Boudica – d. 60/61 – Norfolk, Britain

Britain

Trigger Warning: Rape

“She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees… Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her……”

Boudicca

The enduring image of Boudica, warrior queen of the Celts, needs no introduction. Fierce and heroic, this remarkable woman remains vivid in our imaginations today.

Boadicea Haranguing The Britons. John Opie, R.A. (1761-1807). Oil On Canvas.

Boadicea Haranguing The Britons. John Opie, R.A. (1761-1807). Oil On Canvas.

She was queen of the Iceni tribe in ancient Britain and her territory covered roughly the modern day county of Norfolk. She is described as having been tall with long red hair falling past her waist. Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio ‘generously’ describe her as possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women.

Boudica was the wife of Prasutagus, the Iceni king. Though Britain had been under Roman occupation for many years, the Iceni tribe had remained proudly independent, allies to Rome but not under Roman control. Prasutagus died a very wealthy man and in his will left his territory to both the Roman emperor (Nero) and his wife and two daughters.

Unfortunately for Boudica, the Romans did not recognise women’s inheritance. As Prasutagus had left no sons, the will was ignored and the Iceni kingdom annexed. The Roman army was brutal, taking the land by force and enslaving the local nobility. The terror did not stop there; Boudica herself was publicly flogged and her two daughters were raped by Roman soldiers.

Humiliated, abused and devastated, the Iceni sought help from neighbouring tribe the Queen_Boadicea2Trinovantes to organise a revolt. Boudica, who had lost so much and who was filled with rage at the Romans, was chosen as their leader.

Cassius Dio writes about an interesting episode in which Boudica acted as a kind of oracle or priestess, releasing a hare from the folds of her dress and interpreting the direction in which in ran as a positive omen. She also invoked Andraste, the ancient British goddess of victory, saying:

“I thank you, Andraste, and call upon you as woman speaking to woman … I beg you for victory and preservation of liberty.”

Boudica’s army first targeted Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex), which had been the Trinovantian capital but was now a Roman colony. The city was poorly defended and the furious Celts demolished it in two days. Commander Quintus Petillius Cerialis’s legion was destroyed, and he escaped with only a few cavalry.

The Celts next set their sights on Londinium (London). At the time, this city was only 20 years old, but a popular and busy centre of trade. The Roman Governor of Britain, Suetonius had heard about Boudica’s triumph in Colchester and was on his way to Londinium from Wales. Nervous and lacking numbers, Suetonius chose to order the Romans to abandon Londinium rather than attempt to defend it.

800px-Pictures_of_English_History_Plate_IV_-_Boadicea_and_Her_Army

Like Colchester, London was wiped out and burnt to the ground and any remaining settlers were slaughtered on sight. The rebel army led by Boudica next moved on to Verulanium (St Albans) and did the same.

Historians today estimate that between seventy and eighty thousand people were killed in the destruction of the three settlements at Colchester, London and St Albans. Boudica took no prisoners, and Tacitus writes that she was interested only in slaughtering as many Romans as possible. They also reclaimed the sacred spaces which had been taken from them, including the groves of Andraste.

While the rebels were still in St Albans, Suetonius was regrouping. He had called in every legion close enough and amassed an army of ten thousand. The experienced General then held firm at a location on the Roman road known as Watling Street and waited for Boudica’s army.

When the rebels came to attack, they had greater numbers, but when it came to combat skills and technique the Romans had them beaten. At first the Romans stood their ground, throwing volleys of javelins at the Britons who rushed at the Roman lines. Then they advanced in wedge formation at Boudica’s second wave.

Watling Street, Northamptonshire

Watling Street, Northamptonshire

Boudica famously rode a chariot into battle, with her daughters at her side. She also positioned lines of wagons and women at the back of the battlefield as a last line of defence. As the Romans came towards them, the terrified Britons attempted to escape, but were trapped by their own families and forced into the wagon ring where they were slaughtered.

