How the Welsh Flag Became the Coolest Flag in the World

One of the most striking national flags is that of Wales. In an online poll, it was voted the coolest of all the over 200 national flags around the globe. Its main feature is a dragon that is meant to represent the fiery spirit and independence of the Welsh people. The history of the flag is a remarkable one.

The poll on the best national flags was staged by Ranker, a well-known digital polling platform. It asked its users to rate the world’s national standards. So far almost 200,000 people have voted in the poll, which is still open. According to North Wales Live, the Welsh flag was rated “as the coolest national flag on the entire planet”. As of December, the flag is still rated the coolest and is several thousand votes ahead of its nearest challenger.

The Welsh flag is only one of three flags with a dragon. Around the world, the only others with the mythical creature are the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and the island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean. The Welsh dragon is bright red and it is shown in a charging stance, known in heraldry as the passant stance, and it is set on a background of bold green and white stripes.

Roman Origins?

This striking standard’s origins lay in the distant past. Many believe that the dragon emblem was brought to Wales by Roman cavalrymen who were stationed in the country from the 1st century to 5th century AD. One of their standards was the Draco, which was a “hollow beast’s head made of metal with a windsock-style cloth tail descending from the rear of the head,” according to North Wales Live . This distinctive Draco banner was used to identify a unit and it was also employed to give orders by being waved.

Many believe that the origin of the Welsh dragon was in the period after the fall of the Roman Empire. When the Roman legions left Britain in 410 AD the local Romano-Celtic peoples had to fend for themselves and were engaged in constant wars with Anglo-Saxons, Picts, and Irish raiders. It is believed that several Romano-British kingdoms formed independent kingdoms. According to the Ancient Pages website, “British princes continued to use Roman-style Dracos as battle standards”. The Romano-Britons were especially strong in Wales and was often seen as their last bastion against the invading Anglo-Saxons.

Cavalrymen with a Draco standard from the 9th century. (Maksim / Public Domain)

Cavalrymen with a Draco standard from the 9th century. (Maksim / Public Domain )

Flag of Medieval Welsh Kings

Probably the most well-known Roman-Briton is the semi-legendary King Arthur , and many have claimed that the dragon symbol was used by this monarch. There are even those who claim that the great magician Merlin was associated with the emblem. However, “it is known that Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon who was king of Gwynedd from about 655 to 682 AD used a dragon flag” reports North Wales Live. This means that by at least the 7th century AD that the mythical creature was associated with Welsh monarchs.

Wales was invaded by Anglo-Normans in the 11th century and there was a centuries-long struggle by the Welsh to retain their independence. The last independent Welsh ruler, Owain Glyndŵr, used the dragon emblem during the bloody revolt against English rule (1400-1415). It seems that the red dragon flag was later adopted by successive monarchs of England and used to express their legitimate right to rule Wales.

Glyndwr's Coats of Arms; used in the bloody revolt against English rule. (Jason.nlw / Public Domain)

Glyndwr’s Coats of Arms; used in the bloody revolt against English rule. (Jason.nlw / Public Domain )

Henry VII and the House of Tudor

During the War of the Roses , England and Wales fell into near anarchy as Yorkists and Lancastrians fought for the throne (1455-1485). Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII , who was of Welsh descent, used the dragon flag as one of his emblems. Indeed, he used it at the battle of Bosworth , when he defeated Richard III and seized the crown. After Henry’s coronation, the flag became associated with the Royal House of Tudor. It appears that the green was added by the Tudors because it was their family heraldic color.

Coat of Arms of King Henry VII of England. (Wereldburger758 / Public Domain)

Coat of Arms of King Henry VII of England. (Wereldburger758 / Public Domain )

In the 19th century, a version of the modern standard was used as the emblem of Wales. It was only in 1959 that the modern flag was adopted. Today it is the national flag of the country which is one of the four nations of the United Kingdom. The Welsh are immensely proud of their flag and all that it symbolizes.

Top image: Wales Flag on Blue Sky. Source: natanaelginting / Adobe.

By Ed Whelan

Updated on December 29, 2020.

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