Fascinating Women from British History – Boudicca

Avenging Lost freedom –

Boudicca was from the Iceni tribe, their queen, in 60AD. The Iceni tribe would occupy the area we know today as Norfolk. At this time in history, the Romans had nearly conquered England. When Prasutagus, husband to Boudicca died he wanted half his land to go to his daughters and the other half he left to the Romans in the hope to placate them. The Romans decided to take it all and when Boudicca objected she was publicly flogged and her two daughters were raped multiple times. This led to a revolt by the tribe who were joined by the neighbouring Trinovantes (modern-day Essex) and began ransacking places of roman rule. The first major target was Camulodunum (Colchester). It is thought that over 7,000 people were killed by the rebellious forces. The same fate awaited Londinium and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans) before a final battle was made between the Romans and Boudicca’s army.

Froste, Peter; Sack of the Temple of Claudius, Colchester; Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service: Colchester Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sack-of-the-temple-of-claudius-colchester-2339

We do not know exactly where the confrontation happened,  what we do know is that Boudicca died and as there is no mention of her or her daughters being paraded through Rome as slaves it is assumed that they died either in battle or soon after. Some say Boudicca poisoned herself. It seems it will be one of history’s unanswered questions. 

An Illustration of Boudicca from the BBC.

Why is Boudicca in my list of troublesome women in history? 

Boudicca is a great example of one person’s terrorist is another’s a freedom fighter. She had had enough of being bullied by the invading Romans and decided to fight back. This led to her being an enemy to the Romans but a hero to her people and other tribes who were against Roman rule.

‘Avenging lost freedom – 

Most of what we know about Boudicca and the revolt against the authority of Rome comes from Tacitus, whose uncle was in England at the time and Cassius Dio. From these two accounts, we can piece together some of what happened, including what is presumed to be a speech given by the warrior queen before battle, saying that she was ‘avenging lost freedom….[and that it]...is a woman’s resolve.” (although this speech is most likely made up) One thing for certain is that being female made no difference. 

This was not a time or place where women were ‘weak and feeble’, the Celts made no distinction between male and female when it came to fighting [Matthews]. Females were trained in war like men. She would even have been used to having her requests and orders followed by men. Matthews goes on to explain that she would have been used to issuing orders and them being obeyed. It was the Romans who made a mistake by not taking her seriously. Adding to this, the fact that the whole race [celts]… is madly fond of war and they are high spirited and quick for battle [Strabs, Roman Traveller] – the Romans had turned this Queen into a vengeful champion of repressed people [Snow]. 

Mothers love– 

We have already seen that Boudicca was not weak, as the chronicler Gildas puts it, “a lioness defending her cubs”. She was to look after her daughter’s inheritance until they came of age/married. She could not forgive or ignore their brutal rape at Roman hands. The Romans had not only humiliated them but taken their virginity and tainted them forever, and of royal blood. It was an insult and injustice which was most likely what set Boudicca off on her rebellion along with the rest of her tribe.

LEGACY

Today Boudicca is seen as a symbol of justice, standing up to the bullying ways of Rome, defending her children and one of britain’s most iconic rulers, and a female at that!. I think the following quote explains it best- 

‘No other woman after her has left such a mark on British history. In terms of leadership, determination and ruthlessness. Not even Eleanor of Aquitaine, not Margaret of anjou…nor Elizabeth I possessed boudicca statue. She remains alone, a solitary pyre on which the hopes of British independence smoulder fitfully and were consumed utterly.

[Matthews]

PLACES

The George Hotel, Colchester – There is a glass pane in its basement which shows burnt red clay. Part of what is known as  Boudicca’s Destruction Horizon. There are also burnt artefacts on display at Colchester Castle. (for more head to https://fortheloveofhistory.home.blog/2020/01/01/temple-of-the-gods-to-hell-on-earth-the-story-of-colchester-castle/)

Verulamium Park, St Albans – the site of the Roman town which was attacked by Boudicca. (for more head to https://fortheloveofhistory.home.blog/2019/04/10/verulamium-a-roman-city-in-britain/)

MORE – 

Recommended reading – Boadicea (1988) by J. Matthews

Screen Portrayal – Only one real portrayal I can suggest (more for the entertainment value – Bolshy Boudicca, Horrible Histories

Sources:

Matthews, J. (1988) Boadicea. FIrebird Books; Dorset

Sealy, P. R. (1997) Boudican Revolt against Rome. Shire Publishing; Buckinghamshire

Snow, P. and D. (2004) Battlefield Britain. BBC Books; London

Anon (nd) The Life of BOudicca; Queen of the Iceni. Available from: https://www.history.co.uk/article/the-life-of-boudicca-the-warrior-queen-of-the-the-iceni [accessed 10/03/2022]
Vandreai, M (2018) QUeen BOudicaa; a life in Legend. Available from: https://www.history.co.uk/article/the-life-of-boudicca-the-warrior-queen-of-the-the-iceni  [accessed 10/03/2022]

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