Welsh Dragon: All you need to know!
On the flag of Wales is the famous red dragon, named Y Ddraig Goch. The Welsh are very proud of this flag, and they have reason to be!
As with most ancient symbols, the shape of the dragon has changed over time. So there are several versions.
Moreover, the dragon is not the only symbol of Wales, there are also the Daffodil, the leek, a love spoon and a bird of prey.
In this article, you will know everything about the Welsh dragon.
We also have a nice selection of Welsh Dragons here:
1. Where Does The Welsh Dragon Myth Come From?
A. The Devastating Battle of the Red Dragon Against the White Dragon
The Welsh Dragon was associated with Wales in the Historia Brittonum. This ancient text, allegedly written around 830 by the monk Nennius, is the earliest known history of the Britons and neighboring Wales.
In the Historia, a fight is described between two dragons under the hill of Dinas Emrys in Wales, which prevented King Vortigern from building a castle in Britain.
When the Celts ruled Britain, before they were driven out of the kingdom of England to Wales and Cornwall, there was a legend in the book of Mabinogion.
According to the myth, a red dragon living in Great Britain was in conflict with an invading white dragon.
As the two creatures fought, they injured each other. The red dragon's agonized cries rendered plants and crops sterile, killed animals and caused pregnant women to miscarry.
B. The Burial Of The Dragons
To remedy this, King Lludd, the British ruler at the time, went to visit his brother Llefelys in France.
He was advised that in order to stop the constant battles between these dragons, he should dig a pit big enough to put these two in. It was to be located in the center of Britain. Then he was to fill it with mead and cover it with a cloth.
Once this was accomplished, the dragons came to drink the mead as planned. They fell asleep in the pit, wrapped in the cloth. Lludd imprisoned them, and in the Mabinogion, that was the end of the story.
C. The Collapse of the Castle
However, later, according to the Historia Britonum, the dragons were still trapped in the pit, and wrapped in cloth.
The legend of Vortigern tells that the king tried to escape the Anglo-Saxon invaders by fleeing to Wales. He found the mysterious hill of Dinas Emrys and decided to build a castle there.
His men set to work building the towers of the fortress, only to find them collapsed the next day. This went on for weeks.
Indeed, the castle had been built right on top of the place where the Dragons were buried. But the king didn't know that.
D. The Miracle of the Young Boy
Vortigern's advisors told him that to remedy this, he should go in search of a child who had no natural father, and sacrifice him. This, they said, would stop the castle from collapsing.
Vortigern sent his men in search of such a child, and they returned with a boy named Myrddin Emrys - or Merlin. Vortigern believed he was destined to kill the child to keep the towers from falling, but Merlin stopped him by explaining that the reason the towers wouldn't stay up was because there was a battle raging beneath them between two dragons in a pool. One was White, the Saxon Dragon, and he was currently winning the battle. The other was Red, the British Red Dragon.
This was clearly a metaphor for the Aventus Saxonum, the date of the arrival of the Saxons in Britain (circa 449). There was a native dragon that inhabited the hill first and a different foreign race of dragon that was fighting for supremacy.
Stunned, Vortigern decided to dig. He saw the two dragons, and freed them. The red dragon killed the white one.
Merlin, King Vortigern and the Dragons - Vulgate Cycle manuscript (1316 CE), British Library, London
E. Analysis of the Myth
If we assume that Vortigern lived during the fifth century, then these people are the Britons whom the Saxons failed to subdue. They later became the Welsh.
Some say that the red dragon represented Vortigern's people, while Geoffrey of Monmouth saw it as a prophecy of the coming of King Arthur (curiously, the name of King Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, translates as "Dragon's Head").
While all of this may seem like a myth and a mystery, a 1945 excavation of Dinas Emrys (the place where the castle was built in the legend) revealed the presence of a lake and a fortress dating from the time of Vortigern. Maybe the dragons are real after all...
