West Lothian


By The Imperial gazetteer of Scotland. Vol.II. by Rev. John Marius Wilson., via Wikimedia Commons



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The Origin of Linlithgowshire or West Lothian

The original meaning of the word county is a province governed by a count, and it is derived from Latin through French. In France a county was the portion of land which a man held by force of arms and by the consent of the people. Gradually such minor divisions of a country became permanent areas for administrative purposes. The word shire is of English origin, but its primitive meaning is disputed. The common view is that it means a piece of land shorn or separated from the rest by the king, who delegated a portion of his power to local governors. The best authorities, how- ever, consider that the word means employment or care, for there is no record of any deliberate partition of the country. It is, in fact, natural to imagine that existing divisions such as parishes or thanages were combined or arranged in manageable groups, and that therefore shires came into existence by an act of union, not by an act of separation.

The origin of the officer called a shire-reeve or sheriff bears out this view. The arrangement of leaving the count supreme in his own locality did not work well in practice, and in time the king found it necessary to appoint an official to look after his private interests in these areas. This official was a kind of steward, but the duties of his modern representative, the sheriff, are now purely judicial.

The present divisions of Scotland, known as shires or counties, began to exist about the time of the Norman conquest of England, but it was not until the reign of David I that much progress was made. The English equivalent of the count was the earl, while the thane was the direct creation of the king, who thus became the fountain-head of a new aristocracy. In Scotland, under the old Celtic system, the mormaers corresponded to the French counts. The modern chief of his clan, whose influence is based entirely upon sentiment, may be regarded as a faint survival of the ancient Scottish chief, who was more of a petty king than a noble.

About half of the counties of Scotland are named after the county town. Officially, i.e. in census and other government returns, our county appears as Linlithgowshire; colloquially it is, as often as not, known as West Lothian. Much ingenuity has been spent upon the derivation of the word Linlithgow. All authorities agree as to the first syllable, which is the Welsh or Brythonic llyn, a pool or loch; but the rest of the word is very obscure. It is a safe inference that the whole word is Welsh or Old British. The commonly accepted derivation of lled broad, and cu, a hollow, would carry fuller conviction were it not that, first, the hollow is not particularly broad ; and secondly, the word lied means broader not broad. A sound principle to follow in dis- cussing the origin of place-names is to find out the earliest spelling. In this case a document of the date 1147 has Linlitcu. This confirms the meaning already given for the third syllable; but the second must remain undecided. As might be expected, the name Linlithgow appears throughout history in many disguises. English and other foreign travellers seem to have had as much difficulty in spelling it properly, as anyone but a Scotsman has in pronouncing it. Sir William Brereton, who visited the town in 1636, writes it Light-Gow which has a distant resemblance to Lithca, the present local pronunciation.

The origin of the word Lothian is less obscure. Bede has Regio Loidis, i.e. the same as Leeds. In the Pictish Chronicle, year 970, it appears as Loonia; a century later in the Old English Chronicle, it is Lotbene. In the Welsh Pedigrees of the Saints is mentioned a prince Leudun Luydawc from the fortress of Eidyn in the North, and the district round Eidyn is named Lleuddiniawn, which, according to Professor Sir E. Anwyl, is like a Welsh derivative of Laudmus. This prince Leudun or Lleuddin is the same whom Sir Thomas Malory calls King Lot. Hence Lothian is one of those place-names which are derived from names of persons. As a territory Lothian originally included all the country to the east of Strathclyde between the rivers Forth and Tweed.

The earliest mention of a sheriff of Linlithgow is in a charter of Malcolm IV, dated apud castellum puellarum the castle of maidens or Edinburgh Castle and in it is mentioned "Ulredus, vice-comes de Lithequ." But there is every reason to believe that the shire was created by David I, who was Prince of Lothian while his brother Alexander I was King of Scotland. The date is thus fixed as some time in the early years of the twelfth century, .the golden age of Scottish history. The county stands practically the same to-day as it did eight hundred years ago. The Commissioners under the Local Government Act of 1889 made a few changes in connection with parish boundaries, but the limits of the county are well defined at least on the west and east by natural features. Sir Robert Sibbald says that under William the Lyon the area of the county was much larger than it is now, extending from Falkirk to "Penicooke," but the charters he quotes deal with ecclesiastical not civil jurisdiction.

Muir, T. S. Linlithgowshire. Cambridge: University Press, 1912.


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Places, West Lothian 24 August 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel 2081
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