Last modified: 2003-04-19 by rob raeside
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by K. J. Seefried III
Conventional wisdom is that the 'draco' standards of the Romans were
adopted by the Britons, probably as a metal (possibly real gold) head with
a windsock type of body made of silk. In the mouth was a whistling type
device that would make sounds as it was waved with vigor. Supposedly used
by King Arthur, certainly used by the Wessex lords in the 700s, the emblem
has been used by Britons right up to the present time.
Dave Martucci, 27 January 1998
Today the dragon is the most prominent Welsh symbol. It is an ancient symbol, already prominent across England and Wales in the years after the departure of the Romans. With the invasions of the Angles and Saxons, the ancient Britons and their dragon symbol was pushed back towards Wales. The dragon has always been a symbol of a people, not an individual.
Robin Ashburner, ICV York, July 2001
Here is a brief summary of what Perrin in British Flags and Giles-Scott in The Romance of Heraldry have written about the dragon.
A dragon was the standard of a Roman cohort which was a tenth of a legion. After the Romans left Britain it was used by both the Britons and the Saxons. A golden dragon was the principal war standard of the Saxons of Wessex, and was carried by them at the battle of Burford in 752. In the eleventh century battles the king positioned himself between his personal standard, which was the rallying point and the dragon standard which was carried by a standard bearer chosen for his strength and prowess. After the battle of Hastings the dragon standard was adopted by the Normans. No record of its use in Scotland after the battle of the Standard in 1138,where it was borne as the Scottish royal standard. A dragon standard was taken on the Third Crusade by Richard I in 1191. A dragon was borne by the English army at the battle of Lewes in 1216 and later Henry III had a dragon standard made to be placed in the re-built Abbey at Westminster. Used by Edward I, Edward III at the battle of Crécy 1346, Henry V at the battle of Agincourt 1415, and at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which it was carried in state to St Paul's Cathedral. Henry VII displayed the red dragon of Cadwallader, from whom he claimed descent, on the Tudor colours of white and green. Until this time it was probably golden. The supporters of the English royal arms were a lion and a dragon, but the latter was replaced by a unicorn for Scotland by the Stuarts. The dragon reappeared briefly as a supporter of the arms of the Commonwealth under Cromwell.David Prothero, 28 January 1998
by Dave Martucci
I came across a line drawing of the standard of Henry VII (Henry Tudor)
as sketched about 150 years later. The colors were indicated by abbreviations.
The border is 'murry' and blue. Murry is supposed to be between red and
purple but I'm not sure of it exactly. Also the color of the motto was
not indicated, so I am using gold, but who knows?
Dave Martucci, 13 July 1998
Standards of such patterns, often richly endowed with heraldic badges,
were quite common among noble families in the period. What we call the
'royal standard' is really an armorial banner. Originally banners and standards
were separate classes of flag. I believe the modern Welsh flag is directly
derived from the Tudor standard.
Roy Stilling, 14 July 1998
Dragon Standards were used in the later Dark Ages and early Middle Ages as a visible statement that no quarter (no mercy) would be given or expected. That is, 'No Prisoners'. Whether this has any connection to the Welsh Dragon I do not know... As far as I know the Welsh Dragon was the personal badge of the High King of the Romano-Britons, who was also known as the 'Pendragon' (German translation of Oberdrachen or Over- Dragon is as good an explanation as any). Dragons are of course very popular in mythology and legend and the whole 'Pendragon' thing is very much mixed up in Arthurian legends, and it is hard to say how much is historically accurate.
As far as Roman standards are concerned, the Eagle of the Legion was also adopted on a large scale, (see Army, Air Force, Arms) not only in Britain, so it is to be even more expected that the Dragon of the Cohort was adopted, because cohorts, unlike Legions, could also be exclusive to a local area - an example might be the Xth (Gaulish) Auxiliary Cohort - and the men of this cohort, after being demobbed, might well take the symbol home with them.
Anyway, I'd like to add I'm more inclined to believe that Dragon
standards have an even older origin than the Romans, in Britain
or Germany, when one considers the prevalance of 'dragon-
slayer' myths, it is likely that some of these old heroes adopted
the dragon as their symbol.
Calum Slinn, 5 April 2000
A variant of the Welsh flag had a white field with the dragon standing on a patch of green grass. It is referred to by Carr (1961), p. 66) thus:
In passing, it should be recorded that a slightly different version was used by all Government Offices in London, namely, a white flag charged with the Red Dragon on a green verge, as recognized by the College of Arms.I scanned the image from the 1956 edition, p. 59, and coloured it.
Roy Stilling, 18 July 1999
by Mark Sensen
Carr (1961), p. 66, states:
... it was announced on March 11th, 1953, that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had approved that 'the existing red dragon badge, which was appointed as a Royal Badge for Wales over one-hundred-and-fifty years ago, should be honourably augmented by enclosing it in a scroll carrying the words Y DDRAIG GOCH DDYRY CYCHWYN in green lettering on a white background and surmounting it a Royal Crown. The motto (taken from a 15th-century Welsh poem), when freely translated, means 'the Red Dragon inspires action'. The new flag has the white over green field with the new Royal Badge, in generous proportions, superimposed in the centre thereof. The proportions of the field are five by three and the charge occupies two-thirds the depth of the hoist.I scanned the badge from the 1965 edition by Barraclough, p. 68, coloured it, and placed it on the flag according to the above description.
