The White Dragon Flag of the English
The Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain began in the 5th century AD. The most famed of the early migrants were Hengest and Horsa who arrived with their warriors in three ships. In the following years many warriors and settlers crossed the sea and settled lowland Britain from East to West. They came from the Engle (English), the Seax (Saxons) and the Jutes. From the Jutes came the people of Kent and the people of the Isle of Wight and the mainland opposite Wight. From the Saxons came the East Saxons (Essex) and the South Saxons (Sussex) and the West Saxons (Wessex). From Angeln came the East Engle (East Anglia), Middle Engle (English Midlands), Mercians (Mercia), and all the Northumbrians (North of the Humber), which included those now known as the Lowland Scots.
The Engles (English) were the dominant group and by the 9th century the settlers had merged into one English identity. The English gave their name to the land they lived in (Englalond) and the language they spoke (Englisc), which has evolved into modern English. It was those writing in Latin who called the English Angels and Anglo-Saxons.The settlers were closely related peoples – so similar in appearance and culture that they were able to merge into one English identity. Later they absorbed closely related Danish and other Scandinavian settlers.
The White Dragon
Both the English and the Welsh adopted the dragon as their battle flag. The dragon of the Britons can still be seen in the Red Dragon of the Welsh flag while for the English it was the White Dragon that was to prove most enduring. The Dragon was flown by Harold II, when he destroyed the Norse army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 and it was the banner under which he and his warriors fought to the death, three weeks later defending their homeland.
In the following centuries the flag of St George was adopted as the flag of England, which it still is. However, in modern times, when our country is seeing much change and turmoil, the White Dragon flag is being revived as the flag of the English. It is a symbol of our identity, our common history and of the kinship of all the Anglo-Saxon people.
Various accounts of the times record battles between opposing armies of the "Celtic" British and the English, each carrying their own Dragon Battle Standards. The dragon of the Britons can still be seen in the Red Dragon of the Welsh flag. For the English it was the White Dragon emblem that was to prove most enduring. Legend has it that the defeat of their Celtic enemies by the early English was foretold in a prophecy. It goes that in an underground lake slept two dragons. The Britons were represented by a red dragon and the English by a white dragon. When they awoke they started fighting and the red dragon was overcome by the white one, symbolically representing the victory of the Anglo-Saxons over their Celtic adversaries.
The Dragon was the emblem of Wessex, the territory of the West Saxons. It is the banner under which King Alfred the Great defeated the great Viking Army at the Battle of Edington and it was the banner carried by the mighty King Athelstan when he smashed the combined armies of the Scots, Welsh, Norse and Irish at the Battle of Brananburgh in 937. The Dragon was flown by Harold II, when he destroyed the Norse army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 and it was the banner under which he and his warriors fought to the death, three weeks later protecting their homeland from invasion. The Dragon flag of the English is shown on the battle scene of the tapestry sewn by Englishwomen to commemorate the battle.
Moves are now under way to once again raise the White Dragon flag, not as the flag of England, but as the flag of the ethnic-English community within England. We need to see our banner flown as a signal to everyone else that although we may well have been forgotten about by our beloved leaders we most certainly have not gone away and we are once again finding our voice.
In a world with few certainties this flag tells us who we are and from where we have come. It imparts a sense of permanence and continuity. It is a symbol of our identity, our common history, tradition and of the kinship of all the Anglo-Saxon people. It is also a stark reminder that in multi-cultural England unless we embrace these things then we will surely die.
Look for the sign of the White Dragon and you will find a friend...
Dragons and things.......
The association of the English people with dragons stretches back millennia, way back to the dark ages and beyond. They weren’t called the Dark Ages for nothing and as is the case for a great deal of history from this time much is open to speculation and conjecture. What is certain is that the early English adopted the Dragon as their battle standard.
The ancestors of the English people – the Angle, Saxon and Jutish tribes first encountered the Romans a century before the birth of Christ. The Rhine and the Danube became the northern frontiers of the Roman Empire and while the legions had conquered much of the known world, the “barbarian” Germanic tribes of northern Europe, they could never subdue. It is plausible that around this time the early English tribes adopted the battle flag of their Roman enemies who were known to fly the Dragon Standard. It was customary for the victors on the battlefield to take the standard of their defeated foe and although the northern tribes both won and lost many battles they were never conquered. The Red Dragon of the Welsh traces it’s existence back along a similar route to the interaction of the conquered British with their Roman masters. This is one theory but our association with dragons may go back even further. From the very earliest times the English spread from their continental homelands in boats with dragons heads on their prows and early English folklore tells us of heroes such as Beowolf and Sigurd and their battles with dragons. Estimating the dates of the origins of these legends is impossible but the English were a race of people centuries before they had a unified homeland and it is certain that both sagas far pre-date the existence of what we now call England.
