Here Be Dragons!

By: Anne Corke

Aug 21 2011

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Category: Gardening, Rural Nature

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Aperture:f/4.5
Focal Length:23.037mm
ISO:200
Shutter:1/100 sec
Camera:Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

I have just adopted another dragon. Well, actually he’s a birthday gift from my husband. As you probably know, dragons are quite rare in Peterborough so I am thrilled with my new friend which I found at Horlings in Lakefield. His name is Puff and he joins three other dragons in my gardens.

I come by my love of dragons quite naturally since my dear Dad was a proud Welshman and the symbol of Wales is the Red Dragon. But how did the Red Dragon come to be associated with Wales? Well, according to my research, the origins of the Red Dragon are found in history, in folklore and in Arthurian legend.

Historically speaking, the symbol of the dragon was perhaps first seen in Wales in Roman times. The Romans were thought to have gained knowledge of the dragon from their Parthian enemies (in lands later to become part of the great Persian Empire). The Roman draco was a figure fixed by the head to the top of a staff, with body and tail floating in the air and was the model for the dragon standard used by the Anglo Saxons. In the Bayeux Tapestry, the dragon appears on the standard of King Harold. In 1190 “the terrible  standard of the dragon” was borne before the army of Richard Coeur-de-Lion in an attack at Messina. The seventh century Welsh hero Cadwaladr carried the dragon standard and the dragon had become a recognised symbol of Wales by the time Welsh archers were serving in the English army at the battle of Crecy in 1346. It is said that a dragon banner was thrown over the Black Prince when he was unhorsed at Crecy to conceal and protect him while his enemies were beaten off. The future King Henry VII carried the dragon banner at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. This battle signalled the end of the War of the Roses between Lancastrian  and Yorkist factions and led to unification.

But the origins of the Red Dragon are also steeped in folklore and Arthurian legend. In folklore, the first dragon may have been the great red serpent which represented the Welsh god Dewi, who later metamorphosed into Wale’s mythical patron saint, David. And in Arthurian legend, a more romantic story tells of the vision of the wizard Merlin. At the time (early fifth century) the Romans had departed Britain but the Britons (the Celtic peoples who are the ancestors of modern Wales) then faced new invaders, the Saxons, led by their king Vortigern. In Merlin’s vision, two dragons, one red, the other white, fought an intense battle. Though at first, equally matched, eventually the Red Dragon (that of Welsh flags) defeated the White Dragon and drove it over the sea, away from Britain. At first, the meaning of Merlin’s vision was not understood but when Vortigern was killed by sword in battle and the throne passed to Uther Pendragon (the father of King Arthur) it was revealed.  The Red Dragon represented the victorious Britons and the White Dragon the Saxons.

The beloved Red Dragon has always represented the defiant Welsh nation, iconising Wale’s unique cultural and historic heritage as a proud and ancient nation that has long survived external threat. The Welsh dragon is often associated with the motto “Y Ddraig Goch a ddyry Gychwyn” – “The Red Dragon will show the way.”

So there you have it, a brief history of the Red Dragon. Oh, and by the way, my son also bought me a dragon, a red dragon, for my birthday. He’s sitting on top of my jewellery box guarding my precious gems! One can’t have too many dragons!

Copyright 2011 Anne Corke

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