Some characters in the Arthurian legends can be identified as probably-historical people from some of the oldest available records. The reasonably well-known character Lot of Lothian is one such individual. He appears as one of Arthur’s knights in the romance tales, but unlike many characters from those tales, Lot was not the product of a storyteller’s mind. Here, we will take a look at what we know about him from historical records, as well as how he appears in the later tales.
Identifying the Character
Lot appears under several different names in the records. Although some authorities like to differentiate between these individuals, it is important to recognise that they are really the same figure. Let us start, however, with the first record in which ‘Lot’ appears by that name. It is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (HRB), written in c. 1137. This account presents Lot as the brother of Urien and Augusel, both princes of parts of the north of Britain. Lot himself is described as the king of Lothian, another kingdom in the north of Britain.
In Welsh versions of Geoffrey’s history, the name ‘Lleu’ appears in the place of ‘Lot’. Lleu is often termed ‘Lleu ap Cynfarch’, while Geoffrey never revealed the name of Lot’s father. This ‘Lleu ap Cynfarch’ appears in a number of other records, such as Welsh poetry and the Welsh Triads. There is no reason to doubt his identity as the Lot of Geoffrey’s HRB, since Welsh records confirm that Lleu and Urien were brothers, and that Cynfarch was the father of Urien just as he was the father of Lleu. So the evidence is very consistent that Lleu and Lot are completely identical.
Another character that is evidently identical to Lot is an individual known from several different records as Leudonus. One record that this person appears in is the Life of St Kentigern. This record is set in the mid to late sixth century, so it is set in the time of Lot and his definitely-historical brother Urien. Thus, it is significant that this record describes the king of Leudonia (another form of ‘Lothian’) at this time as being a king named Leudonus. So Leudonus ruled Lothian at the same time as Lot. Evidently, the two kings were one and the same.
It is quite probable that ‘Lot’ is Geoffrey’s attempt to shorten and simplify the name ‘Leudonus’, while the ‘Lleu’ of Welsh records is another shortening, though more in keeping with the original Celtic form. In any case, the main point is that these three characters should definitely be identified as one individual.
Leudonus also appears in Welsh records, such as Bonedd Y Saint, as ‘Lewdwn’, ‘Leuddyn’, ‘Lawden’, and other variations. The diversity of records using such different names, from ‘Lot’ to ‘Lleu’ to ‘Lawden’, in relatively early records indicates that we are dealing with a historical figure.
We have already touched on Lot’s family, but now that we have laid the groundwork of Lot’s identity, we can properly examine all the known members of his family. As we said before, he had two brothers: Urien and Augusel, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. In Welsh records, ‘Augusel’ appears as ‘Arawn’ or ‘Aron’ – quite different, but still recognisably the same brother. Urien is attested to in many different records, such as early Welsh poetry and the ninth century Historia Brittonum.
Arawn is not so well-attested, but his appearance in Welsh poetry and the Triads shows that there was a genuine tradition of his existence, quite independent of Geoffrey’s HRB. Thus, we can be reasonably confident that the historical Lot really did have these two men as his brothers.
And what about Lot’s father? Not a great deal is known about Cynfarch, but he seems to have been quite a prominent ruler, since later records call his descendants the ‘Cynferchyn’. It is definitely the case that Lot came from a powerful and prominent family, given the undeniable reputation and fame of his brother Urien. Lot’s mother was Nefyn, the daughter of Brychen of Brecheiniog.
Lot’s wife is peculiar, since different sources give her very different names. For example, in Geoffrey’s HRB, she is called Anna. This Anna was said to have been the sister of Arthur (in one place, she is called the sister of Ambrosius, but this appears to simply be an error on Geoffrey’s part). Thus, Lot had a firm connection to King Arthur, being his brother-in-law.
However, the confusion comes when we take a look at other sources. In Welsh versions of Geoffrey’s HRB, and other Welsh Arthurian sources, the wife of Lot is called ‘Gwyar’. In later romance tales from France and England, this sister of Arthur is named Morgawse. But regardless of the reason for the inconsistency in her name, Lot apparently married one of Arthur’s sisters.
The product of this union is very significant to Arthurian legend. Lot was said to have had several sons, two of whom were particularly famous. One was Gawain, a renowned ally of Arthur. The other was Mordred, the infamous enemy of Arthur who eventually brought his downfall. His other sons were Agravain, Gaheris, and Gareth. However, there is reason to believe that the latter two sons may actually have been just one son. This one son may have been the character from Welsh legend known as ‘Gwalchafed’, another son of the woman Gwyar. There is no definite evidence of his existence, but the fact that he appears in Welsh tradition by such a different name indicates that he might have a historical basis.
As for Lot’s legendary son Agravain, there does not appear to be any evidence of his existence outside of the romance tales.
There are also records of a daughter of Lot in more historical records. In the source mentioned earlier, the Life of St Kentigern, King Leudonus was said to have had a daughter named Teneu. Her cousin Owain had relations with her (an act of rape according to some, but not all, sources), and their offspring was Kentigern, a prominent religious leader of the north of Britain who is widely accepted as historical. Thus, Lot’s posterity included rather important figures, when we consider Gawain, Mordred and Kentigern.
In the later romance tales, we find some additional daughters, such as Soredamor, Cundrie, and Itonje. However, they do not appear to have any clear historical basis.
Very little is known about the historical activities of Lot. However, as we have mentioned previously, he was the king of the kingdom of Lothian. It is generally held that this kingdom was more or less equivalent to the kingdom of Gododdin, the land of the tribe that was known in Roman times as the Votadini. Thus, Lothian encompassed much of the south east corner of what is now southern Scotland, as well as some of the north east of England.