So what did the earliest Dragon standards look like? The shape and design of the early standards are lost in the mists of time but if we take the Viking Raven banner as a reference it is likely that there would not have been any unifying shape or size. It would have varied from tribe to tribe and place to place. What is certain is that the appearance of these Dragon standards evolved over time. The Dragon standards from the time of the English migration would have been different from the time of the Norman conquest and these likewise would have been different from the those used up to the early middle ages (it is worth noting that the present day Welsh Dragon only dates from the late 1950’s.) To modern eyes some of them may not have even resembled what we would now days call a flag and would have been more akin to what we would call a wind sock with the dragon pinned to the staff through it’s nostrils and front paws. They may well have been designed to whistle eerily as the wind blew through them in order to spread unease in the enemy ranks in the calm before battle. Some say that we shouldn’t be calling it a dragon at all and instead the early English battle standard should be referred to as a Wyvern. I would certainly not go along with this. Wyvern is a Norman/French word and is not a word our ancestors would have ever used. “Wyverns” only came about due to later Norman heraldry and so have nothing to do with us (and to me is also a great argument for the modern White Dragon having four legs. Why do we want to use Norman words?). To our ancestors a 2-legged dragon was just a dragon, just as a 2-legged dog would still have been a dog. In English literature, Beowulf fought a fire-breathing dragon, not a wyvern. Sigurd was a dragon slayer, not a wyvern slayer and the Anglo-Saxon chronicle speaks of fiery dragons in the sky and not fiery wyverns. In English folklore dragons come in many shapes and sizes, with or without wings and with legs varying from between none at all up to six. Possibly the quinisential early English Dragon was the “Wyrm” of folklore which had no wings and no legs.
In later years it became the custom for the personal banners of the English Kings to be interlaced with gold and jewels in order to reflect the wealth and power of the individual rulers (this would not have been an option open to the roaming war bands who first splashed up our shores in the very early days) but ever since Nennius (who even then was drawing on far earlier sources) in his, Historia Brittonum, wrote of the the early English being represented by a White Dragon it was an asssociation that stuck through many years.
When King Harold’s dragon standard fell onto the blood soaked ground of Sandlake Hill at the Battle of Hastings the long connection between the English people and dragons may well have ended. It was in the victorious Norman’s interest to remove as many signs of English cultural identity as they possibly could, and they started with the English flags. The Dragon Standards that the English had carried before their armies for possibly the last milenia were done away with and replaced by the more continental Cross of St George. The English Dragons very nearly disappeared, but not quite. They lived on, all be it, in a different form in the heraldic symbols of Wessex, the cradle of the English nation. With the ending of the Norman line the English dragons once again start to reappear as the Battle standard of the English armies. In later years during the War of the Roses the Lancastrians were identified as being the Saxon half of the opposing armies and so on medieaval manuscripts were represented by the White Dragon. In modern times the Arch Bishop of Canterbury wears a jeweled clasp on his enthronement vestments. The design on the clasp bears the image of a White Dragon, representing the people of England and a Red Dragon representing the people of Wales greeting each other in peace across the Cross of Canterbury.
It would appear that the people of England, the Anglo-Saxon people of England have for millennia used the Dragon as a token of their common identity and as a rallying symbol to carry before them in troubled times. Through one route or another it has been with the
White Dragon that this association has been most enduring, and that association continues up to the present day.
The White Dragon on the web – some things we found…..
Thus within the original boundaries of the Roman Empire this left the Red Dragon as the symbol of authority only in the extreme West (Britain) and in the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. The Red Dragon survived as a symbol of the Byzantine Empire until Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1465.Taking advantage of the newly weakened state of Britain these shores came under increasing threat of invasion by the Saxons from Denmark. Though outside the Roman Empire the Saxons had because of their contact with Roman Forces acquired the dragon as a symbol of their own. They however had preferred a White Dragon. The next six hundred years saw battles and rivalry between the forces of the Celts (with their Red Dragons) and the Saxons (with their White Dragons). Around these two warring forces grew the legends of Merlin and King Arthur. Eventually a line was drawn by the Saxon King Offa of Mercia who built a Dyke separating what was Celtic Wales (and the Red Dragon) from Saxon England (and their White Dragon). The last time the White Dragon was seen as a national Standard in Britain was at the Battle of Hastings where on the Bayeux Tapestry the White Dragon is seen in the same scene in which King Harold is struck down.
