Flag of Wales

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Flag of Wales 2.svg
UseNational flag
Adopted1959 (current version)
DesignPer fess Argent and Vert, a dragon passant Gules

The Flag of Wales (Y Ddraig Goch, meaning 'the red dragon') consists of a red dragon passant on a green and white field. As with many heraldic charges, the exact representation of the dragon is not standardised and many renderings exist. The flag is not represented in the Union Flag.

The flag incorporates the red dragon of Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd, along with the Tudor colours of green and white. It was used by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which it was carried in state to St Paul's Cathedral. The red dragon was then included as a supporter of the Tudor royal arms to signify their Welsh descent. It was officially recognised as the Welsh national flag in 1959. Several cities include a dragon in their flag design, including Cardiff, the Welsh capital.


15th-century image illustrating the story of Vortigern and the red and white dragons.

The United Kingdom would not recognise the flag's official status until 1959, but the red dragon had been associated with Wales for at least a thousand years.

The green and white stripes of the flag were additions by the House of Tudor, the Welsh dynasty that held the English throne from 1485 to 1603. Green and white are also the colours of another national emblem of Wales, the leek.


Possible Roman origin[edit]

Some historians have theorised that the Welsh Dragon symbol developed from the Draco standards borne by the Roman cavalry. These symbols were brought to Britain during the Roman occupation and were in turn inspired by the symbols of the Dacians or Parthians.[1] One notable Draco symbol which may have influenced the Welsh dragon is that of the Samartians, who contributed to the cavalry units stationed in Ribchester from the 2nd to 4th centuries.[2]

Although there is no evidence of the medieval Welsh Dragon evolving from the Roman Draco, it may have become a popular symbol of the Romano-British monarchy or Romano-British society in general during the Post-Roman period. Similar national symbols may have evolved in this way throughout Europe, such as the Olm (Proteus anguinus) of Slovenia bear a similarity in miniature to the Draco standard and they are referred to as baby cave dragons by the locals.

In Welsh mythology and literature[edit]

The oldest written record of the Welsh dragon is in the Historia Brittonum,[3] written around 830; the text describes a struggle between two serpents deep underground, which prevents King Vortigern from building a stronghold. This story was later adapted into a prophecy made by the wizard Myrddin (or Merlin) of a long fight between a red dragon and a white dragon. According to the prophecy, the white dragon, representing the Saxons, would at first dominate but eventually the red dragon, symbolising the Britons, would be victorious and recapture Lloegr. According to the legend, this victory would be brought about by Y Mab Darogan.

Although the Historia Brittonum is the earliest written evidence of the red dragon as a Welsh symbol, it represents the sporadic conflicts between the native Britons and the migrating Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries. As such, the myth would have been well known for several centuries before the ninth century work.

A version of the tale also appears as part of the poem "Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys" in the Mabinogion.[3] One twelfth-century account of this is Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, where he states Merlin's prophecies. The red dragon is popularly believed to have been the battle standard of Arthur[3] and other ancient Celtic/Romano-British leaders.

Medieval era[edit]

The dragon is particularly associated in Welsh poetry with Cadwaladr, king of Gwynedd from c. 655 to 682.

Despite the close link throughout early Welsh history, the dragon was not used exclusively as a symbol for Wales during this period, and it was used throughout Britain as a symbol of authority. In 1138, it was adopted by the Scottish as a royal standard, and Richard I took a dragon standard to the Third Crusade in 1191. Henry III fought under the dragon at the Battle of Lewes.

Owain Glyndŵr[edit]

In 1400, Owain Glyndŵr raised the dragon standard during his revolts against the occupation of Wales by the English crown. Owain's banner known as Y Ddraig Aur ('The Golden Dragon') was raised over Caernarfon during the Battle of Tuthill in 1401 against the English. The flag has ancient origins, Glyndŵr chose to fly the standard of a golden dragon on a white background, the traditional standard.[4][5][6]

Hundred Years War[edit]

The English crown used a Red Dragon standard under both Edward III at the Battle of Crécy and Henry V, during the Battle of Agincourt. The English forces during these battles utilised Welsh longbowmen.

