The Differences Between English and Welsh Dragons

Different Spirits from Different Dragons

 Only in Celtic Legend are dragons depicted in underground caves – like the cave beneath king Arthur’s castle brought to life in the BBC’s [i]Merlin[/i] series. This is because their Celtic origins are different to the dragons in other Euro-Asian cultures, including the English dragon. There are two theories as to this Celtic dragon symbol’s origins but it is likely that both combined to produce the splendid Welsh Dragon we see today on flags and in Welsh gold and silver jewellery. 

The Roman Origins of the Welsh Dragon

The Welsh flag has featured its red dragon for hundreds of years.  One theory is that the dragon symbol was taken over by the Welsh kings of Aberffraw from the Romans after the latter abandoned their claims to any part of the British mainland in 410 AD.  The basis of these Welsh Dragon symbols – according to this theory - appeared on shields and standards of Roman cavalry units.  As such these Dragon symbols would have been quickly associated with Britain’s new ruling class – and naturally was seen as a symbol of authority

By assimilating the Dragon symbol (making it their own) it spoke of the Welsh kings’ new authority.  They were now the owners of the dragon and its legendary power.  They were the Pendragons or Pen Draigs.  Read more about this theory of the origins of the Celtic dragon HERE

The Arthurian Legend Origins of the Welsh Dragon

A more romantic origin comes from a vision of the wizard Merlin recorded in Arthurian Legend.  At the time (early fifth century) the Romans had departed Britain but the Britons (the Celtic peoples who are the ancestors of modern Wales) then faced new invaders.  Chief among these – those vying for land for settlement in sixth century Wales – were the Saxons, led by their king Vortigern.

Merlin’s vision featured two dragons fighting.  One dragon was red, the other white and the battle between them was intense and at first equally matched.  Eventually the Red Dragon (that of Welsh flags) defeated the White Dragon and forced it to leave Britain.  The White Dragon was driven over the sea. 

The meaning of Merlin’s vision was not at first understood but when Vortigern was killed by sword in battle and the throne passed to Uther Pendragon (the father of King Arthur) it was revealed.  The Red Dragon represented the victorious Britons and the White Dragon the losers.

The English Dragon Symbol and the Welsh Dragon – Different Origins and Different Meanings

A commonly asked question is: If the patron Saint of England is Saint George, how come the Welsh have a dragon on their flag and the English don’t? Here is a partial answer based on the research we did for this article:

The English and the Welsh dragons have completely different origins.  (See the two theories of the origins of the Welsh Dragon above).  The English Dragon had its origins in Libya (north Africa).  Read an excellent account of this Legend HERE

In this legend, after George wounds the dragon, saves the king’s daughter and then tames the dragon, he leads the now obedient creature and the princess back to the town.  The residents aren’t too delighted to see the enormous fire breathing beast outside their town’s walls and naturally tell George not to come any closer.  He says (words to the effect) “not to worry, if you lot convert to Christianity, I’ll slay the dragon here and now”.  The town converts and Saint George slays the defenceless dragon. Hey presto!

So on one hand we have a Red Dragon who fights a fair fight and banishes its losing opponent dragon and the other a submissive dragon executed while a town looked on.  In this too we might see the different spirits at play in the Celtic and the English legends.  After considering the research and evidence undertaken for this article, we prefer the Celtic (Welsh) spirit!  Please add your comment if you disagree.

History Article Copyright Wilma Proops AndAnotherThing2

This series of articles were written with children in mind.  Most children, particularly those of a certain age, enjoy toilet humour.  Give them what they want when you relate these historically true tales and educate them at the same time!

Weird Histories 1: Roman Toilet Behaviour HERE

Weird Histories 2: Victorians on the Toilet HERE

Weird Histories 3: The Viking Poo! HERE

Weird Histories 4: The Story of Saint Simeon's Fifth Century Poo HERE

The Biggest Public Toilet in History HERE

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Comments 2 comments

6 years ago

There's so much wrong with what you just wrote, here are a few points:

¤Vortigern was a Celt and only invited the Saxons to Britain to stop the Pictish raids.

¤And the white dragon of England has a much older origin than St George, the white dragon is actually a Germanic symbol and was brought to Britain with the Saxons.

Also note that the white dragon was a completly different shape than a welsh dragon, resembling more closely the dragons depicted in China.

The English white dragon can be seen on the flag of Wessex.

Blu3nose 5 years ago

Yes the english dragon dates back from before the 5th century long before we had any relations with st george! It was called a wyvern an its roots are germanic. . It had only 2 legs an it was the standard of wessex before later becoming the standard of all the english

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