Boudica: Warrior Queen or British Icon?
Boudica – she was a warrior queen and allegedly the head of the army that nearly drove the Romans out of Britain in the early sixties AD. Perhaps better known as Bodicea, she has been subject to much fascination and curiosity that has kept her story alive throughout the ages. And far from fading from our view, new things are being discovered about her and her time period every year; just recently, in fact, we’ve learned that her name was translated wrong decades ago, and she is in fact called ‘Boudica’ and not ‘Boudicea’ as our parents might have learned.
Britain was, at the time, a Roman colony. It had been invaded once by Julius Ceasar, and Britain benefited from the Roman trade and was left, for the most part, alone. However, when Emperor Claudius came into power, Britain was invaded again and Rome went to war with the rebel forces of Caractacus and his gang. While the native Britains might have enjoyed the benefits of trade with Rome, having armed forces moving through their homes and demanding that even their allies among the British tribes surrender their weapons was an entirely different thing.
Boudica’s husband was a client king for Rome. Meaning that he and his tribe, the Iceni, supported Rome, and so the Romans allowed him to keep his throne. When he died, he left a will – which shows just how Romanized he had become – that left half of his kingdom to his daughters, and half to the Roman Emperor Nero. But, from the Romans’ point of view, Prestagus was a client king – so the kingdom belonged to them and wasn’t his to give away at all. When he died, it was all supposed to go to them. And they really didn’t like the fact that he left half to his daughters – women were, from the Roman perspective – unable to rule. So they supposedly raided the kingdom, had Boudica flogged, and raped her daughters.
The Queen of the Iceni then allegedly rose up in a flurry of revenge. Her tribe was joined by their neighbors, the Trinovantes, as well as other tribes who felt that the Romans were overstaying their welcome. Somehow, she managed to keep these tribes her would just as soon fight each other as the Romans together and organized enough for three major successful attacks; one on modern day Colchester, one on modern day London, and one near the modern day town of St. Albans. By this time, however, the Romans had caught on, and they met Boudica in a final battle.
The place of this battle is unknown, but the outcome is all too obvious. The Britons might have had superior numbers, but they didn’t really known what they were doing. Their strengths lay in guerilla warfare and in surprise attacks, but the Romans had forced them into a traditional battle. Boudica died – whether from suicide by poison or illness remains unknown – and her daughters are never mentioned again. Britain’s rebellion died with Boudica, and would remain under Roman control for several centuries to come.
Far from dying that day, though, Boudica is still so very much alive. Her story has managed to live for centuries in one form or another, to the point where we’re still learning so much about her today. Why? You might say it was because she almost managed to free Britain from the Romans, but really, think about it for a second. Would we still be talking about it if it were a man that almost drove out the Romans? Probably not. Boudica lives on because she was a woman, and she proves just what women can do when they have a mind to. She lives through great queens like Elizabeth and Victoria. She lives through mocking Jacobite plays. She lives as the patron of women’s rights campaigns. She lives as the very spirit of England itself.
She lives because she can be evolved and adapted to fit almost every need and cause that someone could want her to fit. So much of Boudica-the-person has been lost because of these tailorings and fittings she’s been through, that perhaps the ‘real’ Boudica is Boudica-the-legend. Boudica of Britain.
My favorite quote ever from this book is one that I feel really embodies all that is Boudica and explains that world’s fascination with her. And to a lesser extent, another two quotes as well. My favorite first, though;
“And this is the force behind the legendary Boudica – that she can be all things to all mankind because she is a living oxymoron: noble yet one of us, a mother but a warrior, a stateswoman though barbarian, and loyal yet a rebel, dead but very much alive” (p. 377)
These are the reasons that Boudica’s tale lives on – because she is such a paradox. Everyone can relate to her someway, somehow, if they really try. And along a similar line of thought:
“She still acts as a cultural reference point: she is a mother, a queen, a warrior, a victim, a hero – but the rest of her life is made from unknowns and extrapolation. The result? That she can be whoever you want her to be.” (p. 376)
One of the reasons that Boudica’s story is still told today is because we don’t know it all. We’ve never even found her tomb, or any real evidence beyond the writings of ancient historians that she actually existed. Thus we can make her whoever we want her to be.
And finally, a quote that I love for its imagery – here is a description of Boudica as most people see her. Powerful, and awe-inspiring, and great. It encompasses her spirit and determination; the very spirit that has kept her alive:
“Queen Boudica towers in her chariot with her left hand aloft and her right carrying a spear, flanked by her two daughters who crouch like pouncing animals at her feet. Clad in classical robes which billow out behind her, she takes on the mantle of a goddess, summoning up the power to drive her rearing horses without even the use of reins.” (p. 346)
The book itself was painstakingly researched and written. The author leaves no stone unturned and shows all perspectives of Boudica. However, most of the first half or so was about the politics of Rome and Britain at the time, and the greater part of the last half was about Boudica’s legacy and how views of her have changed with different time periods and cultures, along with going a bit philosophical into the human need to belong and the ways in which we view ourselves. Was it a well-written book? Yes. Was it a good choice for this reading assignment? Yes. Would a recommend it to someone else to read for this project? Yes. Would I recommend it for an over-the-summer fun read? Probably not.
But whatever I may think of the book, I now definitely have a far better understanding of Boudica, the warrior queen, and the legacy that she’s left behind.