Cartimandua lived around the same time as the more famous Celtic queen Boudica, during the second Roman conquest of Britain. While Boudica’s circumstances forced her to fight back against Roman occupation, Cartimandua enjoyed a generally friendly and profitable relationship with Rome.
Ruler of the Brigantes tribe in northern England, Cartimandua was queen in her own right (not through her husband or son). She came to power at a very turbulent time for Iron Age Britain, as the Emperor Claudius had invaded in 43. The less developed native Celts had never faced anything like the Roman army and were quickly subdued.
Either Cartimandua’s father or the queen herself chose to co-operate with the Romans rather than revolt. As a result, the Brigantes enjoyed wealth and protection. Among the Britons who did revolt was Caractacus, king of the Catuvellauni tribe. After his resistance was defeated in Wales, Caractacus fled to seek sanctuary from Cartimandua – who promptly handed him over to the Roman’s in chains.
This even further cemented her loyalty to Rome, as Caractacus was bought back to Rome for Claudius’ triumphal parade and Cartimandua was richly rewarded.
The queen was married to a man named Venutius, who became a figurehead of the British resistance after the capture of Caractacus. Whether for political or personal reasons, Cartimandua divorced him and quickly remarried his armour-bearer Vollocatus instead. She and Venutius became sworn emenies.
In 57, Cartimandua seized Venutius’ family and held them hostage – but this would not stop him. He built up a resistance army to make war against Cartimandua and the Roman invaders. The Roman army had anticipated this and sent units to assist the queen, enabling her to retain her throne.
However, Venutius simply bided his time. In 69 the Roman empire was in turmoil due to civil war. Taking advantage of this instability, Venutius launched abother attack. This time, there weren’t enough troops to protect Cartimandua, and her only choice was to flee, leaving Venutius to usurp her.
After this episode, Cartimandua disappears from historical record.
The bulk of what we know about Cartimandua comes from the Roman historian Tacitus, who describes her as ‘treacherous’ for handing Caractactus to the Romans, and sexually wanton for divorcing her royal husband in favour of a common soldier.
Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine features Cartimandua as a main character.
“Map of the Territory of the Brigantes” by England_Celtic_tribes_-_North_and_Midlands.png: self-createdderivative work: Jpb1301 (talk) – England_Celtic_tribes_-_North_and_Midlands.png.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
“Cartimandua” by Francesco Bartolozzi (publisher/printer; printmaker; Italian; British; Male; 1728 – 1815)