Some sources claim that Lot’s capital was Traprain Law, a town near Haddington in East Lothian. It is this place that appears in the Life of St Kentigern as the location from which Lot banished his daughter, Teneu, after she became pregnant by means of her cousin Owain. However, other sources associate Lot with Eidyn – that is, Edinburgh. In reality, Lot would have had many courts around his kingdom that he travelled between, since that was the common practice of medieval kings.
The kingdom of Lot’s brother Urien spanned the west of Lothian, and Lot’s brother Arawn appears to have ruled to the north. Thus, Lot’s kingdom was very well-protected from enemy invasion on most fronts, provided there was no fraternal strife.
However, things were not as secure to the south. The Angles were making their way up through the country during the middle of the sixth century. In 547, they founded the kingdom of Bernicia, immediately to the south of Lothian. Thus, it is quite likely that Lot had to contend with the threat of invasion for the majority of his reign. His kingdom was truly at the forefront of the British/Anglo-Saxon battle lines during the sixth century.
Although it might seem as if Lot must have lived earlier than the middle of the sixth century, given the fact that his son Mordred battled against Arthur (supposedly in the year 537), the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that he was a mid-sixth century king. His brother Urien is far more securely-dated than Arthur. There is evidence from Welsh poetry, tradition, and historical records such as the Historia Brittonum, all of which converge to tell us that Urien lived from c. 520 to c. 590. Pushing his birth date back much earlier than this is just untenable.
Thus, we can be confident that his brother Lot must have lived across a similar time span, especially considering that Welsh tradition claims that the three brothers were actually triplets. Thus, it is very likely that Lot was born about the year 520, meaning that the founding of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia in 547 would have been quite early in his reign.
Now that we have examined the historical information about Lot, let us now take a look at the legendary information. In the Historia Regum Britanniae, we are told that Uther Pendragon fell ill and entrusted the kingdom to his son-in-law, Lot. Thus, Lot took control of the kingdom as regent and led the British armies against the Saxons. However, he was not especially capable as a battle leader, so Uther was forced to return to the battlefield and engage the Saxons himself, which ended up resulting in his death.
In the later romance tales, Lot is portrayed as one of a coalition of kings who rebel against Arthur when he is first appointed as king. In fact, he is portrayed as the leader of this rebellion. This makes sense, given his previous position as regent. He had the most to lose with Arthur becoming king.
So, he led a number of other kings against the newly appointed sovereign. But despite having a larger force, he was defeated by Arthur at the Battle of Bedegraine. One factor in this defeat and his final acceptance of Arthur is that he was forced to retreat to his own territory to deal with Saxon attacks. After this, Lot became one of Arthur’s allies. Whether King Lot did rebel against Arthur or not is impossible to state with certainty, but this detail about facing Saxon attacks in his own territory is historically plausible, as we have seen.
Interestingly, the fact that Lot’s kingdom faced attacks from the Saxons is corroborated by the earlier source, the Historia Regum Britanniae. This recounts how Arthur had to travel to the north to wage war against the Saxons after they had invaded the territory of Lot and his brothers, forcing them from their kingdoms. This takes place very early in Arthur’s reign, exactly matching the later romances. However, something a bit more bizarre is the fact that this source, the HRB, portrays Lot as the heir to the kingdom of Norway. Arthur fights in behalf of Lot once again and helps to install him as king of this kingdom.
In reality, the ‘Norway’ of this account is almost certainly a mistake for Scotland. Welsh records regularly used the word ‘Llychlyn’ for both Scotland and Scandinavia (particularly Norway). Thus, it would have been a simple mistake for a record about Lot being restored to his throne in Scotland to become a story about him being placed on the throne of Norway.
Some of the late romance tales present Arthur as the father of Mordred, rather than Lot. In these tales, Arthur unwittingly has relations with his sister, the wife of Lot. This union produces Mordred. Due to Arthur’s affair with his wife (although not intentional), Lot rises up against Arthur for a second time, allying himself with Arthur’s enemy Rience. However, he is defeated and killed by Arthur’s ally Pellinore at the Battle of Terrabil. This led to a long feud between the family of Pellinore and the family of Lot.
This is inconsistent with the earlier HRB, for this describes Lot as leading one of Arthur’s armies on the continent during his campaign against the Romans. This is immediately before Arthur’s climactic battle of Camlann, so there is no room for Lot to have rebelled against Arthur a second time. This also does not work due to the fact that Mordred was only young when Lot rebelled against Arthur the second time in the romance tales, whereas Mordred was obviously an adult at the time of the Battle of Camlann.
Thus, although Lot could conceivably have rebelled against Arthur a second time, he certainly could not have died then. Yet the fact that the HRB gives no hint of any rebellion by Lot during the midst of Arthur’s reign makes it very unlikely that those events in the romance tales have any historical basis (similarly, there is no early reference to Arthur being the father of Mordred).
According to some accounts, after his death at the hands of King Pellinore, Lot was buried in St Stephen’s Church in Camelot.
In conclusion, we can see that Lot is a character from the Arthurian legends who was very probably historical. He appears in various different records under a plethora of different names, but they are all identifiable as King Lot. He came from a powerful family and had some descendants who were very significant to legend and history, such as Gawain, Mordred and Kentigern.
We have also seen that he allegedly rebelled against Arthur at the start of that young king’s reign, but eventually he became a firm ally of the king. Although later legend portrays him as rebelling again against Arthur, there is little reason to believe that this has any historical basis. In truth, it seems most likely that Lot, provided he really was a contemporary of Arthur, was by and large a loyal ally.