The Red Dragon flag of Wales is the oldest flag in the world (the second oldest is Denmark's). Some say the Romans brought the Red Dragon here, some say that it grew out of the Druids' veneration of the serpent or dragon (Wales was a Druid stronghold) and some say that it is an echo of the dragon legends to be found in the mythology of many lands across the world, surviving in just two of them - Wales and China.
There is one historical certainty - the Dragon has been entwined with Wales since the very birth of the nation it now symbolises. Wales as a separate nation began to emerge in the 6th and 7th centuries from among the Britons pushed into what is now Wales by the invading Saxons and it is about then that later writings attribute the dragon to Wales (the Taliesin poems, for example, have several references to Welsh leaders as "dragons".
But where did it come from? The Romans used the dragon as the standard of the cohort in the same way they used the eagle as the standard of the legion. In the 4th Century, Ammianus Marcellinus wrote of "the dragons woven of purple cloth..." But the Latin "purpureus" can denote many shades, from red to blackish, so it is possible that the Roman dragon was red.
That none too reliable mediaeval historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, has it that Uthr Pendragon had a vision of "a ball of fire spreading forth in the likeness of a dragon". He learnt from Merlin that this meant he would become King of the Britons. He had a "golden" dragon made, which he carried about with him and which he bequeathed to his son, Arthur. But again, the description could be misleading. There are references in Bardic writing to "eur rut" and "rhuddaur" suggesting "red gold" (in fact one version of Geoffrey's history refers to Uthr's standard as "al of reade golde").
At one time, the Saxons had a dragon too, a white one, and legend has it that in Eryri (Snowdonia) there was a battle between the two, the White Dragon winning at first then losing as the Red Dragon found renewed strength. This was supposed to foretell a time when the Welsh would drive out the Saxon invaders (perhaps their survival as a separate people against heavy odds is a sort of fulfillment of that prophecy).
According to bardic legends, the Red Dragon was the flag of the seventh century Welsh king, Cadwaladr, about whom not a lot is known but who seems to have been a great military leader with his base in Gwynedd. His reputation was such that seven centuries later Henry Tudor would evoke his name and unfurl Cadwaladr' Red Dragon once again.
When he became king, Henry placed the Welsh Dragon as a supporter to the Royal Coat of Arms where it remained until it was removed by James I on the grounds that Wales no longer existed (the English lion, though, appears twice on the royal arms). Ever since then, not one English monarch has made any move to rectify this gross insult to the Welsh - not that you'll find any mention of that in the nation's school history books!
Quand tout renaît à l'espérance