History of Welsh Flags
As a nation with a long and storied past it is no surprise to discover that Wales has a myriad of flags, symbols and banners that represent the Country itself. Some are famous, some are forgotten and some are obscure yet all have intriguing origins and meanings. Today both Welsh people and those from other climes are all greatly aware of the national flag of Wales, “Y Ddraig Coch” (The Red Dragon). Yet what my experiences teach me is that very few are aware of the history of the flag or even the alternative Welsh flags we have flown throughout the history of our nation. With this in mind I have decided to provide you all with a rundown of the differing flags which at one time or another been raised in tribute to our small country in the hope of educating our future generations. After all to some flags are mere material, yet to others they are the embodiment of national identity and pride and are thus an important part of our history.
Y Ddraig Coch
When discussing flags of Wales, one must start with the most recognisable and famous banner the country possesses, “Y Ddraig Coch”. To many people, including the average Welshman, this is the only flag the nation has and many will be surprised to learn just how recent official recognition of a seemingly ageless flag was. Accepted as an official flag by the British Government only in 1959, the flag consists of a passant Red Dragon on a Green and White background, often considered a field. Although only just over 60years old, the flag and its significance has been felt by the Welsh people for centuries. The Red Dragon itself was thought to have been brought to these lands by the Romans but it’s first clear connection to Wales came with its involvement in the mysterious Welsh prophecies. Allegedly the Wizard Myrddin (commonly known as Merlin) told a story of an underground duel between a White Dragon and a Red one, the white beast representing the invading Saxon warriors whom were attempting to suppress the native Welsh people. Merlin allegedly prophesised that the White Dragon would dominate at first but would eventually succumb as the Red Dragon and thus the Welsh people would rise up and vanquish their enemy. This link between Merlin and the Red Dragon was further lend credence if not actual historical fact by the association of the Red Dragon as a flag symbol with the mythical Arthur, King of the Britons. What is not shrouded in historical cynicism is that the banner was definitely used by the Gwynedd King, Cadwaladr, whom has a reputation as one of the greatest Welsh leaders of the era.
With the symbol confirmed as a representation of the Welsh people it became further entrenched in the consciousness of a people when first Owain Glyndwr raised the so-called “Red Dragon of Cadwaladr” during his revolt against English rule and then his distant kinsman Henry Tudor won the English throne at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry was a Welshman whom invaded England via a Welsh-landing from France and had almost uncontested support from his people in his quest to conquer the English throne and end the dynastic Wars of the Roses. Henry had combined his Tudor livery colours of Green and White with the Red Dragon of Arthur, Merlin, Cadwaladr and Owain Glyndwr to create an iconic image and it was this banner which was carried triumphantly into St Paul’s Cathedral on Henry’s march through London. Even so, it remained half a millennia longer before the flag received official patronage from the British Government amidst pressure from Welsh nationalist groups. In 1959 one of the world’s most loved flags came into official existence and has since then been seen in possibly every part of the world as patriotic Welshmen always ensure they pack their flag with their luggage on their travels, never a group of people to pass up the opportunity to show off “Y Ddraig Coch”. Whether it is Rugby, Music or Politics, the Welsh flag is without doubt the most potent symbol of Welshness and national pride and is often viewed in every place possible. A visit to any shop in the country will unleash a torrent of products enshrined in the Red Dragon, from food goods to magnets and from teddy bears to clothes. For a nation so small, Y Ddraig Coch is a flag of enormous appeal and affection and held in high esteem by Welshman and outsider alike. As the only officially recognised flag to be flown from Governmental buildings within the country, it is without doubt the most widely seen flag representing the people of Wales.