Henry VII[edit]

Standard of Henry Tudor, possibly used at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

In 1485, the most significant link between the symbol of the red dragon and Wales occurred when Henry Tudor flew the red dragon of Cadwaladr during his invasion of England.[7] Henry was of Welsh descent and after leaving France with an army of 2,000, landed at Milford Haven on 7 August. He made capital of his Welsh ancestry in gathering support and gaining safe passage through Wales. Henry met and fought Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and in victory took the English throne. After the battle, Henry carried the red dragon standard in state to St Paul's Cathedral, and later the Tudor livery of green and white was added to the flag.[8]

Modern flag[edit]

In 1807, the red dragon on a green mount was adopted as the Royal Badge of Wales,[3] and on 11 March 1953[9] the motto Y Ddraig goch ddyry cychwyn ('The red dragon gives impetus' or 'The red dragon leads the way') was added, a line from the poem by Deio ab Ieuan Du. The badge was the basis of a flag of Wales[10] in which it was placed on a horizontal white and green bicolour. However, the flag was the subject of derision, both because the tail pointed downwards in some iterations[11] and because the motto was a potential double entendre, used in the original poem to allude to the penis of a copulating bull.[3][12][13] In 1959, government use of this flag was dropped in favour of the current flag[14][15] at the urging of the Gorsedd of Bards.[16] Today the flag can be seen flying from the Senedd in Cardiff, and from Welsh Government buildings.

In 2017 the Unicode Consortium approved emoji support for the Flag of Wales[17] following a proposal from Jeremy Burge of Emojipedia and Owen Williams of BBC Wales[18] in 2016.[19] This was added to major smartphone platforms alongside the flags of England and Scotland in the same year.[20] Prior to this update, The Telegraph reported that users had "been able to send emojis of the Union Flag, but not of the individual nations".[21]

Other flags[edit]

Flag of Saint David[edit]

The flag of Saint David, a yellow cross on a black field, is used in the emblem of the Diocese of St Davids and is flown on St David's Day. In recent times the flag has been adopted as a symbol of Welsh nationalism.[citation needed] Some organisations, such as the Christian Party use this flag instead of Y Ddraig Goch, citing their dissatisfaction with the current flag.[22]

Traditionally, however, in both Protestant and Catholic traditions, crossed emblems have only been allocated to those martyred in the name of Christianity. Examples are saints such as St Andrew (Flag of Scotland), St George (Flag of England), St Denis (of France), and St Alban (of England; see Saint Alban's Cross).

Government ensign[edit]

Welsh Government ensign

An ensign for use aboard ships used by the Welsh Government, such as the patrol boats of the Marine and Fisheries Division, was granted in 2017. [23][24]

The flag is a British blue ensign improved with a golden dragon with red claws and tongue. Such blue ensigns are conventionally used to indicate government-controlled ships, and the dragon is a traditional symbol of Wales.

It was designed in 2017 at the request of the Welsh Government by Red Dragon Flagmakers in conjunction with Thomas Woodcock, the Garter Principal King of Arms. On 19 December 2017, the flag's use by the Welsh Government was authorised by the UK Defence Secretary, and was registered with the College of Arms in January 2018.

In popular culture[edit]

The flag of Wales has been used by those in the arts, sport and business to show a sense of patriotism or recognition with Wales. During the 1999 Rugby World Cup, which was hosted in Wales, the opening ceremony used the motif of the dragon several times, though most memorably, the flag was worn on a dress by Welsh singer Shirley Bassey.[25]

Other musicians to have used the flag, include Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers, who will often drape the Welsh flag over amps when playing live,[26] and Cerys Matthews who has worn the image on her clothes,[27] while classical singer Katherine Jenkins has taken the flag on stage during live performances.[28]

Former Pink Floyd bassist, Roger Waters's album Radio K.A.O.S. (1987) follows the story of a young disabled Welsh man, grounded in California, who regularly expresses nostalgia and a hope for return to his home country. The chorus of "Sunset Strip" uses the imagery of the flag of Wales to further emphasise this:

And I sit in the canyon with my back to the sea
There's a blood-red dragon on a field of green
Calling me back, back to the Black Hills again.