Boudica died around this time, though accounts vary. Tacitus wrote that she poisoned herself rather than face capture, Dio says that she died of an illness and was given a queens burial. The crisis that the Celtic queen had caused in Britain shook Rome and the emperor Nero nearly considered abandoning Britain altogether.

Interestingly, Boudica’s rebellion was almost forgotten by history. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that her story became legend. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the poem Boadicea and it became fashionable to name ships after the fallen queen.

Ironically, a statue to commemorate Boudica stands next to Westminster bridge in London, the city she razed to the ground.


Pronunciation:

The name Boudica most probably derives from the Celtic word boudīka, meaning “victorious”, that in turn is derived from bouda, “victory” (cf. Irish bua (Classical Irish buadh), Buaidheach, Welsh buddugoliaeth).

The closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the ‘ow’ in “bow-and-arrow”. The modern English pronunciation is bo-dik-ah.


In fiction:

Books:

  • One of the viewpoint characters of Ian Watson’s novel Oracle is an eyewitness to her defeat.
  • Ruled Britannia is an alternate history novel by Harry Turtledove in which Shakespeare writes a play called Boudica.
  • The Doctor Who audio play The Wrath of the Iceni takes place during Boudica’s uprising against the Romans. Boudica is portrayed by Ella Kenion.
  • The 2012 vampire novel Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers depicts Boadicea as one of the two head vampires menacing Victorian Europe.Plays, Films and Television:
  • Bonduca, or the British Heroine is a 1695 musical play by Henry Purcell
  • Bonduca is a Jacobean tragi-comedy by John Fletcher. It was acted by the King’s Men c. 1613, and published in 1647.
  • Boadicea is a 1928 film, in which Boudica is portrayed by Phyllis Neilson-Terry.
  • Boudica (US title Warrior Queen) is a 2003 film written by Andrew Davies and starring Alex Kingston as Boudica.
  • Warrior Queen was a 1978 TV series, starring Siân Phillips as Boudica.
  • The Viking Queen is a 1967 adventure film set in ancient Britain, in which the role of ‘Queen Salina’ is based upon the historical figure of Boudica.
  • In the fictional world of Ghosts of Albion, ‘Queen Bodicea’ is one of three Ghosts who once were mystical protectors of Albion and assists the current protectors with advice and knowledge.
  • Television series Bonekickers dedicated an hour to Boudica in the episode named The Eternal Fire.

Video Games:

  • In 2013 video game Ryse: Son of Rome Boudica appears as a heavily fictionalized character.
  • She appears as a Rider-class Servant in the 2015 mobile game Fate/Grand Order.

Music:

Boudica has also been the primary subject of songs by Irish singer/songwriter Enya, Dutch soprano Petra Berger, Scottish singer/songwriter Steve McDonald, English metal band Bal-SagothFaith and the MuseMason and Róisín Murphy, and Dreams in the Witching House.

In Science:

In 2003 an LTR retrotransposon from the genome of the human blood fluke “Schistosoma mansoni” was named “Boudicca”.


References:

The AnnalsTacitus

Roman History – Cassius Dio


Image credits:

Queen Boudica by John Opie” by John Opie – Easy Art.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Boadicea2” by Anonymous – True Stories of Wonderful Deeds: Pictures and Stories for Little Folk.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Pictures of English History Plate IV – Boadicea and Her Army” by Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96)[1] – →This file has been extracted from another file: Pictures of English History – Plates I to IV.jpg.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Watling Street Northamptonshire” by Ian Rob.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

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2 thoughts on “Boudica – d. 60/61 – Norfolk, Britain

  1. I love seeing Boudicca in fiction. She does hold a lot of historical and mythological clout. I really rate the Manda Scott series too. I love the way she weaves that world together.
    I saw the chariot Alex Kingston road in the Andrew Davies adaptation in Colchester Castle too. Unfortunately they weren’t letting people actually get on it.

    Like

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