The Flag of Saint David
England has the flag of St George whilst Scotland is proudly represented by the saltire of St Andrew, both of which are immediately recognisable around the globe as representative of the countries which use them. Together with the more obscure cross of St Patrick which represents Ireland the three flags make up the iconic yet controversial Union Jack flag. Therefore one could reasonably expect the national flag of Wales to be of the respective national saint, David, in keeping with local consistency. Yet the St David’s cross is a banner that has suffered from a lack of familiarity with those whom inhabit the country of David, let alone recognisable to those further afield. Aesthetically the flag constitutes a simple yet effective design of a yellow/gold cross on a black background, enabling it to stand out and be more effective than the dull-by-comparison St George’s cross. The flag itself has cropped up in a few public places in recent times as Welsh nationalism and national pride grows with each passing generation, eager to stamp their own identity on a crumbling British union. The flag has played a prominent part in marches and parades celebrating St David’s day every 1st March and was even featured temporarily as part of the club badge of Cardiff City Football Club in an overt display of their Welshness in an English-dominated scene. The St David’s cross was also used as the basis for two recent Rugby shirts that has probably increased awareness of the flag more than any other concerted campaign ever could. In 2008 the WRU released a Golden away jersey for the national Rugby team that featured the Flag imprinted on each arm together with a press release explaining how the shirt was inspired from the flag of St David. The other instance where the flag was used in sport was when Rugby League’s first Welsh franchise Crusaders RLFC used the entire flag as the basis for its first kit to again overtly display their heritage in a previously-English environment.
For a flag that is now arguably unrivalled as Wales’ second (unofficial) flag, the history is sketchy at best. The fledgling Church in Wales, of which the diocese of St David’s is an integral part, disestablished itself from the larger Church of England in 1920 and it seems that the flag was consequently flown atop Anglican churches in Wales to display their affiliation. Throughout the diocese’s under control of the Church of England the St George’s cross was readily flown above the constituent churches and around 1939 it seems that a flag was created from the historic St David armorial arms of a yellow cross on a black background…but reversed. Whilst the usage of the black cross on a yellow background as a flag seems to be solely used from 1939 to 1954 atop Church in Wales, the colours of yellow and black have always traditionally been linked with the Saint as highlighted by the aforementioned Armorial arms which still represent the diocese in the area. St David was devout Christian whom lived well and taught the new ways of Christianity to the pagan tribes of Wales from his monastery on the banks of the modern city which takes his name. As a famous and well-loved figure from Welsh history, indeed the only patron saint of the nation, the flag has in itself also taken on connotations of Welsh nationalism as briefly explored earlier and its visibility continues to grow throughout Wales.
The Church of Wales flag
Similar in meaning and source if not in design to the banner of St David, the Church of Wales flag is the official emblem in usage in Wales to differentiate the organisation from their neighbourly Church of England. Stylistically the flag consists of a Gold Celtic cross nestled on a blue cross and a white background. The flag was inaugurated in 1954 and was created to specifically replace the reversed St David’s flag mentioned above to represent the Church of Wales within their remit. Unlike the previous two this flag is arguably unknown amongst the vast majority of Welsh natives, especially in these days of low Church attendance. Theologically, the Church in Wales is part of the Anglican communion in Wales although in sharp contrast to its larger and dominating neighbour the Church of England it has retained an admirable disestablished stance since 1920. With a strong tradition of non-Conformist Christianity throughout Wales there was always a sense of Conflict towards the Church of England itself from the Welsh whom in particular felt marginalised and oppressed by Church policies. The Welsh church act of 1914 was thus passed amid controversy and the Church in Wales was legally separated from the Church of England which it remains to this day, the Welsh church being disestablished from the state whilst the Church of England remains inextricably linked. Today this flag is often found atop of Church in Wales properties although even then it competes with the local diocese flags, again resulting in lower recognition of a dazzling banner.
