By Tom Sangers.
The story of the red dragon, ‘Y Ddraig Goch’ (literally, the red dragon), that appears on the Welsh flag goes back centuries, even to before the invasion of Britain by the Saxons.
When the Celts ruled Britain, before they were driven out of England into Wales and Cornwall, there was a legend in the Mabinogion, a collection of eleven stories, that a red dragon living in Britain had begun fighting with an invading white dragon.
As the two fought, they wounded each other, and the cries of agony from the red dragon made crops barren, killed animals and caused pregnant women to miscarry.
King Lludd, the ruler of Britain at the time, went to visit his sibling Llefelys, who was in France. He was instructed that to stop the dragons fighting, thus ending the cries that were ruining his people, he must dig a pit large enough to contain them both in the centre of Britain. He must then fill it with mead and cover it in cloth.
Having done this, the dragons came and drank the mead, which made them drowsy, and they fell asleep in the pit, wrapped in the cloth. Lludd imprisoned them, and in the Mabinogion, that is the end of the matter.
Later, however, in the Historia Britonum, the dragons are still trapped in the pit and cloth, and every time King Vortigern attempts to build a castle there, the walls and foundations are destroyed overnight, though nobody knows why.
Vortigern’s advisors say that to solve the problem he must find a boy without a natural father and sacrifice him. This will stop the destruction of his castle.
When this boy is found, and it is revealed to him that he is to be sacrificed so that Vortigern’s castle can be built, the boy says that the advisors are wrong, and that actually the destruction is occurring because of the two dragons trapped in the pit.
So, Vortigern digs open the pit, frees the two dragons, and finally the red dragon kills the white dragon. The boy pipes up again, telling Vortigern that the red dragon represented the people over which Vortigern ruled, whereas the white dragon represented the Saxons.
Vortigern’s people are presumed to have been the native Britons who, although they were driven by the Saxons into only Wales and Cornwall, were never completely defeated. They didn’t exactly slay the white dragon as they were supposed to, however.