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The leek is one of the oldest national symbols of Wales, but how did it become such an important emblem?

The leek became a national symbol of Wales after the Battle of Crécy when Welsh archers fought against French soldiers in a leek field in Northern France. The leek was worn in the caps of welsh people to remember the bravery of the archers which became an annual tradition on St David’s Day (1st March).

Keep reading to find out more about the story of how the leek became so important and to find out whether it’s leeks or daffodils that are more important today.

Why is the Leek a Symbol of Wales?

There are two different stories about how the leek became a national symbol of Wales and both are related to battles, although one is more likely than the other.

Leeks Worn To Identify Each Other During Battle

According to some legends, the leek became an emblem when St David advised Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd in North Wales between 655 – 682AD, to have his men wear a leek in the battle against the Saxons so that they could recognise one another. St David was said to be a big fan of leeks which is why he chose the vegetable.

However, Dr Juliette Wood, a professional folklorist at Cardiff University, casts doubt on this story, suggesting that the timelines don’t add up and that St David was a proponent of peace so a story relating to battle is unlikely1 (source: BBC).

A Battle in a Field of Leeks – The More Likely Story

A second, and more likely, reason that the leek became a symbol of Wales dates to 1346 and the Battle of Crécy in Northern France when English and Welsh soldiers were attacked by the French.

This is one of several battles where the victory of the English is attributed to Welsh archers2 (source: A. Chapman, The Hundred Years War (Part III), pp. 217–230, 2013). The stories say that Welsh archers, under the command of Edward the Black Prince who was Prince of Wales at the time, fought against foot soldiers in a leek field to secure victory.

The leek was worn in the caps of welsh people back home to remember the bravery of those that fought in the battle.

Why Do Welsh People Wear Leeks on St David’s Day?

After the Battle of Crécy, it became a long-standing tradition to wear a leek in your cap on St David’s Day (1st March) each year.

According to royal household accounts, the Tudors, a family of Welsh origin who occupied the throne of England between 1485 and 1603, instructed the household guard to wear a leek on St David’s Day. 

The tradition is even mentioned in the Shakespeare play, Henry V, written in 1599. In Act 4, Scene 7, a conversation between the Welsh Captain Fluellen and King Henry, who is of Welsh descent, goes like this:

Your Majesty says very true. If your Majesties
is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good
service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing
leeks in their Monmouth caps, which, your Majesty
know, to this hour is an honorable badge of the
service. And I do believe your Majesty takes no
scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s day.
I wear it for a memorable honor,
For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.

This is why welsh people may quote the phrase ‘And I do believe your Majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Davids’s day’. In the same play, one character forces another to eat leeks as punishment for mocking his Welsh accent.

However, the leek is still an important emblem for the country. It has been featured on the rear of the £1 coin along with the national emblems of other constituent countries of the United Kingdom.

Leek vs Daffodil 

In modern Wales, you are unlikely to see anyone wearing a leek for St Davids Day, other than school children and the Welsh national guard who wear it in their cap badges.

These days, most people favour the daffodil which is a more beautiful symbol of Wales. The daffodil is a symbol of Wales because it blooms just in time for March 1st which is St David’s Day, the national day of Wales.

Although the daffodil is more commonly seen, it’s a much more recent emblem and only gained popularity in 1911 when the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George (who had Welsh parents), advocated its use at the investiture of the Prince of Wales3 (source: J.S. Ellis, Welsh History Review, Vol. 18, Iss. 2, 1996).

Both symbols are still highly relevant today. The leek has featured on the £1 coin as a symbol of Wales and Welsh pupils often make both a leek and a daffodil in school to wear on St David’s Day.

Related Questions

When Were Leeks Bought to Wales?

Leeks are not native to Wales, they originated in Western Asia and were part of the diet of those who built the Egyptian pyramids4 (source: University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Leeks were bought to Wales during the middle ages which is usually considered to be between the 5th and 15th centuries.

Kieren is the founder and editor-in-chief of Wales Guidebook. Originally from rural Mid-Wales, he has lived all over the country from Cardiff to Wrexham. A true Welshman, Kieren created this site to share his passion for Wales and help others discover this beautiful country.