The History of the Welsh Flag
"At any rate it became their standard, and it was beneath a White Dragon that Harold, the last English king fell, under the arrows of the Normans"
Flame Bearers of Welsh History - Owen Rhoscomyl
"The Welsh fought under a "golden" banner and the adoption of a White Dragon by the men of Sussex may have been merely a matter of useful distinction between the opposing forces"
The Dragons - Ernest Ingersoll
"...the readers attention must still be diverted to the victorious Germanic race and the conquered Celtic race, he must view the white standard of the Saxons and Angles gradually driving the red standard of the Kymri back towards the west...the national poems of the Cambrians designated the two hostile standards, the Red Dragon and the White Dragon"
History of the Conquest of England by the Normans - Augustin Thierry
"In their subsequent contests with the Saxons, our British ancestors always had a red dragon painted upon their standards; while the colourless banner of their opponents bore the figure of the White Dragon"
The National Magazine - Abel Stevens
"...it was then that he discovered that the Red Dragon of the Cymry had joined issue with the White Dragon of Wessex"
Collections Historical & Archaeological Relating to Monmouthshire
"Owen Glyndwr's war standard in 1401 showed a Golden Dragon and the bard Dafydd tells us that they sang that it would overthrow the White Dragon"
The Princes and Principality of Wales
The clasp that holds the two sides of the cope together bears a jewel made by jeweller, Rhiannon of Tregaron. The design shows the white dragon of England and the red dragon of Wales greeting each other in peace across the cross of Canterbury.
The Arch Bishop of Canterbury web site
The mysterious White Horse is carved into the chalk hillside above the village of Uffington. Various interpretations of the stylised carvings are possible; some believe that it might be a dragon rather than a horse.
The Uffington White Horse (many Anglo-Saxon representations of dragons resembled horses. There are many accounts of it’s origins including that it was cut to commemorate King Alfred’s victory over the Danes and also that it was cut by Hengist, leader of the 5th century Anglo-Saxons. It is interesting that the hill just below the carving is called Dragon Hill)
The Celtic dragon represents sovereignty, power or a chief, such as Pendragon, the Celtic word meaning 'chief'. The Red Dragon of Cadwallader or Cadwaller is the emblem of Wales - 'upon a mount vert, a dragon passant, wings expanded and endorsed gules - the Red Dragon Dreadful' The Saxons had the white dragon as a royal standard. In early Britain it depicted supreme power.
In this period the banner, the sign in textile, was a crucial part of the battle. It was not to be captured for that signified defeat. There were royal standards, banners which represented, like the glove, the person of the king. Pagan Vikings—and even Christian Anglo-Saxon kings—fought under a dragon standard.
The Welsh, as a distinct people, may be said to date from about the seventh century, when the advance of the Saxons to the Bristol Channel and the Mersey isolated them from the rest of Celtic Britain. The 'Historia Brittonum,' of about 800 A.D. (traditionally ascribed to the scholar Nennius), which drew on earlier sources, described a Red Dragon as the symbol of the British people in their wars against the White Dragon of the Saxons.
With the relative safety of the line gone, the Huscarls formed a ring around the king. With the king were the standards of England; the Dragon standard of the line of Cerdic, the ancient House of the kings of Wessex; and the fighting man, the personal marker of Harold Godwinsson, worked with silver and gold thread upon in red and white Byzantine silk by Edith, his wife.
Whet the bright steel,
Sons of the White Dragon!
Kindle the torch,
Daughter of Hengist!
Sir Walter Scott - Author of Ivanhoe
A dragon standard was taken on the Third Crusade by Richard I in 1191. A dragon was borne by the English army at the battle of Lewes in 1216 and later Henry III had a dragon standard made to be placed in the re-built Abbey at Westminster. Used by Edward I, Edward III at the battle of Crécy 1346, Henry V at the battle of Agincourt 1415, and at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which it was carried in state to St Paul’s Cathedral. Henry VII displayed the red dragon of Cadwallader, from whom he claimed descent, on the Tudor colours of white and green. Until this time it was probably golden. The supporters of the English royal arms were a lion and a dragon, but the latter was replaced by a unicorn for Scotland by the Stuarts. The dragon reappeared briefly as a supporter of the arms of the Commonwealth under Cromwell.
"In the year 742 a great battle was fought at Burford in Oxfordshire, and the Golden Dragon, which like the White Dragon was the standard of Wessex was victorious over Ethelbald, the King of Mercia"
A Study of Serpent Symbolism in All Countries And Ages - M. Oldfield Howey
Anyway, I’d like to add I’m more inclined to believe that Dragon standards have an even older origin than the Romans, in Britain or Germany, when one considers the prevalence of ‘dragon- slayer’ myths, it is likely that some of these old heroes adopted the dragon as their symbol.
