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Wales (United Kingdom)


Last modified: 2017-08-04 by rob raeside
Keywords: wales | dragon | cross: saint david | dewi sant | y ddraig goch |
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[Flag of Wales] 3:5, also 2:3; image by Juan Manuel Villascan, 17 March 2006

See also: image of a 1:2 dimensions flag by Juan Manuel Villascan, 17 March 2006

The officially recommended ratio is 3:5.
Christopher Southworth, 19 March 2006

The official colour recommendations (which will be appearing in the new Edition of BR20) are PMS 186 for red, and PMS 354 for green.
Christopher Southworth, 10 June 2006

See also:

Origin of Y Ddraig Goch

Y Ddraig Goch (the red dragon) is the national flag of Wales, and has been officially recognised as such since the 1950s. The white-over-green field is in the livery colours of the Tudors, the Welsh dynasty that once sat on the English throne.
Roy Stilling, 27 November 1995

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

Is there evidence to demonstrate when or how the modern Welsh flag attained its present form? We know that it did exist at the time of the investiture of Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1911 (at which time the authorities were insisting that it was not the correct Welsh flag) but where did it come from and when?
Kenneth Fraser, 19 November 2011

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

In February 1959, the Queen directed that henceforth the flag to be flown on government buildings would consist only in the red dragon on a green and white flag, rather than the 1953 badge, as was being done occasionally.
Francois Velde, 11 August 2003

While the ancient heraldic origins of the emblems on the current Welsh flag are quite clear, I have never seen an explanation of the manner in which these were turned into a national flag. I know it must have existed in 1911 because I have seen a reference to a statement by the College of Arms (in the context of the investiture of Edward, Prince of Wales) that said it was NOT the proper Welsh flag. I suspect it to be a 19th century derivative of the Tudor royal badge and colours. Somebody in Wales must know the full story.
Kenneth Fraser, 19 May 2014

It seems that a red dragon on a white over green field came to be recognised as the national flag of Wales over the course of the first two or three decades of the 20th Century. The October 1917 ‘Our Flag Number’ of the National Geographic Magazine has an illustration of the Welsh Flag with, ‘Not until the 20th century was it officially restored as proper only to the race of Uther Pendragon. Under the reign of Edward VII (1901-1910) it was incorporated into the armorial bearings of the Prince of Wales.’

Frederick Warne were the principle British publishers of books about flags in the 20th Century. The first book in the ‘Flags of the World’ series, published in about 1896, has no reference to a Welsh flag of any description. The next edition in 1915 has a passing reference to ‘the red dragon of Wales’, and also that ‘in 1801 it was decreed that the badge of ...... Wales should be the red dragon with expanded wings.’ No other reference to a Welsh flag. The edition was reprinted a number of times with supplements, but the 1929 supplement had no additional references to Wales. It was not until the new edition of 1939 that we have, ‘Wales .... has a fine national flag, on horizontal halves of white over green is the Red Dragon of Cadwallader.’

Warne also published ‘National Flags’ by E.H.Baxter in 1934, and this does have an entry for Wales. ‘The Welsh National Flag is composed of two equal horizontal strips, white over green, on which is a large red dragon passant. On St David’s Day (March 1st) the Welsh Flag is flown with the Union Flag on certain official Buildings.’

Cumberland Clark’s 1926 book about the flags of England and the Empire has no reference to a Welsh flag, but his 1934 book ‘The Flags of Britain’ has; ‘Those who happen to be in Wales on Saint David’s Day will catch a glimpse of a British banner that is rarely seen beyond the boundaries of Cambria. The national flag of Wales has a horizontally halved white over green background, with the famous Red Dragon over all.’

The earliest reference to ‘Welsh Flag’ or ‘Flag of Wales’ in the document titles on the website of the National Archives is 1925; HO 144/22962, Flying of Red Dragon Flag of Wales. Searching for ‘Red Dragon’ brought up a slightly earlier one of 1910-11; PC 8/706; Proposal for incorporating the Welsh red dragon in the royal standard: new design for the prince of Wales.
David Prothero, 22 May 2014

The Red Dragon
I have never before seen a comprehensive explanation of how the ancient Welsh emblem of the dragon actually developed into the modern Welsh flag. “The red dragon: the story of the Welsh flag” by Sion T. Jobbins (Y Lolfa, 2016) at last provides one. Mr. Jobbins points out that after Henry VII’s dragon standard, no other such flag was recorded until 1840 when one was displayed at an Eisteddfod in Liverpool; and only one or two are known of until, he declares, the artist T.H. Thomas began to campaign for its use in 1893, though Thomas had in mind its inclusion in the Royal Arms rather than a flag as such. Mr. Jobbins goes on to show that it was not widely used till after 1914 and did not appear in a flag book until 1934.
Kenneth Fraser, 19 June 2017

Early Versions of Ddraig Goch

[Former variant] image by Mark Sensen, 18 July 1999

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.
Roy Stilling, 18 July 1999
I scanned the image from the 1956 edition, p. 59, and coloured it.
Mark Sensen, 18 July 1999

[Flag of 1953] image by Mark Sensen, 18 July 1999

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.
Mark Sensen, 18 July 1999

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

'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

An image of a printed flag in soft thin cotton, showing the red dragon of Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd, passant on a Tudor inspired green and white field can be found at (archived here).

