Ask most modern Britons who Boudicca was and they’ll probably only be able to tell you one thing: that she showed the invading Romans that the indigenous Celts weren’t going to roll over and beg for them. But that is quite enough - as a proto-feminist freedom fighter, Boudicca has earned a place in British myth.
Boudicca was a queen of the Iceni tribe in what is now East Anglia. Her husband Prasutagus was a Roman ally who left instruction that when he die his kingdom be split between the Roman Emperor and his daughters. But on his demise around AD60 the Romans ignored his will and steamed into the place as if they had been given sole right to role. His daughters were punished by being raped and Boudicca was flogged.
The outraged queen brought together the tribes of the Iceni and the Trinovantes and led them in revolt. First they razed Camulodunum (Colchester), once the capital of the Trinovantes but now a retirement home for Roman soldiers, then they destroyed a temple to the former emperor Claudius, then they defeated a Roman legion sent to destroy them.
On hearing news of the revolt, Governor Suetonius evacuated and abandoned Londonium (London), leaving it to the rebels, who burnt it to the ground, and followed up with Verulamium (St Albans). Boudicca’s rebels were said to have killed around 80,000 people in the three cities.
Suetonius gathered his forces and faced Boudica and her army in what’s now called the Battle of Watling Street, which took place somewhere in the East Midlands.
Facing their foes, Suetonis advised his outnumbered soldiers: Ignore the racket made by these savages. There are more women than men in their ranks. They are not soldiers - they're not even properly equipped. We've beaten them before and when they see our weapons and feel our spirit, they'll crack. Stick together. Throw the javelins, then push forward: knock them down with your shields and finish them off with your swords. Forget about booty. Just win and you'll have the lot.
And, indeed, the disciplined soldiers carried the day by advancing in tight wedge formations, like a saw blade, supported by flanking cavalry charges. Around sixty thousand rebels were slaughtered, and barely five hundred Romans, and Queen Boudicca poisoned herself in despair. It had been a close thing – Roman Emperor Nero had been on the verge of withdrawing all his forces – but Britain was once more restored to Roman control.
Boudicca’s spirit has been evoked in recent times - yoked to that of Queen Victoria and, controversially, Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, Thatcher would have seen the warrior queen every day – there’s a magnificent statue of Boudicca as warrior Queen on London’s Westminster Pier, put up in 1902. With her battle chariot pulled by rampaging horses, the fearsome tribal queen looks as if she’s about to raze London all over the again.
Expect to hear more about Boudicca in the future – it looks like the uppity Brit is set to get the Braveheart treatment from Hollywood.