Y Ddraig Goch: The Legend Behind The Symbol Of The Red Dragon

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Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon, features prominently throughout history - appearing in the King Arthur legends, as various battle standards and on the Welsh flag. But from where did it come from?

Long ago, before the coming of King Arthur, a mighty White Dragon invaded the land of Britain, unleashing various evils until the Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon came forth to oppose it. 

The battle was long and bloody, and the shrieks of pain from both dragons ravaged the land, making it unsuitable for the native people and animals alike.  In desperation, the British King Ludd asked his wise brother, Llefelys, who was King of France, for help.  Llefelys told his brother to dig a pit in the exact centre of Britain, at Dinas Emrys, to fill in the pit with mead and cover it with cloth.  Ludd did as his brother suggested; the dragons then fell asleep and became entombed in Dinas Emrys.

Centuries later, the British King Vortigern had fled to the mountains of North Wales.  The Saxons, whom Vortigern had brought to Britain as mercenaries, now wanted the kingdom for themselves, and had overrun half of Britain.  Vortigern had nowhere else to run, and thus began building a mighty fortress, which he named Dinas Emrys, after the mountain on which it was found. 

However, every night, the walls and masonry of the fortress crumbled, though they were built by the best stone masons and the foundation was thought to be of hard rock.  Vortigern's false magician, Maugantius, advised him to sacrifice a boy who had no father upon the earth of the mountain, and then the fortress foundations would hold.  Such a boy was found in the town of Carmarthen, in South Wales.  And his name was Merlin.

Dinas Emrys, the fabled centre of Britain. (Image Source)

Upon hearing of his planned sacrifice, the boy called Merlin became outraged, and revealed the true nature of the mountain and of its sealed cavern.  Vortigern's masons and workers excavated the mountain, and upon revealing the cavern, brought up pumps to drain the pool.  When the pool was drained, two massive stone slabs were revealed in the cavern, which began to break apart.  Two enormous dragons, one red and one white, clambered out of the cavern, and began to do battle once again.

Vortigern and his masons discovering the dragons beneath Dinas Emrys (Image Source)

In the book The Story of King Arthur, retold by Robin Lister, Merlin gave the following prophecy to Vortigern: "Alas for the Red Dragon, for its end is near.  The White Dragon will overrun its lairs and cavernous dens.  The rivers and streams will run with blood and the mountains will groan for the suffering people.  The country will cry out in pain.  Finally, a boar will come to end the strife and bring a time of peace.  Then Britain will rejoice and cry out for joy.  You are the Red Dragon, Vortigern.  The boar's name is Arthur."

The White Dragon pinned the Red Dragon down and threw it into the cavern bottom, where it thrashed wildly and moved no more.  It is said that Vortigern's Y Ddraig Goch standard, the Red Dragon, ever so drooping till that point, fell down Dinas Emrys' tallest tower onto the mud of the fortress' foundation.  The dripping symbolism was of no consolation to Vortigern.  King Vortigern hurried to fill in the cavern with stones and rebuild his crumbling walls, but was burnt alive in his half-built fortress by the English army led by Aurelius and Uther.  Their coming was marked by their banners of the White Dragon.  The English bearing this standard would also destroy the Saxon army, in a battle near York (interestingly the White Dragon would come to symbolize the Anglo-Saxons).  Aurelius was then crowned king, and Britain was united once more.

Vortigern's people, whom the Saxons failed to conquer, became the Welsh.  To this day, Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon remains a national symbol of Wales, even being emblazoned across their national flag.

The national flag of Wales (Image Source) - Cover Photo

The Welsh Kings Cadwallon and Cadwaladr would use the Y Ddraig Goch as their standards.  Henry Tudor, of the noble Tudor family of Wales, would also use the Y Ddraig Goch, unfolding as his banner a Red Dragon on a green and white background, in the Battle of Bosworth Field.  Winning this battle against Richard the Third, Henry Tudor would establish the Tudor dynasty of England.

© 2010 Gregory Markov

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