14 March 2021

Dewi the Dragon: Guardian of Castle Harlech (and Coolest Dragon on Earth)

Harlech Castle was constructed atop a spur of rock next to the Irish Sea by Edward I of England to seal his victory over Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last sovereign Prince of Wales. Although the sea has retreated and no longer protects the castle a new guardian has recently arrived. Where water once protected Harlech, now it is fire. Dewi the Dragon, resplendent in his scaly coat of steel, is the new sentinel of the still magnificent medieval castle and guards the town’s inhabitants from harm.

The red dragon (y ddraig goch) has for centuries been the symbol of Wales and the Welsh - it can still be seen throughout the country every day wherever the nation's flag is flown.  It is thought to have been the standard of King Arthur, although its first appearance in writing comes from the Historia Brittonum written around 828CE. It also appears in the Mabinogion, collated in medieval times from the ancient narrative oral and written traditions of the Welsh. The list could go on but suffice it to say that the red dragon for many symbolizes all things Welsh.

Image Credit Flickr User Eddie Evans
There was no pressure, then, on artist Anthony Peacock, who was commissioned to create Dewi in 2010. However, the piece is a triumph, made from 78 square meters of steel sheets which were first cut in to scale shapes.  These were then welded on to a frame and polished, measuring in at 16 foot long, 11ft high and 10ft wide.  Finally a total of twelve coats of lacquer were applied.  All told almost 800 hours of work went in to fashioning this magnificent beast. If Llywelyn had had a dragon like this on side, the castle would quite probably never have been built.

Dragon Sculpture seen in Harlech
Image Credit Flickr User Pixellie
However, in 1282 his severed head would be set upon the city of London pillory for a day, crowned with ivy to mock the ancient Welsh prophecy which said that one day a Welshman would be crowned in London as king of the whole of Britain. Work on the castle began the same year. Poor Llywelyn’s head remained on the gate of the Tower of London for at least another 15 years.

Image Credit Flickr User Paul Jones
Ironically, 1485 would see Henry VII (aka Harri Tudur in Wales) crowned – the first Tudor king of England and the scion of a royal house of Welsh origin.  On his procession through London after victory at Bosworth he displayed the banner of the Welsh dragon.  For many he was seen as Y Mab Darogan – "The Son of Prophecy" who would free the Welsh from oppression. His coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, London in October 1485, 203 years after Llywelyn lost his head.

Image Credit Flickr User Sandy and Allan
Yet before this the castle succeeded in keeping the Welsh at bay and in their place - more or less.  There was a significant less between 1404-9. Then it fell to Owain Glyndwr, the last native Welshman to claim and hold the title Prince of Wales. During the War of the Roses it was held by the Lancastrians and was under siege for seven years – an event immortalized in the song Men of Harlech.  The War of the Roses would end with Edward VII on the throne and the Tudor Dynasty in control until 1603 with the death of Elizabeth I and the rise of the House of Stuart.

Image Credit Flickr User Harry and Rowena Kennedy
Harlech Castle was last used in armed conflict during the Civil War when it was the last castle in the either England or Wales to surrender to Parliamentary forces. That was in 1647, with the civil war coming to an end four years later. As centuries have worn on, many have assumed that the castle was built by the Welsh to defend against the English when in fact it was the other way around. Now, it unequivocally belongs to Wales although its use in warfare is hopefully at a permanent end.

Image Credit Flickr User Huw Harlech
The Dragon was named for the patron Saint of Wales, known in English as David and this makes him as Welsh as Welsh can be. However, some might say that as Dewi was created at Marche Studios, near Shrewsbury in (mock horror) England, then perhaps he is an English dragon rather than a Welsh one.  Yet Shrewsbury was quite possibly the site of the capital of the Kingdom of Powys, known to the ancient Britons as Pengwern. So, from what we know of Dark Age history and legend this would make Dewi Welsh through and through. Besides, when all is said and done, if you put dragon eggs in to an oven, you don’t get loaves, do you?

Image Credit Flickr User Sandy and Alan
He now stands at the entrance to Min-y-Don Holiday Home and Touring Park, which might make you think that poor Dewi has become some kind of trailer trash titan but the park has won many awards and is right next to the town’s golf course: Dewi is, if anything, something of a posh dragon.  As with many Welsh names which to English ears are just so many syllables – Min-y-Don translates in to something quite lovely – the sound of the sea or, alternatively, the edge of the waves.

Image Credit Flickr User Eddie Evans
And there he impassively stands, alert and ready to defend Harlech castle from any who dare to bear arms against it. Or perhaps he simply awaits the return of the man whose last resting place has never been a complete certainty: Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf  - Llywelyn, Our Last Leader.

Image Credit Flickr User Mike Hemming
First Image Credit Flickr User El Civ
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