The earliest sources of the story is attributed to a Welsh monk called Nennius in the ninth century 'Historia Brittonum', followed by two medieval texts: Geoffrey of Monmouth's “History of the Kings of Britain” and the Mabinogion, a famous Welsh collection of medieval manuscripts.
All three texts are believed to be based on much earlier tales and oral tradition.
The combined stories can be summarised as follows.
Llud and Llefelys are brothers, and kings of Britain and France respectively. When three plagues descend upon the British kingdom, Llud seeks out his brother for help. The second plague is described as a terrifying shriek, and Llefelys tells his brother that the source of the shriek is a dragon being attacked by a foreign dragon. In order to rid the country of the plague, Llud needs to dig a pit in the centre of the land and put a cauldron of mead in it. The two fighting dragons will fall into the pit, drink the mead, and fall asleep.
All happens as Llefelys predicts, and Llud buries the dragons in Snowdonia.
Later, Vortigern, a Briton king who was ousted by the invading Picts, attempts to build a castle in Snowdonia, but every night the castle walls were torn down. Advised by his druids to find a boy without a father and sprinkle the castle walls with his blood, Vortigern finds the child and the boy asks him to dig a pit underneath the castle, hence releasing the dragons. The king obeys, the dragons fly, and after a fierce battle, the red dragon defeats the white. The child then explains that the red dragon represents the Welsh, and the white dragon represents the English.
The child predicts that the Britons will rise and drive away the intruders.
The child was Myrddin Emrys, better known today as Merlin
This story already depicted the Welsh by means of a red dragon and in combination with the Arthurian imagery of the golden dragon, ultimately led to the sustained use of the dragon in Welsh heraldry. The story contains many elements that are similar to other tales throughout Europe:
eyewitness reports of dragons fighting in the air, drugging dragons with alcohol
and imprisoning them, were common folklore themes.
The interesting element in the Welsh story, however, is the release of the dragon rather than the many stories of dragon-slaying heroes which abound in folklore around the globe: the Near Eastern St George, the ancient Greek Heracles, the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, the Norse Siegfried, and even Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins – dragons exist to be slain by heroes, not released.
This is to a large degree due to the Christian ideology underlying much of European folklore:
in Christian thought,
the serpent was rapidly equated with the devil, and so the dragon became a key symbol of evil.
Heroes slaying dragons thereby symbolised the Christian god overcoming the devil.
Dragon imagery originated in the East and there, unlike in Europe, the dragon was and is a positive symbol, often associated with wealth and power. It is impossible to trace precisely why the positive rather than the destructive image of the dragon prevailed in Wales as it did in the East, while it did not in other European stories. What we can tell is that the Welsh dragon is unique in Europe in its positive role in the formation of a nation.
From legend back to reality
The ending of the red dragon tale is incomplete what happened to the red dragon afterwards.
Did it just fly away?
The sources are silent – the dragon has played its role
in predicting the future of the Welsh,
and disappears from the narrative,
Maybe our adventure can come up with some questions,
and maybe even some