Searching For Old King Lud
Ok, let us start with the supposition of Geoffrey of Monmouth the 12th century chronicler of the British Isles. King Lud was a pre-Roman King of the Britains. He founded the city of London and when he died he was buried close to the site of where the main western entrance to the city was situated, Ludgate.
The physical evidence is a bit thin, but today we are left with the names, Ludgate Circus, Ludgate Hill, along with a couple of other streets with the prefix. The Old King Lud, a former public house which stood on Ludgate Circus and the Ludgate itself, which is well documented.
We’ll begin with the most certain of these, the Ludgate, the main western gate into the City of London, which lead onto the road connecting the City to the South West.
The Romans built the defensive wall around the City some time between 190 – 225 AD. They built a road on the north bank of the Thames to connect the City to their burial grounds which were situated somewhere along modern day Fleet Street. Access to the road from the City was through Lud Gate which was situated adjacent to where St Martins Church on Ludgate Hill stands today. It is here that the supposition about King Lud starts to fall apart. If you take a look at the dates, then things become tenuous.
Lud was said to have been a pre-Roman King. This information is attributed to the 12th century chronicles written by the cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth called Historia regum Britanniae, a history of British Kings. In it, he attributes the founding of the city and the building of the Gate to Lud. The Romans established their garrison of Londinium in 43 AD and in all their chronicles there is no mention of an existing settlement in the area and as we’ve seen the wall wasn’t started for another 140 or so years, so I think that dispels Geoff’s hypothesis. So could the site take its name from the burial of Lud’s body? Well, that’s entirely feasible, however, Geoffrey’s chronicles say that when Lud died he was succeeded by his brother Cassibelanus who unlike his predecessor is quite a well documented character.
Cassivellaunus appears in Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account of his campaign in the Gallic Wars. In it, he states that Cassivellaunus had been given command of the combined British forces opposing Caesar’s second invasion of Britain which took place in 54 BC, so we must assume that Lud died prior to 54 BC. Therefore the site of the burial must have been known about and the story of Lud kept alive for nearly 100 years until the Romans founded their garrison. They must have bought into this story and 140 years later decided to name the gate on the Western side after this historic British King, which I feel is stretching credibility a bit.
Geoffrey of Monmouth is also responsible for the legend of King Arthur and his Round
Table, a great story, but a long way from being entirely true. So he seems to have been the sort of chronicler who never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
I’m no Scholar, but in reading up about Geoff’s telling of the tale of Lud, he seems to have a great desire to link this into Welsh chronicles where there is a character called Lludd fab Beli. The Beli part relates to Beli Mawr who was an ancestor figure in Middle Welsh literature and genealogies. Beli seems to have been used by Geoffrey as the British Luds father King Heli. For what reason, we’ll never know, but on reading the chronicles about Beli Mawr it is told that he was the husband of Anna, who was a cousin of Mary, mother of Jesus, so perhaps Geoffrey was looking for some kind of divine link for the early rulers of Britain?
So it seems that Lud was some sort of mythical character worked up by Geoffrey of Monmouth, but it was a tale that stood the test of time. During one of the many rebuilds of Ludgate in 1586 the City Corporation went to the trouble of commissioning a statue of King Lud with his two sons Androgeus and Tenvantius which stood above the entrance to the gate on the City side and a statue of Elizabeth I on the outer side. Like most of the other City gates, it was demolished in 1760 and the statues moved to the porch of St Dunstan-in- the-West in Fleet Street and can still be seen today, although they are in a slightly decrepit state.
So why did the gate get the name Ludgate? The name is believed to be derived from flood gate or Fleet gate, from the Anglo Saxon, ludgeat, meaning back gate or postern.
It is a shame that we’re not able to raise a glass in salute of this noble King in the Pub that bore his name. The King Lud on Ludgate Circus. Originally opened in 1870 it remained a favourite of Fleet Street Hacks and City workers until it closed in 2005
So it would seem on balance that London wasn’t founded by King Lud and that it was the Romans who built the Ludgate. Which begs the question “What did the Romans ever do for us”?