BOADICEA

Mother -- Queen -- Warrior
Statue of Boadicea by Thomas Thornycroft
presented to the City of London by his son and placed near the
British Houses of Parliament in 1902 by the London County Council
At first glance, it seems one of history's little ironies that this statue should be found in London, of a women who more than 2000 years ago led an army that laid siege to and practically destroyed this very city.  Not so strange, however, when we consider that she was not fighting her fellow countrymen, but was leading a revolt against the Roman invaders.
Boadicea Haranguing the Britons
by H.C. Selous (c. 1840)
(her ill-fated daughters at her feet)
A lot of what we think we know about Boadicea is legend.  Plain and simple.  We do not know when or where she was born, who her parents were or even exactly where she came from.  We don't know her correct name, this is merely the version I have settled on here.  We also don't know how and when she died, or where she was buried.  Considering what we do know, the common assumption that she committed suicide is probably not far off the mark.

The only physical description we have comes from Dio Cassius, a Roman senator who was also an enthusiastic chronicler.  Alas, is it doubtful that he ever saw Boudicea with his own eyes as he gives her an appearance commonly ascribed to Celtic women of the time ... tall, strong boned, scowling creatures with long red hair ... the description of her voice as being notably harsh and unlovely is especially suspect in light of the fact that unlovely, "mannish" attributes are often ascribed to women who forget "their place" in male-dominated societies (Mrs. Thatcher is a recent example of this).  One must keep in mind that the perspective of the Roman chroniclers was from the point of a totally male-dominated society, where a woman was the property of her male relatives, from birth until death.  This, by the way, was an alien concept in traditionally matriarchal Celtic society.

Boadicea was certainly of royal birth; this we know from the writings of Tacitus (see link at end of last page), the Roman historian who was her contemporary (and from whose terse style of writing we get the word 'taciturn').  She lived in the middle of the first century AD, when Britain was overrun with Roman invaders.  Somewhere in what today is called East Anglia.

She was the mother of two daughters (there might have been other children--history does not tell us), the widow of the Iceni King Prasutagus who, upon his death, had left half of his kingdom (and considerable riches) to the Roman emperor, the other half to his daughters (thus Boadicea became the regent for her young children).  A common practise among nobles of his day -- placate the crown while protecting your heirs.  Alas, the local representative of the emperor, namely, Procurator Catus Decianus, chief financial minister of the British provices and an especially odious person, was not satisfied with this arrangement and had his troups seize not only the estate of the late king but also those of other Iceni nobles.  They went about this is an especially inhumane and brutal manner, it is recorded history that Boudicea was publicly flogged and her two young daughters, heiresses to their father's legacy, were raped.

Even Tacitus was moved to condem the vicious acts of his countrymen in his writings.  Acts clearly devised to break the proud Iceni spirit.  Was it perhaps because the Iceni were especially freedom-loving and had opposed Roman rule wherever possible?  The chroniclers tell us not.  But rather than break their spirits, these excesses of brutality only rallied the people behind their Queen and against the invaders.

The chroniclers tell of three great speeches that Boadicea made to call her people to arms.  While there is undoubtedly truth in this, they go on to put words into her mouth.  There are no eyewitness accounts handed down to us, so let it suffice to know that she accomplished what no-one had tried before ... not only her own but other tribes as well  followed her against the Romans.

It might be of interest to note that according to the Roman chroniclers, women fighting side by side with their men was not at all uncommon in the Britain of that time.  But Boadicea not merely fought alongside the men, she led them into battle ... an army of 120,000!
-- NEXT --

The destruction of Londinium and the death of 80,000 Britons
Mata Hari ... did she or didn't she?
Legends & Faery Tales Index
This page and background reated in celebration of
Women's History Month, March 2001, by Valkyrie Grant.
Images copyrighted to the original copyright holders.