals of Edinburgh, or of towns throughout the Lothian region, will probably know the history of their local area or the origin of town names, for example.

However, many might be unaware of the mythology that surrounds both the region of Lothian and the very origins of the name. It is a tale that includes a mixture of sources and differing claims, ranging from the legend of King Arthur to Norse mythology and the life of Saint Kentigern.

A Brief History

One 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 culture.

These small clues into the past have been revealed through numerous archaeological studies across the region. Roman roads are commonplace across Lothian and through simply looking at place names one begins to get an idea of who lived here.

Dalry, or Currie, for example, are names of Scots Gaelic origin, whereas Tranent is firmly Brythonic in origin. In the post-Roman age, Lothian was inhabited largely by Britons, with the native language likely to have been a form of Brythonic known as ‘Cumbric’.

Later in the First Millennium AD, Lothian came under the hegemony of the Angles when it was amalgamated into the Kingdom of Bernicia, which later formed part of the Kingdom of Northumbria.

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Although this period in Lothian’s history is often overlooked, it played a crucial role in the cultural development of both Lowland Scotland and Northern England. With the varying mixture of cultures and languages found in this part of Britain, Lothian was the perfect melting pot for Angles, Britons and Gaels.

As the home of Scotland’s capital city, one would associate the Lothian region as always having been ‘Scottish’ in some capacity, but it was not. In fact, it is not acknowledged as being so, or even part of the Kingdom of Scotland until around 937AD when King Edgar ceded the region to the Scots.

Nearly one century later, Norman culture seeped its way into Lothian following William the Conqueror’s ascension to the English throne.

Shrouded in Myth

The history of Lothian is wonderfully vibrant, and 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 point toward there being a King Leudonus in the region and parts of the biographical story of Saint Kentigern even claim this figure is the Saint’s grandfather.

However, it is not until the 12th century that the name ‘Lot’ appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, which also claimed he was King Arthur’s brother-in-law.

The story claims that Lot was one of three brothers, each of whom ruled over individual kingdoms. Leudonus ruled Lothian while his brothers Urien and Angusel ruled over Moray and ‘Scotland’ – whatever geographical region this encompasses is unknown.

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 also 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 during a battle against King Arthur which goes astray and results in a truce. This unsteady truce leads to an alliance that would see the Saxons repulsed from making inroads 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.

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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 period of history is, obviously, the fantastical aspects of it along with the simple fact that there are 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.

The Western Roman Empire was faltering – or had already fallen according to later tales – leaving the beleaguered peoples of Britain to fend for themselves and face a ferocious foreign enemy. One would assume a leader arose?

During this period, Britain was especially fragmented 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.

In all likelihood, Lothian is believed to take its name from one of two possibilities; both of which have been fiercely debated over time.

The Welsh name of ‘Lleuddiniawn’ – meaning ‘country of the Fort of Lugus’ – is one possibility. This stakes a firm claim as Lugus was a Celtic god. The other is that it stems from the term Lutna, literally translating into ‘muddy stream’.

In all, this appears to be a bit of an anti-climax, but it is still a captivating series of stories. Films and numerous literary works having been based around tales of King Arthur, his noble band, and the tumultuous time in which he is claimed to have lived.

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