The prose poem Lludd and Llefelys, written in the twelfth or thirteenth century, tells how dragons hid under the hill in Wales. This tells a wonderful story about a time when Lludd ruled Britain (around 100 BC) and encountered a problem he could not solve. He heard a terrifying scream that appeared out of nowhere every May Eve.
It caused chaos, as no one knew where it emanated from, and rumors spread that it caused infertility and strife throughout the land. Lludd asked his brother Llefelys, the king of Gaul, who told him that the noise was caused by a battle between two dragons. One was native and the other foreign. When the native dragon lost the battle, it screamed. Find the dragons and the problem would be solved.
In those days, people believed that dragons changed shape, and one of the shapes they took was that of pigs. Lludd captured the fighting dragons while they were in their pig form using a cauldron of beer. After capturing the dragons, Lludd decided to bury them in Dinas Emrys, deep underground, so that the screams could not be heard.
2. A Benevolent Dragon
While most Western medieval dragons have been depicted as malevolent, greedy, tyrannical creatures, often symbolizing the dark side of humanity, the pre-Christian Welsh dragon was an exception to the rule.
He was shown as a fierce, but benevolent creature. In this, he is similar to many Asian dragons.
3. Why does the Wales flag have a dragon on it?
- Already in the fourth century, British-Roman soldiers, on their way to Rome, carried the red dragon (draco) on their banners. According to some accounts, it could even go back further,
- The Welsh kings of Aberffraw first took the red dragon as their emblem in the early fifth century. It represented their authority and power, after the departure of the Romans from the British Isles,
- In the 7th century, the red dragon was made famous by King Cadwaladr,
- In 1191, it was used by Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) when he fought in the Third Crusade,
- At the battle of Lewes in 1264, Henry III himself used the dragon standard,
- In 1346, at the famous battle of Crecy, the red dragon was used as the British standard by Edward III. The Welsh archers, in white and green, played a decisive role in the victory against the French,
- In 1400, Owain Glyndwe drew the red dragon banner as his emblem, during the revolt against the English crown that occupied Wales,
- In 1415, Henry V used the dragon banner in battle against the French, with Welsh archers alongside English archers. Henry V won the battle while his son, Henry VI, would become the heir to France. After the battle, the flag was taken to St. Paul's Cathedral to be blessed,
The battle of Crécy
- The first official use of the Welsh flag probably took place in 1485. It happened at the Battle of Bosworth Field, in England, when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III. The House of Tudor, which was a Welsh dynasty that ruled England from 1485 to 1603, asserted through the dragon its direct descent from a Welsh noble family,
- It was Henry VII, the first Tudor king, who inlaid green and white stripes on the flag of Wales,
- During the reign of Henry VIII, the famous red dragon on a green and white background became the favorite symbol of the Royal Navy,
- From 1606 until the beginning of the 20th century, the red dragon lost its aura. It no longer appeared on flags. Indeed, it was in 1606 that the Union Jack (flag of the United Kingdom) was created. At that time, the United Kingdom was composed of three countries: England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Welsh dragon was not incorporated into this flag, as Wales was considered part of England, rather than a country in its own right,
- The flag of St. David (Welsh patron saint) sometimes embodies the flag of Wales. On this flag is a yellow cross on a black background. In 1888, the University of Lampeter chose this flag as its emblem. During the Second World War, the 38th Welsh Division flew this flag,
- In 1911, the red dragon was back in fashion and was used on the national flag for the investiture of Edward, Prince of Wales, at Caernarfon,
- It was not until 1959 that it was again approved as the official national flag of Wales. It is based on an ancestral badge used by British kings and queens, since the Tudors.
Today, the red dragon hangs over many Welsh buildings, both public and private.
Thousands of people still cross the border into England every two years when the two nations meet for their "historic battle" at the rugby ground of Twickenham. Wales' rugby stadium is also called the Millennium Stadium.
Welsh men, women and children carry the dragon in their hearts. It symbolizes the pride of their history and culture.
Check out our selection of Welsh Dragons here: