The Welsh Dragon (Welsh: Y Ddraig Goch, meaning the red dragon, pronounced [ə ˈðraiɡ ˈɡoːχ]) appears on the national flag of Wales. The oldest recorded use of the dragon to symbolise Wales is in the Historia Brittonum, written around AD 829, but it is popularly supposed to have been the battle standard of King Arthur and other ancient Celtic leaders. Its association with these leaders along with other evidence from archaeology, literature, and documentary history led many to suppose that it evolved from an earlier Romano-British national symbol. During the reigns of the Tudor monarchs, the red dragon was used as a supporter in the English Crown's coat of arms (one of two supporters, along with the traditional English lion). The red dragon is often seen as symbolising all things Welsh, and is used by many public and private institutions. These include the Welsh Government, Visit Wales, and numerous local authorities including Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Swansea, and sports bodies, including the Sport Wales National Centre, the Football Association of Wales, Cardiff City F.C., Newport Gwent Dragons, and London Welsh RFC.
In the Mabinogion story Lludd and Llefelys, the red dragon fights with an invading White Dragon. His pained shrieks cause women to miscarry, animals to perish and plants to become barren. Lludd, king of Britain, goes to his wise brother Llefelys in France. Llefelys tells him to dig a pit in the centre of Britain, fill it with mead, and cover it with cloth. Lludd does this, and the dragons drink the mead and fall asleep. Lludd imprisons them, still wrapped in their cloth, in Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia (Welsh: Eryri).
The tale is taken up in the Historia Brittonum. The dragons remain at Dinas Emrys for centuries until King Vortigern tries to build a castle there. Every night the castle walls and foundations are demolished by unseen forces. Vortigern consults his advisers, who tell him to find a boy with no natural father, and sacrifice him. Vortigern finds such a boy (who is later, in some tellings, to become Merlin) who is supposed to be the wisest wizard ever to live. On hearing that he is to be put to death to end the demolition of the walls, the boy is dismissive of the advice, and tells the king about the two dragons. Vortigern excavates the hill, freeing the dragons. They continue their fight and the red dragon finally defeats the white dragon. The boy tells Vortigern that the white dragon symbolises the Saxons and that the red dragon symbolises the people of Vortigern. If Vortigern is accepted to have lived in the 5th century, then these people are the British whom the Saxons failed to subdue and who became the Welsh.
The same story is repeated in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, where the red dragon is also a prophecy of the coming of King Arthur. Note that Arthur's father was named Uther Pendragon ('Pendragon': 'Pen' (Head) and 'Dragon', being translated by Geoffrey as "dragon's head").
Henry Tudor flew the red dragon of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon as his banner, overlaid on a green and white field representing the Tudor House, when he marched through Wales on his way to Bosworth Field. After the battle the flag was carried in state to St. Paul's Cathedral to be blessed.
In 1953, the red dragon badge of Henry VII was given an augmentation of honour. The augmented badge is blazoned: Within a circular riband Argent fimbriated Or bearing the motto Y DDRAIG GOCH DDYRY CYCHWYN ["the red dragon inspires action"], in letters Vert, and ensigned with a representation of the Crown proper, an escutcheon per fesse Argent and Vert and thereon the Red Dragon passant. Winston Churchill, the then prime minister, despised the badge's design, as is revealed in the following Cabinet minute from 1953:
Ll.G. [Gwilym Lloyd George]
In 1956, this badge was added to the arms of the Welsh capital city Cardiff by placing it on collars around the necks of the two supporters of the shield. The badge was the basis of a flag of Wales in which it was placed on a background divided horizontally with the top half white and bottom half green. In 1959, Government use of this flag was dropped in favour of the current flag at the urging of the Gorsedd of Bards.
The badge is currently used by the Wales Office and is printed on Statutory Instruments made by the National Assembly for Wales. The badge was previously used in the corporate logo of the Assembly until the "dynamic dragon" logo was adopted.
There is a further badge for Wales, belonging to the Princes of Wales since 1901, of the red dragon on a mount but with a label of three points Argent about the shoulder to difference it from the monarch's badge. (A similar label of three points is used in his arms, crest and supporters for the same reason.)
This Royal badge was supplanted by a new official Royal badge in 2008, which eliminated the red dragon altogether.
- Davis, Dai. The Origin and Meaning of the Welsh Dragon. Welsh Flag. Retrieved 8 August 2012
- See example of dragon supporter Elizabethan Heraldry; "Heralds and Heraldry in Elizabethen England"; accessed 6 September 2010
- The London Gazette, 13 March 1953
- Arms for Wales | The National Archives
- Hartemink, R. International Civic Arms
- Flags of the World, "Wales"
- Barraclough, EMC. Flags of the World, 1965.
- Hansard (unofficial text) archive experiment, HC Deb 23 February 1959 C121-2
- Lofmark, C. A History of the Red Dragon
- Wales Office
- Welsh Statutory Instruments – Town and Country Planning, Wales
- BBC NI – Learning – A State Apart – Intergovernmental Relations – Overview
- The London Gazette, 10 December 1901