Boudicca, the Celtic Warrior Queen (also known as Boadicea ) (died AD 60)
16″ x 20″ oil on canvas
“She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: She wore a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch.”
~ Dio Cassius, Roman Historian
Boudicca, her very name sounds like a warrior. I would love to have met her. A mother first, she stood against the mighty Roman army to save her daughters and her country. Her courage and leadership rallied her people to fight for their land and way of life.
Boudicca’s husband Prasutagus was the king of Iceni, a Celtic tribe located in an area of southern Britain known as East Anglia. Initially the Iceni were not part of the territory under direct Roman control. Geographically they were isolated; to the north and east the boundary was the sea and the remainder was covered in dense forest, making invasion from foreigners nearly impossible.
Prasutagus had lived a long life of conspicuous wealth and, hoping to preserve his line, made the Roman Emperor Claudius co-heir to his kingdom, along with Queen Boudicca and their two daughters. But when Prasutagus died, his attempts to preserve his line were ignored and his kingdom was annexed as if it had been conquered. His lands and property were confiscated. Boudicca was stripped and flogged and her daughters were raped.
In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales, Boudicca led the Iceni as well as several other tribes in revolt.
Boudicca exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. Tacitus gives her a short speech in which she presents herself not as an aristocrat avenging her lost wealth, but as an ordinary person, avenging her lost freedom, her battered body, and the abused chastity of her daughters. She said their cause was just, and the deities were on their side; the one legion that had dared to face them had been destroyed. She, a woman, was resolved to win or die; if the men wanted to live in slavery, that was their choice.
Boudicca led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes and others to fight the Romans and burned and destroyed Londinium (the original settlement of London), and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans). An estimated 70,000–80,000 Romans and British were killed in the three cities by those led by Boudicca. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands to defeat the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street.
The rebellion of Boudicca has an established and monumental place in British history. She is most commonly seen not as a queen, but a mother, wife, and an awe-inspiring warrior defending her country.
Boudicca and her valiant fight against the Romans was commemorated in 1905 with a great bronze statue of Boudicca with her daughters in her war chariot executed by Thomas Thornycroft. It stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, with the following lines from Cowper’s poem, referring to the British Empire:
Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.