Whence came the red dragon of Cadwaladar? Why was the Welsh dragon in fables of Merddin (Merlin), Wennius, and Geofrey described as red, while the Saxon 'fenris' was white?
Battles and rivalry between the forces of the Celts and the Saxons continued until eventually in the eighth century, a line was drawn by the Saxon King Offa of Mercia who built a Dyke separating what was Celtic Wales (and the Red Dragon) from Saxon England (and their White Dragon). The people of Wales would have to wait for the Tudors to re-establish any claim to the throne of Britain. It is significant, therefore, at Bosworth Field in 1485, the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr was carried by Henry Tudor in his defeat of Richard III.
In the Historia Brittonum of around 800 A.D. the dragon is seen as a symbol of national independence in the story of the red dragon battling with the white dragon of the Saxon over the green fertile lands. You can see the White Dragon representing the Saxons on the Bayeaux Tapestry which of course illustrates the Norman invasion of 1066 and conquest of the Saxons. The Saxons did not get a chance to flee west into Wales.
One author interprets “pursuing a dragon” as a poetical description of a campaign against the Saxons or Welsh, who used a dragon banner.
This alludes to the Vikings referring to their armed campaigns in England as “pursuing a dragon”
The English standard was the dragon, shown lying on the ground in the scene depicting Harold's death. Thought to have derived from the figure of the dragon encountered by Trajan's legions in Dacia, it may be the origin of the red dragon of Wales.
In historic times, the Roman soldiers in England carried images or pictures of dragons as ensigns in their wars with the native Britons. If these were mainly white that fact might account for the whiteness of the emblems used by the 'Saxon' armies of the South (Sussex), with which, after the Roman troops had quit England, the west-central kingdom, Wessex, was incessantly in conflict.
It is difficult to imagine the skyline bare of its presence, but on the 14th of October, 1066 it was not a many-towered abbey that broke the cold horizon, but the ominous sight of Harold's Saxon shield wall with the dragon banner of Wessex and his own personal banner of the Fighting Man, flying in the stiffening breeze of a bleak October morning.
The two "dragon" banners here are supposedly the "Dragon of Wessex" Harold's banner as the earl of Wessex. His personal standard the "Fighting Man" is not depicted. It is described as jewelled and was sent as a gift to the pope by William after the battle. The first "dragon" is going down with its bearer - out of sequence if they are meant to be the same (or else the standard is picked up by another housecarle when the original bearer goes down). The "dragon" is a windsock, patterned after Carolingian types, which in turn derived from the Roman.
This corresponds to pre-800 BC, for the Etruscans had arrived by then. We're clearly dealing with the Gaul migration (i.e. "Hallstatt" Celts). The question is, did the Cymbry of Wales originate from the Danish branch of Cimmerians, or from the Italian branch from Umbria/Venetia? Could the red colour of the Welsh dragon indicate Venetia, since the Tyrol symbol (north of Veneto) is a red dragon-like phoenix, while the Anglo-Saxon dragon is depicted as a white one?
The boy says that the red dragon symbolized the people of Vortigern and the white dragon symbolizes the Saxons. Which symbolizes that in the future, the Vortigern, who are today called the Welsh, would fight the Saxons and drive them to the edge of their country and out of their land in 5th century AD, many years later.
There is a medieval map of the English "heptarchy", a period where there were seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms at war with each other. This map, made I believe in the 12th Century after the heptarchy period is illustrated with banners of the kingdoms. Those shown for Essex, Kent and Sussex appear to be very similar to their "county standards" today, while East Anglia has three crowns on a white background, Mercia appears to have a white dragon of some kind.
One of the British leaders after the departure of the Romans was Vortigern (Gwyrtheryn of Welsh legend), who may have been a native of the Welsh borders. Certainly the kings of Powys claimed him as an ancestor. It was Vortigern who is blamed for inviting Saxon mercenaries into Britain to help maintain order in the period following the departure of Roman troops. When the money ran out to pay the mercenaries, they rebelled and over the course of several centuries, took over control of large sections of Britain from the Romano-British. Just to confuse matters the Saxons also liked the idea of a dragon (which they saw when fighting romans cohorts in Europe) and had adopted the white dragon as their symbol.
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 fulfilment of that prophecy).
'The Red Dragon signifies our people of Britain. For a long time he shall suffer woe and be driven into hiding by the White Dragon, who signifies the Saxons whom you have invited into the Island. For a little space the Red Dragon shall conquer, when King Arthur rules this land: but when he passes into Avalon, the White Dragon shall triumph wholely, and the Saxons shall rule all Britain. Yet at the last Arthur shall return, and the Red Dragon of Wales conquer the White and set his country free.
