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The Welsh Flag

The Welsh flag has two equal horizontal stripes, white above green, and a large red dragon passant. The dragon standard was perhaps first seen in Britain in the shape of the "draco" a standard carried by the cohorts of the Roman legion. The Romans appear to have been inspired by the dragon standard carried by their Dacian and Parthian enemies and had adopted this device by the third century. Carl Lofmark (see below) argues that the dragon of the cohort was more familiar to the British than was the eagle standard of the legions. As Roman legions withdrew at the end of the fourth century and the British were left alone to face Saxon attacks, the dragon would have been a natural symbol for those who wished to preserve their Romanised way of life against the barbarian invader.

The ancient poets Aneirin and Taliesin use the Welsh word for dragon "draig" in the sense of "warrior" or "leader" and this usage remained to the Middle Ages. In the Historia Brittonum (ascribed to Nennius) of around 800 A.D. the dragon is seen as a symbol of national independence in the story of the red dragon battling with the white dragon of the Saxon enemy. 

At the time of the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the dragon symbol seems to have been used by both sides. The Bayeux tapestry shows king Harold close to a dragon standard as he falls and the dragon also appears on the pennant of one of duke William's messengers. (There is a drawing of this on our page about pedigrees and coats of arms in Wales.) 

Despite its occasional use by other figures famous in Welsh history, the red dragon became the symbol of the Welsh nation through its adoption by the Tudor ancestors of king Henry VII. Edmund and Jasper Tudor had a dragon as crest and supporter to the arms granted them by Henry VI. When Henry Tudor faced king Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 his battle standards numbered three. One of these carried the arms of St. George of England, one the arms of the house of Beaufort and on one was a "Red ffyry dragon peyntid upon white and Grene Sarcenet".  It is held that this dragon banner represented Henry Tudor's claim to be a true representative of the ancient kings of Britain and served as his tribute to the Welsh people who had made his victory possible.  

Several people have written to Data Wales about variations in the way the dragon is rendered. They have noticed several variations on the Web and wonder, not surprisingly, which one is correct. I took up this matter with Rouge Dragon Pursuivant at the College of Arms in London. This gentleman, whose office was created by Henry VII soon after the Battle of Bosworth Field, reminds us  that mythical creatures have always been drawn in a variety of styles. It appears that there is no "standard" Welsh dragon, modern renderings must be based on historic precedents but a degree of variation is inevitable. The dragon on the flag must, however, face to the left, be sited centrally and cover equal parts of the white and green panels.  

 The daffodil and the leek are also famous emblems of Wales. The Wales Tourist Board produced the following notes: 

"On the evidence of Shakespeare, the leek was the recognised emblem of his day, and there is written evidence that it became the Welsh emblem considerably earlier. Entries in the household accounts of the Tudor Kings include payments for leeks worn by the household guards on St. David's Day. According to one legend, the leek is linked to St. David because he ordered his soldiers to wear them on their helmets when they fought a victorious battle against the pagan Saxons in a field full of leeks. It was more likely, however, that the leek was linked with St. David and adopted as a national symbol because of its importance to the national diet in days of old, particularly in Lent." 

 "The crest of three ostrich plumes and the motto of "Ich Dien" were adopted by the Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy. The feathers and motto were suggested by the decorations of the King of Bohemia who led the cavalry charges against the English." 

For a good summary of references to the dragon in ancient literature and notes on the red dragon of Wales, see the book by Carl Lofmark - A History of the Red Dragon, 1995, ISBN 0-86381-317-8.

copyright John Weston / Data Wales. 1995 - 2001. 

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