Despite the fact that Western/European Dragons were portrayed as evil and malevolent creatures that were greedy, tyrannical and often represented the darker side of humanity, pre-christian and the Welsh Dragon was an exception to the rule - been shown as a fierce creature but a benevolent one (similar to the benevolent dragons(lungs) in Eastern countries such as China and Japan).
The dragon itself has become one of Wales' most recognizable symbols and is shown on the National flag. It also appears on the flag of Puerto Madryn in Argentina due to an enduring link between Wales and Argentina since the Welsh Settlement in Argentina. This version of the flag uses the Red dragon with the blue and white strips of Argentina (see below).
Legends of the Welsh Dragon
In the Mabinogion tale Lludd and Llefelys, the native Red dragon is attacked by a foreign invader - a white dragon/wyvern called Gwiber (Welsh for "Viper"). The two begin a long and fierce battle with each other - with neither creature able to gain an advantage over the other. Furthermore, the pained shrieks of the Red Dragon when it was injured caused plants to become barren, animals to perish and women to miscarry. This was referred to as the 'second' of 'three plagues'.
Seeking a way to deal with the plagues, Lludd - King of Britain - went to see his wiser brother Llefelys in France to try and find solutions. In regards to the dragons fighting, Llefelys tells Lludd to dig a pit in the center of Britain and fill it with mead before covering it with cloth. Lludd follows the instructions and the plan proves successful as the dragons (apparently transforming into pigs) both drank the mead and fell asleep - with Lludd wrapping them up in the cloth and burying the pair (still wrapped in the cloth) inside a hillock in Snowdonia called Dinas Ffaraon.
Later in the Historia Brittonum, it was stated that the two warring dragons remained under the hill for centuries. When King Vortigern of Britain was betrayed by the Long Knives (a group of Anglo-Saxon mercenaries) and Britain was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons, King Vortigern's wise men convinced him to retreat and build a new castle to defend himself. The King agreed with himself and his wise men later finding Dinas Ffaraon and declaring it to be a perfect place to build their castle. As such, all the necessary materials along with artificers, carpenters and stonemasons were gathered in preparation for building and construction of the castle started. However, the morning after, the materials had all disappeared and the walls had fallen down.
Twice more the event occurred as the people tried to rebuild the castle. Vortigern asked his wise men about this unusual phenomena, with them telling him the only way to successfully build the castle was to find a boy will no father, put him to death and spread his blood across the ground. Taking the advice, Vortigern sent his messengers out to find a boy without a father. Soon enough, a boy was found and brought before the king and his wise men. The boy asked why he was been put to death, with Vortigern explaining what his wise men had told him. Speaking to the wise men, the boy asked them what was under the pavement that had been laid - to which the wise men professed their ignorance as they didn't know. The boy explained to them that under the hill was a pool - with the men indeed finding a pool as they dug up the hill.The boy continued - asking the wise men what was inside the lake, to which again they couldn't answer. He explained that in the lake was a 'tent' (the cloth that Lludd had wrapped the dragons in) and so the 'tent was brought out. The wise men again couldn't answer when the boy asked what was inside the 'tent', to which he revealed it was two dragons who were fighting one another - with it been their struggle that was causing the castle to keep collapsing. Releasing the dragons, they all watched as the two creatures continued to battle it out. The Red Dragon, despite seemingly been outmatched by the White, managed to defeat/kill its rival before retreating back to it's lair inside the hill.
Finally, the wise men couldn't answer what the symbolism of the event they had just witnessed was - to which the boy explained that the white dragon represented the Saxon invaders while the red dragon represented Vortigern's people (who would become the Welsh), while the tent was Vortigern's kingdom. The boy continued by stating that Vortigern's people would eventually repel the Anglo Saxons but that he must build his castle elsewhere. Impressed by the boy and having seen the ignorance and lies of his wise men, Vortigern put them all to death - sparing the boy's life. The hillock was later renamed Dinas Emrys after the boy. (Depending on the sources, the boy was either Ambrosius Aurelianus or Myrddin Emrys - who was better known in English as Merlin the Wizard from the legends of King Arthur).
