Boadicea, The Rebel Queen

Year 61 after Christ, British Isles, at some point on the current Watling Street, the great road built by the Roman Empire to connect Wales with the rest of the island. Boadicea, a tall woman (by the standards of the time), with long crimson hair and a strong complexion, quickly ingests a deadly poison, perhaps seconded by her daughters. This is how Tacitus tells us the end point of one of the great ancient tragedies.

This woman is none other than the legendary warrior queen of the Eceni Celts Boadicea, Boudica in her native language. Remembered for uniting under the same command the rebellious British tribes against the Roman invasion, in the way that Vercingétorix achieved in Gaul, she earned the right to enter the payroll of Rome’s great rivals, along with Viriato, Hannibal, Arminius, Spartacus or the already mentioned Gallic leader. His legend is often confused with the stories that his enemies bequeathed to us.

Rome, an expanding Empire

Following the famous conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, the Roman Republic sought new lands and conquests in which to employ its legionaries and fulfill the ambitions of its generals. Already the legendary general planned the invasion of the British Isles, probably interested in dominating the land from which the great Celtic druids came. However, the starting gun for the inevitable conquest came from the hand of Emperor Caligula.

Shakespeare left us his work Cymbaline, set in these first battles. Later the also Emperor Claudius would continue the campaigns. In these times some tribes will join the protection of Rome, while some leaders like Caradawc will carry out more or less victorious revolts. In these times the conquerors founded Lodinium, present-day London, on the banks of the Thames.

The guerrillas in the forests achieve continuous but insignificant victories: the die seems to be cast.

Boadicea, dowager queen

One of the kings who is allied with the Latins will be Prasugatos, of the Iceni. In exchange for the protection and support of Emperor Nero, this monarch will promise to inherit his title and lands after the death of his daughters. We do not know how the end of his days came, but it was the trigger for the conflict. The Roman law did not recognize the female inheritance, so for them there were no legitimate heirs of the king.

Perhaps the most probable thing would have been that the Empire carried out his abuse without difficulty, but history wanted that the wife of Prasugatos did not bend. At this moment the first news reaches us of Boadicea, who as a widow claims her rights according to the tradition of her people. The queen’s resistance is met by the generals with whipping, abuse for her daughters, and death for her lieutenants. Meanwhile the supposed Roman allies seize land and attack local traditions.

The wick of the rebellion is lit, Boudica will not shy away from the conflict: giving up is not an option.

Boadicea earned the right to enter the payroll of the great rivals of Rome, along with Viriato, Aníbal, Arminio, Espartaco or Vercingétorix

The Boudican rebellion

Her name, or perhaps the nickname she earns these days, means the Victorious, and riding on her war chariot she will guide her people, fueled by the humiliations suffered. By getting several tribes, and many other warriors, to join her, she will lead the greatest force that the Romans will face on the islands. Surely his loose flaming hair and his war paintings, mounted on his chariot as in the statue that today stands in London in his memory, would generate a terrifying image on his enemies.

With his troops he will invade and sack Londinium and other cities in the south of the island, very Romanized at the moment. Roman historians assure that it did not allow any mercy, surely like the Mediterranean soldiers. He will defeat the powerful Hispanic Legion without palliative, in a milestone difficult to imitate.

His victories increase the number of his followers. But after almost a year of guerrilla warfare, the Roman general Suetonius managed to react.

The tragic end

In a narrow stony valley, and with a great inequality of forces, five to one for the Britons, and of equipment and discipline, much greater than the Roman one, the great final battle will take place. The inability to break through the Roman formation ends the hopes of the Celts, who soon flee in disarray. It was an unmitigated defeat, with about a hundred rebel casualties for each of Rome and her allies.

Faced with the inevitable end, Boadicea prefers death to captivity  once again, aware of what would happen if she is caught alive. Suetonius will not be able to display the defeated queen, but Britain will never have a leader like her again. A life of betrayals, humiliations and revenge comes to an end.

Many female warriors probably fought alongside Boadicea, and although they never formed the bulk of the Celtic armies, they also fought for their life, lands and freedom.