Ever wondered why Wales' flag has a red dragon on it, or how it came to be associated with the country? Here you'll find everything you need to know about the legend, from its mystical beginnings to its present day uses.

The story begins with a battle

Long before the faithful old hound Gelert was slain in a case of mistaken identity, Beddgelert (the place) was the stomping ground of a man named Vortigern. He was a Celtic king on the lookout for somewhere to build a castle, eventually finding a spot he liked on the hillside of Dinas Emrys. 

A young boy (who some believe to be Merlin the magician) warned Vortigern that the site he had in mind for his castle was directly above an underground lake, where two dragons lay sleeping. 

On digging the ground to start the castle's construction, Vortigern’s men found two dragons – one red, one white – fighting fiercely. After a real scuffle, the red dragon won.

What this meant

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 (funnily enough, the name of King Arthur's father – Uther Pendragon – translates into ‘Dragon’s Head').

While this may all sound like myth and mystery, an excavation of Dinas Emrys in 1945 showed evidence of a lake and a fortress dating back to Vortigern’s time. Maybe dragons are real, after all...

Dragon statue at The National Showcaves Centre for Wales
Red dragon

The dragon and the flag

The dragon appeared on the battle flags of various British soldiers on their way to Rome in the 4th century. It was later adopted by 5th century Welsh kings who were keen to show their authority following the Roman withdrawal. 

Wales’ official first use of the flag was probably during the battle of Bosworth Field in England, 1485, when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III. The Pembroke-born English king went on to reign over England for 24 years as Henry VII.

Our dragon

Though the dragon faded in popularity somewhat and wasn’t featured on the Union Flag of 1606, in 1959 Queen Elizabeth declared that ‘only the Red Dragon on a green and white flag should be flown on government buildings in Wales’.

Now, you see the Welsh dragon on badges, buttons, bumper stickers and painted on the faces of eager rugby fans at international matches. There really is no flag quite like it, and we think it’s one of the best.

Welsh flags being waved outside Cardiff Castle.
Welsh flag by the Principality Stadium.
Y Ddraig Goch - Welsh flag

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