Finally, it is also said that Myrddin placed all of his treasure in a golden cauldron, before hiding it in a cave underneath Dinas Emrys (sealing the entrance with a large stone before covering it with earth and green turf to hide the entrance). The treasure - presumably guarded by the Welsh Dragon - is intended to be the property of a special person in a future generation. This heir is to be a youth with yellow hair and blue eyes, and when he comes to the Dinas a bell will ring to invite him into the cave, which will open out of its own accord as soon as his foot touches it. A young man who lived near Beddgelert once searched for the treasure, hoping to give himself a good start in life. He took a pickaxe and climbed to the top of the hill. When he began to dig in earnest on the site of the tower, some terrible unearthly noises began to rumble under his feet. The Dinas began to rock like a cradle and the sun clouded over so it became pitch dark. Lightning flashed in the sky and thunder clapped over his head. He dropped the pickaxe and ran home. When he arrived, everything was calm again but he never returned - not even to collect his pickaxe.
Later History and Media
The Red Dragon since became a symbol of Wales' strength and pride as well as their national identity.
King Arthur used a golden dragon standard in battle, with other Celtic leaders also using the dragon standard such as Cadwaladr - King of Gwynedd
The Dragon was also used throughout Britain for a time as a symbol of authority instead of just been a Welsh symbol. It was adopted as a royal standard in Scotland in 1138, while in 1191 it was used by Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) when he fought in the Third Crusade.
During the Battle of Lewes in 1264, Henry III used the dragon standard himself while at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, Edward III also used the dragon as his standard.
Owain Glyndwr used the dragon standard in 1400 during his long-standing revolt against the English Crown's occupation of Wales.
In the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Henry V used the dragon standard during the battle against the French - as well as utilizing Welsh long-bowmen alongside the English archers. Henry V won the battle while his son - Henry VI - would become the heir of France.During the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Henry Tudor/Henry VII used the Red Dragon standard when he battled Richard III for the throne - managing to win and carrying the Dragon standard to St. Paul's cathedral where the green and white Tudor colours would be added to the flag. In a twist to the story, Henry VII had two sons - the oldest of whom was called Arthur. However, Arthur died in 1506 and Henry VII was succeeded after his death by his other son Henry (better known as Henry VIII). Henry VIII used the dragon as an emblem on Royal Navy ships. Following the Stuart's reign after Henry VIII's death, however, the Welsh Dragon flag was mostly forgotten.
In 1865, Welsh settlers established a colony in the far southern region of Patagonia called the Chubut Province - with the colony called the Y Wladfa Gymreig (The Welsh Colony). In the years that followed, other settlements have also been built, while strong connections have been built between the Welsh and Argentinians.
When the Union Flag was first made in 1606 to show the unity of England and Scotland, the Welsh Dragon or even the flag of St. David were not incorporated as Wales was considered part of England rather then its own country. When the flag was redesigned again later in 1801 to include Ireland, Wales was again left out of the flag that would become known as the Union Jack.It wasn't until 1807 that the Welsh Flag showing the dragon in a 'passant' position (meaning it walked with the right fore-paw raised) was made the King's badge - as declared by the British Parliament.
Wales grew increasingly nationalistic over the years and demanded that the Welsh flag showing the dragon became their official flag. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth decreed for a version of the Welsh badge to be augmented with the words "Y ddraig goch ddyry cychwyn" (meaning "The Red Dragon Leads the Way"). The Welsh strongly rejected the change and continued to fly the old flag regardless. Finally in 1959 after intense pressure, Queen Elizabeth stated that the flag showing the Welsh Dragon on a white and green background would be the official flag of Wales.In 2007, a Welsh Labour MP called Ian Lucas stated that he felt the Union Jack (which currently only represents England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) should be redesigned to include Wales - which would likely be the Welsh Dragon on top of the Union Jack. The article was published in The Telegraph and, although there was no plans to redesign the flag, hundreds of people from across Britain and other parts of the world (particularly from Japan) submitted varying designs that included Wales in some way - whether it was with Red Dragon or the Flag of St David. Searching through the many entries, the Telegraph picked a winner - which had come from an anonymous artist in Norway. His design (shown left) was "intended to represent the union of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in a modern, cool light." It depicts a flame-headed skull with sunglasses (inspired by a Japanese anime) on top of the Union Jack. Those who commented on the article where it was shown have given the re-design mixed but mostly positive reviews.
