Boudicca – The Celtic Queen who defied Rome

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Queen Boudicca has captured the imaginations of countless people for hundreds of years. She has become the United Kingdom’s cultural symbol of freedom.[1] She was a famous warrior queen who led her people against a Roman revolt in 60 or 61 CE. She was a woman that had considerable influence and motivated numerous Celts in a battle against Roman control. Queen Boudicca’s army was a strong force to be reckoned with because it questioned Rome’s power. Thus, Queen Boudicca’s story is one of courage and inspiration.

Not much is known about the early life of Boudicca. It is believed that she was not of the Iceni tribe, but of royal descent.[2] We do not know when she was born. However, historians believe that it was sometime around 25 to 30 C.E.[3]  Her name comes from the Celtic word of “Boudda”, which means “Victory”.[4] Roman sources claim that she was tall, intelligent, and had long red-brown hair that came down to her waist.[5]

It was between the years of 43-45 C.E. that Boudicca married King Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe. The Iceni was a Celtic tribe based in northern Norfolk. In 43 C.E., Emperor Claudius conquered most of Britain. King Prasutagus realised the tremendous power of the Roman empire and decided to ally with them. He travelled to Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester) and pledged his loyalty to the Romans.[6] Thus, King Prasutagus became a client king under the Roman empire. With Prasutagus as their client king, the Icenis were able to enjoy the benefit of keeping their culture.[7]

However, King Prasutagus’s solution would have disastrous consequences. Soon, Queen Boudicca realised that it would be like a sword dangling above her head. King Prasutagus and Queen Boudicca had no male heirs. They only had two daughters whose names are unknown to history.[8] His will provided that upon his death, his daughters and Emperor Nero would jointly rule his kingdom.[9] However, his wishes would largely be ignored.

King Prasutagus died in 60 C.E. Because the Romans did not believe in female rulers, they annexed the kingdom. King Prasutagus’s royal kinsmen were enslaved. Queen Boudicca was flogged and forced to watch the rape of her two twelve-year-old daughters.[10] Because of this humiliation, Queen Boudicca wanted vengeance against the Romans.

It was usual for Celtic women to obtain positions of power and authority. The Celts suffered heavily under the Romans, and their culture was mostly destroyed. The Romans also attacked the Druid religion.[11] This caused other tribes, among them the Trinovantes, to join the Iceni in their cause for a rebellion. The rebellion would be led by Queen Boudicca.

Queen Boudicca made her move in 60 or 61 C.E. The Roman governor, Suetonius, was leading a military campaign in Wales. With Suetonius out of the way, Queen Boudicca chose her moment to act. The Queen’s army captured the Romans forces at Camulodunum. [12]

Once Suetonius learned of the revolt, he headed to the Roman settlement of Londinium (modern-day London) to meet Queen Boudicca’s army.[13] When he arrived, Suetonius realised he did not have enough men to fight them. He evacuated the settlement. Queen Boudicca’s forces sacked the city and killed the remaining inhabitants. They proceeded to Verulamium (modern-day St. Albans), where they won another victory. It was alleged that 10,000 people were killed in the three victories total.[14]

However, Suetonius eventually regrouped his men. Even though they were smaller than Queen Boudicca’s army, they had better equipment, better armour, and more expert training. Suetonius’s army met Queen Boudicca’s at the Battle of Watling Street.[15] The exact location is unknown. This led to a massive defeat and a massacre of the Celtic army. Tacitus, a Roman historian, claims that at least 80,000 Celts fell in battle.[16] Suetonius’s victory secured Roman control over Britain. Queen Boudicca managed to escape from the battle. She returned to her kingdom. Historians believe that she either received a fatal illness from the battle or she committed suicide.[17]

Even though Queen Boudicca’s story ended in defeat, she has been turned into a popular icon. She is often seen as a defender of Britain, but also as a wife and mother. However, we tend to forget how she was a great queen. Queen Boudicca’s determination had given men hope amid their darkest hour. As Queen Boudicca continues to be a national hero in the United Kingdom, her story will be remembered for future generations.

Sources:

“Boudica (26/30–60 CE).” Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages,

     edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer, vol. 1, Yorkin Publications, 2007, p. 240.

Trow, M. J., and Taliesin Trow. Boudicca: the Warrior Queen. Sutton Publishing, 2005.

Tucker, S. C. (2014). Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE). In S. C. Tucker (Ed.), 500 Great Military

     Leaders. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.


[1] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 5

[2]  Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 1

[3] Trow, p. 79

[4] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 1

[5] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 1

[6] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 2

[7] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 2

[8] “Boudica (26/30–60 CE).”, p. 240

[9] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 2

[10] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 2

[11] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 3

[12] “Boudica (26/30–60 CE).”, p. 240  

[13] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 4

[14] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 4

[15] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 5

[16] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 5

[17] Tucker, “Boudica, Queen (?–60 or 61 CE)”, para. 5

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