Basque Fact of the Week: Jaun Zuria, the White Lord

Last week, I introduced the House of Haro and the first Lords of Bizkaia. The mythical first Lord of Bizkaia was Jaun Zuria, the White Lord. Jaun Zuria is a foreigner, of Scottish ancestry. I find it interesting that the Basque legends rely upon a foreign figure to establish the Lordship of Bizkaia. Why invoke a foreigner to build these stories? Did connecting the Lordship of Bizkaia to foreign royalty give the legend more credence or give the ruling class more justification for their existence?

Art accompanying the single Jaun Zuria by Tartalo Music.
  • The legend of Jaun Zuria, first mentioned by Lope García de Salazar (1399–1476), starts with his mother. A Scottish princess, she arrives by ship to the Basque town of Mundaka. In some stories she is pregnant when she arrives while in others she becomes pregnant after arriving in the Basque Country. In some tales, the father is Sugaar, the mythical snake-god who is consort to Mari. She has a son.
  • At the time, Bizkaia was a vassal of the King of Asturias and León. Every year, the King demanded tribute from the Bizkaians in the form of a cow, an ox, and a white horse. The Basques, whose leader Zenon died while imprisoned by the Asturians, refused the tribute. Enraged, the King razed the countryside, destroying villages and killing many.
  • When he is 22 years old, the son of the Scottish princess is selected as a captain of the troops to meet and stop the advance of the King of León’s (or sometimes Asturias) son; the young man is chosen because only one with royal blood is allowed to fight in formal battle. The opposing forces are defeated in the battle of Arrigorriaga and the young man is selected by the Bizkaians to lead them as the first Lord of Bizkaia and christened Jaun Zuria – the White Lord.
  • Sometimes, it isn’t the son of a Scottish princess who becomes the first Lord of Bizkaia, but the son, Fortun Froes, of an exiled brother, Froom, of an English king. Some elements of this version are similar, particularly the battles against the Asturians.
  • In both stories, the battle of Arrigorriaga is prominent. Jaun Zuria or Fortun Froes lead the Bizkaians in battle. The year of the mythical battle is 870 or 888. Casualties are high on both sides and a blanket of blood covers the battlefield, giving the place Arrigorriaga – place of red stones – its name (though the name may also come from the iron mining and the resulting rust-red stones that were prominent in the area).
  • The illustrious Jon Bilbao suggested that the legend originates in a 9th century Viking settlement on the coast of Bizkaia, in Mundaka, and that the figure of Juan Zuria has his origins in the historical figure Olaf the White.

Auñamendi Entziklopedia. JAUN ZURIA. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Jaun Zuria, Wikipedia; Jaun Zuria: ¿leyenda o realidad?,; Jaun Zuria, Juan Manuel Etxebarria Ayesta

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