Owain Glyndwr. Patriot. Hero. Freedom Fighter. Welshman. Every native Cymro is aware of the name Owain Glyndwr as he was the romantic hero who stood up in the face of oppression and took the fight back to the English whom had conquered and subdued the nation of Wales a century prior. Glyndwr had raised a rebellion in 1400 and within four years had crowned himself Prince of Wales and the inheritor of the defunct Welsh royal family. The royal kingdom’s of Wales prior to being rendered extinct under the might of the English crown had been a fractured bunch, varying Kingdoms rising to power for an intermittent period before being replaced or usurped by another. What helped Glyndwr win the loyalty of his men and to validate his claim to the throne was that he was descended from three of the main royal families and was thus the apparent personification of a true Welsh prince. The flag today widely known as the Glyndwr banner was in fact derived from the hereditary flag of the previous princes of Wales although Glyndwr’s version had one clear and aggressive difference. The flag of the native princes from the powerful Gwynedd-based House of Aberfraw consisted of four passant lions on a quartered red and gold background. One prominent user of the flag was Llewelyn the Great whom in 1216 was lauded as the Prince of Wales after gaining acceptance and homage from his rival rulers. The flag in itself had been utilised by the kinsmen of Llewelyn’s from at least the 11th century and was in all probability considered an official flag of Welsh royalty. The importance of this flag is such that after Edward I of England conquered the nation in 1282 and instilled his own eldest Caernarfon-born son as the Prince of Wales it was this flag that became the de-facto representative banner of these foreign Princes of Wales. Since 1911 this flag has again been utilised by the foreign Princes of Wales as their Coat of Arms before they succeed to the Crown of England. Prince Charles in the 1960’s began to use the Aberfraw banner with his heraldic coronet placed directly onto the middle of the flag as his representative banner and in 2008 the flag itself holds a prominent role in the official Royal Badge of Wales.
Perhaps because of its usurpation by the Royal Family of England as their own symbol of claim on the Welsh Kingdom, it is the aforementioned version of Glyndwr’s banner that has subsequently become a potent symbol of Welsh nationalism amidst Independence-related insignia. As mentioned above the Glyndwr flag has one major difference to the Aberfraw flag and that is that as opposed to being passant, the four lions are on their hind feet in an aggressive rampant pose. Although the real reasons for this are no longer evident, many experts in Heraldry point out that as per Glyndwr’s triple ancestry the rampant lions are evident in the respective arms of both his mother and father’s princely ancestors and combined with the colours and style of the Aberfraw flag create an ultimate Welsh flag. As a result of Glyndwr’s patronage of this flag in the last two decades it has increased in usage across the nation by proponents of a free Wales and can be seen in a myriad of places, arguably now the second most popular flag of the country and growing. Most Welsh sporting events will have a smattering of Glyndwr flags amongst the fans whilst such organisations as the Urdd Eisteddfod and Town Halls have been known to fly the flag particular around 16th September, a date put forward by Welsh nationalists as a candidate for Glyndwr day. As political symbol’s go, the message behind the Glyndwr banner is a clear one. An independent Wales.
Whilst the above flag of Glyndwr’s has become widespread in modern times, it was the Golden Dragon that Glyndwr famously raised in his battles against the English armies. Near Caernarfon on 2nd November 1401 Glyndwr’s forces were positioned on Tut Hill when Glyndwr raised up the legendary Golden Dragon flag in defiance of English rule, best encapsulated by the domineering fortified Castle which lay before them. The Flag itself was essentially as its name suggests, a Golden Dragon in a rampant pose which in Welsh was referred to as Baner Y Ddraig Aur. Although obscure by today’s standards and only known by fervent nationalists with an active interest in history, this would have been considered Glyndwr’s premier flag at the start of his rebellion and certainly carried a plethora of overt symbolism. A previous Prince of Gwynedd whom Glyndwr was seeking to replicate in his actions was Owain Gwynedd whom was associated by Welsh bards with Golden Dragons and although a reputable link by Glyndwr it was from a different kind of Leader that Glyndwr was seeking to really exploit. Since the turn on the 11th Century the legends of the Ancient Briton King Arthur were never far from Heraldic poetry within Wales as the bards prophesised about a new leader to take up Arthur’s mantle and banish the invaders from the lands of the Britons. In the intervening period the Britons had become identified as the Welsh whilst the Saxon’s and Normans were gradually melting into an English race. The Welsh people often fantasised about the Mabdarogan or Son of Prophecy who would fulfil the bards predictions and free the people. It was no surprise for Glyndwr, scion of three Royal Families, to find himself cast in this role and much like his later distant kinsman Henry Tudor embraced this development by encouraging the link. The Golden Dragon was the standard that was linked to the ancient Briton warrior Uther Pendragon whom would be better remembered in history as the father of Arthur. In the early Welsh language the translation of Dragon was (and in fact still is) “Draig”, and this was a word that was considered to mean a Warrior. With the epithet “Pen” meaning Chief or Great often added to Ddraig to suggest a great or chiefly Warrior the status of Uther Pendragon is in little doubt. Thus a banner that displayed both Glyndwr’s heritage, prophecy and hopes found itself immortalised in the guise of a Golden Dragon.