Wales is symbolised by a red dragon. In the Mabinogion the tale of Lludd and Llewelys speaks of the struggle between this red dragon and the white dragon. It was long ago in the days of the Saxon invasions that this story takes place and it is no wonder that the white dragon is the invader, the Saxons, come to battle the red.
As the symbolic struggle comes to a close, the two opposing dragons become drunk with mead. It is in this drunken state that they are both buried in a large stone coffin and placed to rest in the centre of the island of Britain. The story goes that so long as the pair remain buried beneath Oxford the island will be protected from invasion. The dual burial is a symbol of the latent power within the combined strength of the Anglo-Saxons people. Therefore the double burial is key to their reconciliation. The bloody relations have been calmed and the dragons wait to rise together in protection of the island.
The White Horse was the symbol of the invading Saxons. This sort of symbolism is also indicated by references to the British Red Dragon and Saxon White Dragon of the text of Nennius.
The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom: the two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, our people shall rise and drive away the Saxon race from beyond the sea, whence they originally came.
England has many flags, each representing each county, that date back to the Anglo Saxon invasion, with dragons being a popular theme. The current flag of England is the flag of Saint George, the 'dragon slayer'. The flag consists of a red cross on a white background and was first worn by the English King Richard 'The Lionheart' Plantagenet and his English Knights on the Third Crusade in the 12th century. When the Crusaders returned back to England, they replaced England's first flag, which was the Anglo Saxon 'White Dragon' flag with the Saint George. The white dragon flag consisted of a white dragon on a blood red background. Even though the Saint George flag is the official flag of England, the 'White Dragon Flag' is still in use and is still very popular amongst the English who some of which would like to have it re instated as the official flag of England.
The White Dragon Flag is reputedly an Anglo-Saxon flag with historic associations for pre-Norman England. The White Dragon arrived with the Angle, Saxon and Jutish raiders attacking Celtic Britain during the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Centuries. It is believed to feature on the Bayeux Tapestry. The White Dragon Flag is not used in any official capacity and was phased out of popular use.
In pagan times the Mercians fought under the banner of the white dragon. This remained in use during the Christian period as well.
One of the most ordinary Anglo-Saxon sculptures," he remarks, "is that of a dragon. All sorts of Anglo-Celtic work bear this figure."
Q: Dear Mr. Cornwell, I have been an avid reader of your books for many a year and read "The Last Kingdom" with the usual enjoyment. As something of an Anglo-Saxon enthusiast, I was interested in your description of Alfred's Wessex flag as a white dragon on a green background. I have seen reference to the Wessex flag as a white dragon on a red background and of a golden dragon on a red background. But I cannot find details of the green background you mention. I've talked to some other Anglo-Saxon enthusiasts and they aren't sure of the origin of the green background either. I would much appreciate if you could tell me the source of where you found this information if you have it at hand anywhere. Keep up the superb work and I look forward to reading "The Pale Horseman".
A: Honestly don't have a clue. I've got it in a notebook, so I copied it down from somewhere, but as I keep explaining (and apologising) I rarely note my sources because they aren't really relevant to an historical novelist. I'll keep an eye out though, and if I come across the reference again I'll make sure to let you know.
This refers to a question posed to the best selling novelist Bernard Cornwell who also has a reputation for his research and historical accuracy
Two images toward the bottom of this section also bear mentioning. A pair of small roundels containing a red dragon, representing the Welsh, and a white dragon, representing the Saxons… For the Yorkists the red dragon represented Edward IV, and the white dragon the Lancastrians. The identification of Lancastrians and Saxons is made further along in the manuscript, where Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI are all bordered in Saxon yellow alone.
This refers to a 15th century heraldic manuscript.
A white dragon was the original pagan banner of Marcia; it remained in use during the Christian period as well.
Various accounts of the times record many battles between armies carrying the Celtic British Red Dragon Banner (now the Welsh Dragon) and the White Dragon Flag of the Saxons, Angles and Jutes (the English Dragon).
The White Dragon of the English probably began as a rallying symbol on the battlefiled. Attached to a spear or pole it would have possibly been a windsock type design that could have made a noise. Imagine many of them! But the White Dragon of the English is no longer a far forgotten emblem on a forgotten battlefield. It is fast becoming a symbol of the English alongside the Cross of St George. But it is less religious. It represents the pride and resilience of the English people. It is truly a symbol for our times. Its appeal will continue to grow.
Icons of England Website