The badge on the "Banner with the augmented" dragon was the symbol of
the Welsh Office, but that body no longer exists as its powers were taken
over by the new National Assembly in 1999. The flag itself enjoyed
a very brief period of enforced popularity soon after its design was mooted
in the late 50's early 60's but it is now obsolete.
Stephan Hurford, 28 February 2000
The Welsh dragon was used in the royal arms in the 15th Century, but with the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1605, when James VI (Scotland) became James I (England), the Welsh influence seems to have disappeared. This was perhaps because by this time Wales was simply considered as part of England, or possibly to allow the fleur de lys of France to occupy a quarter on the Royal arms, retaining England's (now the United Kingdom's) claim to large areas of France.
In the 1950's the dragon became more often seen. There has been some debate about the direction the tail points - older flags (i.e. mid-20th Century) could have it pointing up or down, but an article in the Welsh newspaper, the Western Mail, ridiculed the downward pointing tail, and today as a result it is always seen pointing upwards.
Robin Ashburner, at ICV, York, July 2001
'Y ddraig goch ddyry cychwyn!' does have another meaning, which
is why, according to an article in the current Flagmaster, it lasted
for only six years as part of an 'honourable augmentation' to the Welsh
emblem. It was explained that in ancient times Welsh poets made requests
for special favours in a particular verse-form, the cywydd gofyn.
Evans Jones had found such a cywydd in which the phrase, 'Y ddraig
goch ddyry cychwyn' appeared for the first time. It was a peasant's
request to a wealthy neighbour for the service of the neighbour's bull
to mate with the peasant's cow. The 'red dragon' which was to give impetus,
I leave to your imagination.
David Prothero, 27 January 1998
I have read (but would have to check the reference) that [the origin of the three feathers from the King of Bohemia] is a myth, and that Edward the Black Prince in fact inherited both the arms incorporating three ostrich feathers (silver on a black shield) and the motto ("Ich Dien", perfectly ordinary German for "I serve") through his mother. Certainly the Black Prince used the feather arms in tournaments, referring to the black shield as his shield for peace. The shield for war was, of course, his arms of France quartering England with the label of three points that denoted the king's eldest son. "Ich Dien" remains to this day in the arms of the Prince of Wales, appearing below Prince Charles's shield instead of the usual royal "Dieu et mon droit". Being a member (ex officio as Prince of Wales) of the Order of the Garter, Charles also has the Garter around his shield, bearing the order's motto of "Honi soit qui mal y pense".
Mike Oettle, 14 January 2002
Buckingham Palace has backed down and agreed to fly the Prince of Wales's flag alongside the Queen's at the official opening of the new Welsh Assembly ... The change of heart means the Royal Standard - the Queen's own flag - will fly side by side with that of Prince Charles's for the first time in living memory ...Jan Oskar Engene, 21 May 1999
The original decision had threatened to cause offence to many Welsh people since the Royal Standard carries symbols of England, Scotland and Ireland, but not Wales ... Each member of the Royal Family has an official flag, which is flown to denote their presence. By convention only the most senior member's flag can be hoisted. But with both the Queen and Prince Charles due to attend the opening of the assembly in Cardiff, efforts had been made behind the scenes to break with protocol and raise the flags together. The last time it happened is thought to be at least 400 years ago.
The reversal was welcomed by Robin Ashburner, one of the UK's foremost vexillologists (flag experts), who had been consulted on the arrangements for the display above the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. Mr. Ashburner, a native of Wales, had recommended the Royal Standard and the prince's flag of four 'Llewellyn lions' fly together in an effort to smooth over Welsh sensibilities. 'I am very pleased that the palace has decided to regain the initiative on this,' he said ... Dr John Davies, author of the Penguin History of Wales, has said raising the prince's flag was a matter of gesture to the Welsh. 'I don't think most people would know what the prince's flag even looks like, but there is a principle at stake,' said Dr Davies.
There exists a different flag for Wales which was used by the chartists in their uprising (and
subsequently by Welsh republicans). It consists of a tricolor arranged vertically of blue white and green. Blue represents the sky (and heaven) white peace and green the earth (or the common people). It was supposed to represent a new order when the common people of Wales would be united under the sky.
Muiris Mag Ualghairg, 19 June 2000
I think you will find that the Chartist flag was a light purple, white and green horizontal
tricolour, with the words "Universal Liberty" in English on the white strip. This flag was used by Chartists in England and Wales, but
in Wales there was a armed rising by Chartists, I suppose carrying this flag. Here
is a photo of such a flag (but without
David Cox, 4 May 2002