V is for Vortigern

Time to take a look at another of Wales semi-historical/mythological figures. However unlike King Arthur, historians seem to generally agree that Vortigern did indeed exist, though much of his true history remains hidden among the murky waters of mythology.

Vortigern was a warlord who lived at some point in the 5th  century. He was a leading figure among the  native Britons, but in battle against the Scots he was betrayed by his Anglo Saxon allies and was forced to flee to North Wales.

It was while in exile in Wales that some of the legends around Vortigern arose. It is said that he sought refugee in the valley of Nant Gwrtheyrn (which literally translates to The Valley of Vortigern).  However, whilst there, he was discovered by his enemy Ambrosius Aurelianus, who proceeded to purse him down to the sea where Vortigern was suddenly struck by lighting. He is now said to be buried some where within the valley.

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The beach at Nant Gwrtheyrn, the place of Vortigern’s death?

However the most prestigious tale of Vortigern is in fact entwined with Wales’s most famous symbol.

The Legend of the Red Dragon

It is said that after fleeing to North Wales, Vortigern came to Beddgelert and decided to build a new fortress on the slopes of Yr Aran, at a place called Dinas Emrys. However every morning Vortigern would come down to find the construction had somehow been destroyed. Seeking answers, Vortigern’s wizard told him to fine a young boy with on father and born of fairies. Of course in those days such boys were far easier to find, and Vortigern’s guards soon returned to their king with one such lad, called Myrddin Emrys, or Merlin for short.

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Dinas Emrys (to the left)

Vortigern’s wizard then told the King that he must now sacrifice the boy, but when Merlin heard this, he scoffed at the idea. Instead he showed Vortigern the real source of the constant collapses. In a hollow, underneath Dinas Emrys, were two great dragons, one red and one white, both were locked in vicious battle with one another. Vortigern eventually released the two dragons from within their hillside prison and their fight erupted over the forest and the nearby lake. Eventually the Red Dragon managed to slay the white one and Merlin explained that the White Dragon symbolized the Saxons and the Red Dragon represented Vortigern’s people, the native Britons, and this mean’t that one day the Britons would finally defeat the invading Saxons.

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The wooded valley of Dinas Emrys
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Llyn Dinas, where the White Dragon was slain

 

And too this day a Red Dragon has sat in the center of the Welsh flag

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If you enjoyed this tale feel free to write in the comments, or leave like and thanks for reading.

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1 Comment

  1. Love the history/legends and your photos. Reminds me of my childhood. I went to St George’s primary school in Holland Park, London and the dragon under the school caused a crack in the foundation because a child fed him chewing gum which glued his mouth closed, he got made and bashed into the ceiling. I believed it at the time – I was only 7.

    Liked by 1 person

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