Welsh Republican Tricolour
A flag in which not only is its design but also its intended meaning illustrated in the accepted name of the flag, the Welsh Republican Tricolour is a minor flag that has caught on with a subsector Welsh Nationalists whom wish to display their antipathy towards the English Monarchy through Republican motives. With legitimate native Princes extinct with the downfall of Llewelyn the Last in 1282 and Glyndwr’s mysterious disappearance at the start of the 15th century, Wales herself doesn’t have a realistic pretender to a Welsh throne and therein lies the dilemma for modern nationalists. Should the nation gain independence the new, forward-thinking entity it will become will surely not revert to a form of State-ship that has long been considered outdated. Welsh republicanism therefore has a credible basis from which it has slowly began to grow and has been further emboldened by ancient Celtic ties to Ireland where of course Republicanism has been a core concept throughout the 20th century. Based on the Irish and French designs, the Welsh tricolour is a simple design using the already-established national colours of Green, Red and White and sometimes appears with a Socialist/Communist star on the white section to display further political motives. The star has also been stated to denote a memorandum to all those patriots that have died for Wales. The flag itself was used by the Welsh Republican Movement that seceded from the mainstream Plaid Cymru in 1949 in an internal dispute over policy. The Republicans believe that more should have been done with regards to Socialism within the nation as opposed to rural affairs and the Welsh language and aimed to become a major party. Although fervent in its ideals the party failed to catch the support of the general public and faded from national consciousness in the 1960’s although the flag they conceived continues to be occasionally spotted, in particular in the new modern world of the Internet and in that arena of nationalism, the sporting event.
Yr Eryr Wen
The “Eryr Wen” flag was a flag that first came to prominence in the 1960’s with the rise of violent nationalism in Wales through the advent of the Free Wales Army. Translating as the White Eagle, the dramatic flag consists of a stylised and simple design purporting to the be the White Eagle on a ominous black background. The flag’s connotations were subtle and therein lay the attractiveness of the flag. The black background was used to put the full focus on the white eagle design which was said to carry two meanings. The aforementioned Owain Gwynedd, as well as being linked to Golden Dragon’s by the bards, was attributed a coat of arms that consisted of three eagles whom were displayed with their wings spread wide on a green background. Owain I of Wales is considered by historians and nationalists alike as one of the greatest Welsh princes and his wars with the English King Henry II are still fondly remembered by Wales’ patriots and no doubt the corrupting of his coat of arms into a modern white stylised design was a way for the members of the Free Wales Army to display their objectives. The FWA were created by Julian Cayo-Evans in 1963 and were created to raise awareness of the fight for Welsh republicanism, their lust for self-promotion gaining them much publicity in an era of Celtic reawakening. The flag began to be prominently displayed by the followers of the FWA and was used and is still used by those of a Nationalist mentality to display their political viewpoint and is instantly recognisable to other comrade’s of a similar outlook. Whilst the FWA themselves were rendered extinct with a plethora of arrests and convictions in the late 60’s the flag is still seen by other individuals purporting to be taking up the mantle of Welsh resistance to Colonial British rule and as well as flags can be seen on badges and graffiti occasionally in rural Wales.