Boudicca, One Very Cranky Lady

March is Women’s History Month and being a lover of history, really old history, (anything from the 1700s is starting to be a tich modern for my liking) I thought I’d start with a Cranky Lady. Fablecroft Publishing is running a crowdfunding campaign over on Pozible for an anthology,  Cranky Ladies of History. I love this idea so much, and what a fantastic way to resume Luna Quirks.

My lady of choice is the semi-well known Queen of the Iceni, Boudicca. She is from the time of the Roman Empire (during the Emperor Nero’s reign to be precise) and history likes to portray her as a woman who is Cranky, Mad and On the Rampage. Well, you would be too if you had to live in the world she had.

She starts out being married to Prasutagus who was one of the kings who had semi-independent rule from Rome. Of course, there were conditions to this agreement. In exchange for allied status, (rather than the more usual absorption wholly under Roman rule) the king gets to rule for the term of his natural life. Prasutagus left his kingdom jointly to his wife, daughters and of course the Roman emperor in his will. However, when he died, Rome (following patriarchal inheritance style laws) ignored the will and the kingdom was annexed as if conquered. Roman financiers called in their loans (Prasutagus had been living on borrowed money). According to the historian Tacitus, Boudicca was flogged and her daughters raped. Which would make anyone cranky. 

Boudicca refuses to be cowed. Instead, she created an alliance with her neighbours, gathered an army and went on the march. It was bloody and it was vicious.  Camulodunum (Colchester) was the first in the line of fire being a resettled Roman colony complete with a temple to the previous Emperor, Claudius. Boudicca and her army razed the town, which as one can imagine shocked the Romans (and taught them the lesson not to underestimate a rebellion of any sort, regardless of the sex of the leader). The rebels continued their march down to the infant Londinium and demolished anyone and anything left behind by the Romans who had abandoned the town. Onwards towards St Albans, Boudicca led the troops, meanwhile the Romans (led by the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus) regrouped amassing an army (as opposed to “a few troops” from previous encounters).

A final battle ensued, somewhere along a Roman road (nowadays known as Watling Street) and the rebellion was crushed. Boudicca refused to be taken prisoner and drinks poison (the common description of her death, though given the sources are Tacitus and Cassius Dio who both write well after the event, it is hard to know for certain). The death toll of the settlements at approx. 70,000 – 80,000 plus the deaths of the rebels and the Roman soldiers reflect this was no small rebellion.

She’s then forgotten about until the Renaissance (Tacitus is rediscovered). From then on she is portrayed as the warrior queen who defeated the Romans (to the point perhaps Nero considered abandoning Britain and instead changed the governor). There are poems by Tennyson (“Boadicea“) and paintings by John Opie. However, one of my favourite depictions of this event in history is from the Horrible Histories tv show.

ps yes, there are many options to her name spelling… Boudicca, Boadicea are the two most in common use.

This post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support the Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

Cranky ladies of history

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