In 2007, Reverend George Hargreaves - the party leader of the Welsh Christian Party - tried to replace the flag of the Welsh Dragon with the Flag of St. David by stating that the Welsh Dragon was "demonic" and that it was "at odds with [Wales]'s position as a Christian nation". However, the attempt failed - with members of the public (including historians and other Christians) pointing out that the dragon is a historical symbol and very few would ever see it as the image of the devil. The story was (accidentally) republished in 2014.
The flag has also been used to promote recognition with Wales or patriotism for those from Wales - with the flag been shown in sport, business, the arts and other areas.
In the 1999 Rugby World Cup which was hosted in Wales, the opening ceremony used the motif of the dragon (Y ddraig goch ddyry cychwyn) while Welsh singer Shirley Bassey wore a dress with the Welsh Flag on during the ceremony. in the 2010 Six Nations, the BBC introduction video featured the Welsh Flag as well as briefly showing some CGI shots of the Welsh Dragon.
Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers has often draped the Welsh flag over amps when playing live.
Cerys Matthews - a Welsh singer/songwriter - has worn the image of the Welsh Flag on her clothes.
Katherine Jenkins has taken the flag on stage during live performances of her classical music.The song "Sunset Strip" from Roger Water's album Radio K.A.O.S briefly mentions the Welsh Dragon in the lyrics with the lines "There's a blood-red dragon on a field of green, Calling me back, back to the Black Hills 'again"
The Welsh Dragon is shown as one of the "Queen's Beasts" - a set of ten heraldic statues depicting the genealogy of Queen Elizabeth II. Since her coronation in 1953, the statues have ended up at the Canadian Museum of History, although Portland stone replicas are on display outside the Palm House at Kew Gardens.
Following the first Battle of the Somme in which 4,000 soldiers in the 38th Welsh Division who were killed or wounded in the historic attack on Mametz Wood in France in 1916, a publicly funded memorial with the Welsh Dragon on top was built in 1987 and was later refurbished in 2013 in time for the 100th Anniversary of the battle with the Welsh Dragon on top was built in 1987 and was later refurbished in 2013 in time for the 100th Anniversary of the battle.
In Wrexham, a project known as "Waking the Dragon" (Deffro'r DDraig) is building a cultural heritage center in Wrexham with an 80ft tall bronze statue of the Welsh Dragon on top of it. The center aims to be a hub for business, leisure and tourism - showcasing Welsh cuisine, art and welsh heritage. Although planned to be finished in both 2011 and 2012, the project is still currently ongoing. When it is finished, it will stand at 210 feet tall - making it taller then both the Angel of the North and Nelson's Column.
In the animated TV series Ivor the Engine, there was a male welsh dragon known as Idris. He was shown as been the size of a cat and been 'red hot' - meaning he couldn't be picked up and had to be carried in a chesnut barrel. As a result of been 'red hot', it could potentially kill him if he ended up in a cold place or had water poured on him.The Welsh Dragon has appeared in the light novels High School D×D, which has been adapted into both Japanese manga and anime. In the series, he is called Ddraig and is referred to as the Red Dragon Emperor. The white dragon he fought (Gwiber) also appears in the series as the White Dragon Emperor, but is named Albion.
In the video game Ace Combat Zero (which makes numerous references to Arthurian legend as well as the bible and Norse mythology), the final battle between the protagonist (Cipher) and his rival (Pixy) resembles the battle between the Red and White Dragons if Cipher uses either the ADF-01 FALKEN or the ADFX-01 Morgan in their standard red colours. Cipher manages to beat Pixy - symbolizing the Red Dragon's victory over the white dragon.
In 1945, Dinas Emrys was excavated by archaeologists - who discovered a lake and the ruins of a fortress dating back to Vortigern’s time. Even more intriguing was the discovery that the walls all showed signs of having been rebuilt several times.
A prophecy relating to the Welsh Dragon states that when Wales faces its darkest hour, the Welsh Dragon will awaken from it's slumber to defend the nation. Coincidentally, the prophecy coincides with the return of another individual - King Arthur (the Once and Future King) - who is said to return from Avalon in the role of a Messiah to save his people.
Of course, both prophecies regarding the return of King Arthur and the Welsh Dragon are debatable.