Just about everywhere you look in Wales, you’re bound to spot a red dragon or see “dragon” written in red text. Take the charitable taxi firm Dragon Taxis, whose short-form logo is a red “D.” Alternatively, you could look to the sports teams.
The national football team’s known as Y Dreigiau (The Dragons), and its representative in the Vitality Netball Superleague is the Celtic Dragons club. As if any further evidence is needed, we just celebrated the 25th anniversary of a certain popular entertainment venue in Cardiff Bay – the Red Dragon Centre – as you can see in our NewsFromWales report.
The iconography is certainly distinct and has given a powerful touch point for Welsh businesses and citizens. You don’t see many English or Scottish businesses adopting the white or red cross for naming and branding. From a purely objective standpoint, however, tying Wales to dragons does seem peculiar, at the very least, but here we are, a dragon-obsessed state within the Union.
How the red dragon ended up on Wales’ flag
If we’re delving into the historical origins of dragons and British folklore, most will point to the legend of St George, the patron saint of England. Said to have emerged in the 11th century, per the Culture Trip article, the legend tells of St George saving a princess by beheading a dragon, which resulted in the people of the nearby city, said to be in modern-day Libya, converting to Christianity.
He became England’s patron saint in 1350 by order of King Edward III, but also dons the same title in Cataluña, Portugal, Venice, Ethiopia, and Genoa. Yet, St George isn’t associated with Wales, with their history of dragons tracking far further back. The Visit Wales history page details that the dragon first appeared on the battle flags of soldiers from Britain during the 4th century while they were on their way to Rome. Seeking to establish authority after the Romans left the British Isles, the Welsh kings began to adorn the dragon in the 5th century.
In 1485, Henry Tudor of Pembroke saw victory over Richard II at Bosworth Field, with the dragon-adorned flag used during the battle. While the modern flag wasn’t officially adopted until 1959, Historic UK says that it’s claimed to be one of the oldest national flags that are still in use today. The dragon’s popularity fluctuated through the centuries of warfare between the English and the Welsh but has since been cemented as a symbol of Wales. Still, the question remains: where did the dragon come from?
Perhaps the best and most simple answer is that it comes from European folklore, held metaphorical meaning among the masses, and was a popular symbol through the Medieval Era. The Smithsonian website describes the monsters as “natural and supernatural, both metaphors and more than that.” At the time, monster stories carried a lot of weight, just as those in mythologies like Norse and Ancient Greek did, being moralising tales of warnings and lessons while dragons themselves were often used as embodiments of foes to Christianity.
Just as the popularity of dragons helped to get the red dragon or Y Ddraig Goch on the flag, their popularity today continues to make the Welsh flag a favourite among citizens and people around the world, as shown in this Ranker list of votes on the best flags. In second place on that list is the flag of Bhutan, which also features a dragon.
Dragons remain hugely popular in modern society
Just as the red dragon can be seen across Wales every day, from flags to buttons to business branding, it is also used across popular entertainment. Just as dragons were at the forefront of stories in the Medieval Era, those tales have become more fictitious now, being blended into the entertainment genre of fantasy. The Guardian’s look at dragons shows them now as icons of escapism, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Dungeons and Dragons, breaking free of their nemesis persona.
It’s this more relaxed and favourable modern view of dragons, even if some are billed as the enemy, which has allowed the scaly, winged beasts to permeate entertainment. They may not tell much of a story, but Dragon’s Cache, Dragon’s Breath, Dragon Shard, Dragon Dance, and the 13 other dragon-themed slots at Betway casino all demonstrate the prominence of dragons in pop culture. If they weren’t popular, slot developers wouldn’t create games with them as the emphasis as only eye-catching and interesting themes get the clicks in slots.
In other modern lines of entertainment media, we’ve seen a whole range of dragon designs and personalities become popular. One of the main draws of the first five seasons of Game of Thrones was that the dragons were growing and on their way to Westeros. In late 90s gaming, Spyro the Dragon became one of the faces of the medium, with the likes of this Syfy piece showing the continued affection for the little purple dragon. You can also look to the dragon-stuffed The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and its status as one of the best-selling games of all time (with seven releases between 2010 and 2021) as another indicator of the love of the mythical beasts.
Just as they were when flags were raised in battle, dragons remain wonderfully popular, perhaps emphasising Wales’ obsession with the red dragon.