Boadicea – Queen of the Iceni

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BOADICEA: QUEEN OF THE ICENI
By Glynn Burrows

 

Our country has produced many strong and noble warriors over the centuries, but there was one formidable lady in history whose name will never be forgotten – Queen Boadicea, at least that is what we called her when I was at school.

ON BIG BLEND RADIO:  Glynn Burrows focuses on the life and legend of Boadecia who was known as the Queen of the Iceni, a tribe in Norfolk, England. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Acast.

 

The variations come from the various sources we have. Tacitus calls her Boudicca, while Cassius Dio, who wrote in Greek, called her Boudouika. However we spell it, the name appears to have its origins in the Celtic word for Victory and it could just be what the local people called her, rather than her actual name. We will never know.

What we do know though, is that she was Queen of the Iceni, who were a tribe based in my homeland of Norfolk. She led a massive uprising against The Romans around AD 60-61 and she died (it is thought by poisoning herself), after her army was defeated.

The image we have of this amazing woman comes from a description written by a man who was born a century after she died:

“In stature, she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.”

We know that she was The Queen of The Iceni and her husband, Prasutagus appears to have ruled under the Romans, as an ally and probably one of the Kings who surrendered to Emperor Claudius in AD 43. (According to Tacitus, it does seem that the couple were ruling the Iceni at the time of The Roman Conquest.)

It does appear that Prasutagus, hoping to keep the Romans on their side, made the Roman Emperor Nero co-heir with his daughters to his considerable kingdom and wealth, hoping that that would keep his family and lands safe.

Sadly for him, Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman Governor of Britain at that time, had other ideas, and, after Prasutagus’s death tribal lands were taken and his household was plundered.

  • Boadicea and Her Daughters - bronze sculpture -by Thomas Thornycroft
    Boadicea and Her Daughters - bronze sculpture -by Thomas Thornycroft

Not only did the Romans take over everything, Suetonius had Boudicea publicly flogged and her daughters were raped. Other Tribal Chiefs and their families were treated in similar ways and the Iceni, Trinovantes and other tribes took up arms to rebel against the Romans.

The Britons at first had great successes and Camulodunum (Colchester), which was the capital of Roman Britain was the first battle. Not only did the Britons succeed in taking the town, but there was also the systematic slaughter of every Roman who lived there.

When the rebellion began in AD60, Camulodunum was the obvious first target, not only because it was the Roman capital of Britain, but the town had also been rebuilt on a Roman plan, together with important buildings, like the Temple of Claudius and the land surrounding it had been taken from the Trinovantes and shared amongst Roman dignitaries.

What started as an Iceni revolt soon became a furious army, including the Trinovantes, and what had started as a few thousand soon became tens of thousands, with some suggesting that it could well have numbered as many as one hundred thousand.

The battle at present-day Colchester was not a rebellion, it was a massacre and when they had finished there, they moved on to Londinum (London) and Verulamium (St. Albans), which were both sacked and burned. It is said that during the battles and destruction of these towns, over 70,000 Romans and Romano-British were killed.

Suetonius, who had withdrawn, decided to challenge Boudica. He put together 10,000 troops and we get a vivid description from Tacitus of the battle which was fought in the Midlands.

“Boudica and her daughters drove round in her chariot to all her tribes before the battle, exhorting them to be brave. She cried that she was descended from mighty men, but she was fighting as an ordinary person for her lost freedom, her bruised body, and outraged daughters. Perhaps as a taunt to the men in her ranks, it is said that she asked them to consider: ‘Win the battle or perish that is what I, a woman will do; you men can live on in slavery if that’s what you want.’

The Britons attacked crowding in on the Roman defensive line. The order was given and a volley of several thousand heavy Roman javelins was thrown into the advancing Britons, followed quickly by a second volley. The lightly armed Britons must have suffered massive casualties within the first minutes of the battle. The Romans moved in for the kill, attacking in tight formation, stabbing with their short swords.

The Britons now had little chance, with so many of them involved in the battle it is likely that their massed ranks worked against them by restricting their movements, so they were unable to use their long swords effectively. To ensure success the Roman cavalry was released which promptly encircled the enemy and began their slaughter from the rear. Seemingly mad with blood lust, Tacitus records that 80,000 Britons; men, women and children, were killed. The Roman losses amounted to 400 dead with a slightly larger number wounded.

Boudica was not killed in the battle but took poison rather than be taken alive by the Romans.

In 1902 a bronze statue of her riding high in her chariot, designed by Thomas Thorneycroft, was placed on the Thames embankment next to the Houses of Parliament.

Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. Past guests have visited and experienced stately houses and gardens, castles and churches, ruins and villages, birding and wildlife, World War II airfields, and general area taster tours too. Accommodations can be in all types of establishment, from character buildings such as windmills, thatched cottages and castles, self-catering or five star luxury – just say what you want and it can be arranged. Nothing is too much trouble for Glynn! Visit www.Norfolk-Tours.co.uk

 

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Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history.

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