In 2018, the flag made an unexpected appearance in Black Panther, during a scene set in the United Nations. The flag is displayed alongside those of independent sovereign nations, leading to speculation that Wales was an independent nation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The scene led to comments and discussions, including from Welsh Government and the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru.[29][30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weston, John. "The Welsh Flag and other Welsh symbols". Data Wales. Archived from the original on 27 November 2007. Retrieved 11 December 2007.
  2. ^ Rees, Huw (24 February 2021). "Enter the Dragon: the history of the Welsh flag revealed". The National.
  3. ^ a b c d e Davies (2008), pg 732.
  4. ^ Hackett, Martin (30 July 2014). Lost Battlefields of Wales. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445637037.
  5. ^ Davies, John (25 January 2007). A History of Wales. Penguin Adult. ISBN 9780140284751.
  6. ^ Breverton, Terry (15 May 2009). Owain Glyndŵr: The Story of the Last Prince of Wales. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445608761.
  7. ^ The dragon and war BBC Wales history
  8. ^ Perrin, W.G. (1922). British Flags. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  9. ^ Origin of Y Ddraig Goch Archived 11 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine Flags of the World
  10. ^ "Wales: History of Welsh Flags". Flags of the World.
  11. ^ Raeside, Rob. "Origin of Y Ddraig Goch". Flags of the World. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  12. ^ Eriksen, Thomas; Jenkins, Richard (2007). Flag, nation and symbolism in Europe and America (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge. p. 80. ISBN 9780415444040.
  13. ^ Black, Ronald (1992). "Studies in honour of James Carney (1914–89)". Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies (23): 109.
  14. ^ Barraclough, EMC. Flags of the World, 1965.
  15. ^ "Welsh Flag (Hansard, 23 February 1959)". Hansard.
  16. ^ Lofmark, C. A History of the Red Dragon Archived 7 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Titcomb, James (2017). "Emoji for England, Scotland and Wales flags to be released this year". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  18. ^ "Wales flag emoji arrives on Twitter". BBC News. 24 May 2017. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  19. ^ Thomas, Huw (5 August 2016). "Wales flag emoji decision awaited". BBC News. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  20. ^ "Wales flag emoji arrives on iPhone". BBC News. 1 November 2017. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Flags of England, Wales and Scotland given thumbs up by emoji chiefs". The Daily Telegraph. 11 December 2016. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Christian group wants 'evil' Welsh flag changed". Wales Online. 3 March 2007. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  23. ^ Flag Institute Flagmaster Issue 160
  24. ^ https://www.reddit.com/r/vexillology/comments/hgu3bb/welsh_blue_ensign/
  25. ^ "World Cup kicks off in style". BBC News Online. 1 October 1999.
  26. ^ "Manic Street Preachers – Nicky Wire". BBC Wales Music.
  27. ^ "Pop music: The changing face of Brit guitar rock". The Independent. 27 March 1998.
  28. ^ "Katherine Jenkins threatens to spill out of dress on stage as boyfriend Gethin Jones looks on". Evening Standard. 25 August 2008. Archived from the original on 5 April 2010.
  29. ^ Brennan, Shane (16 February 2018). "Marvel movie franchise recognises Welsh independence". North Wales Live. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  30. ^ "Black Panther's universe features an 'independent Wales'". BBC. 16 February 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  31. ^ Williams, Kathryn (16 February 2018). "Welsh flag flies as independent state in Marvel superhero film Black Panther". Wales Online. Retrieved 12 March 2021.


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