The textile is in good aged, as found, condition with a beautiful genuine fade across the fabric, the greens and reds having a fantastic translucent quality. The cotton does not suffer from any holes or tears. The pole finial is original, and at the other end there is a small amount of loss to the pole.

The Welsh flag was granted official status in 1959, but the red dragon itself has been associated with Wales for centuries, though the origin of the adoption of the dragon symbol is now lost in history and myth. A possible theory is that the Romans brought the emblem to what is now Wales during their occupation of Britain in the form of the Draco standards born by the Roman cavalry, itself inspired by the symbols of the Dacians or Parthians. The green and white stripes of the flag were additions by the House of Tudor, the Welsh dynasty that held the English throne from 1485 to 1603. Green and white are also the colours of the leek, another national emblem of Wales.

One would actually be hard pressed to find a much older Welsh flag.
David Lawrence, 22 February 2016

The Absence of the Welsh Dragon on the Union Jack

It is often noted that there is no representation of the Welsh flag on the Union Jack or Royal Standard. The reasons for this are historical - when Edward I defeated Llewelyn, he included Wales in an amalgamated kingdom, and made his son, the future Edward II the Prince of Wales. Edward, Prince of Wales', flag was quartered red lion on yellow and yellow lion on red, and is known as the flag of Llewelyn. This flag, with an escutcheon of a green shield with a crown, is used today by Charles as Prince of Wales. The emblem of three feathers and the motto "Ich Dien" was not acquired until the time of Henry I's grandson, who slew the king of Bohemia and assumed his arms.

Robin Ashburner, ICV York, July 2001

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

The British Union Jack was formed by the union of the flags of Scotland and England when the crowns of Scotland and England were united in 1605 by the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England (as James I of England). Thus we have the "United Kingdom". Wales was already subsumed as a principality in England long before that, so was never considered to have a "portion" of the flag. That is why we talk about the Principality of Wales, but the Kingdom of Scotland.

Wales was united with England under the Statute of Wales, passed on 19 February 1284. Union with England was entrenched with the passage of Acts in 1535 and 1543 whereby parliamentary taxation was extended to Wales, and English common law applied in the principality.
Mike Oettle, 8 July 2004

Prince of Wales's standard

The following report is taken from BBC News Online dated 20 May 1999:
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 ...

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.

Jan Oskar Engene, 21 May 1999

Mercantile ensign

On Llyn Padarn in North Wales sails the motor launch "Snowdon Star", which is stated to be the only passenger vessel on any Welsh lake. Her website,, shows pictures of her flying the Red Dragon flag as a mercantile ensign. On one of them she flies the St. David's flag in the same position. This is of course not in accordance with the official regulations; but I wonder if any other vessels in Wales (e.g., yachts) might be doing the same?
Kenneth Fraser, 19 July 2014

I'd say on UK inland waters a vessel could wear anything not explicitly reserved for other purposes. This would mean both the Red Dragon and St. David would be OK to wear for the Snowdon Star. I don't think there are official regulations saying otherwise, but please correct me if I'm wrong. The same line of reasoning would hold for yachts and other such vessels, provided they are on inland UK waters. So, yes, such vessels could wear either Welsh flag.

Note the limitation: On UK inland waters.
On coastal waters and on the high seas, the ensign indicates the country the vessel is registered in. Depending on how far out the vessel is, this (theoretically) determines what laws prevail on board. Thus, a vessel on open water must wear the correct ensign. As I don't think Wales has its own shipping register nor legal ensign, I would say the Red Dragon and St. David would not be options there.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 14 August 2014

Sion Jobbins’s Welsh maritime flag proposal
In his book “The Red Dragon” (2016) Sion Jobbins proposes a maritime flag for Wales. It would resemble the conventional Red Dragon flag, but with the green part of the field confined to the bottom of the flag, below the dragon’s feet. He considers that this would be easier to make out at sea. He does not appear to have considered that the Merchant Shipping Act would insist on Welsh ships flying the British Red Ensign.
Kenneth Fraser, 19 June 2017