Heralded as a legendary warrior, Queen Boudica terrorised the Romans during their occupation of Britain, but who was she?
Other than the revolts she led, Queen Boudica’s life is shrouded in mystery. Her name is well-known due to her exploits as a leader; she had family, as part of the Iceni Tribe, but few details of her personal life are known.
What is known is that Queen Boudica became an icon of the Iceni, as they resisted Roman rule. When the Romans ignored plans set in motion by Boudica’s husband (King Prasutagus) to hand over Iceni land in his will, and tortured Boudica (as well as having her daughters raped), Boudica – and Trinovante allies – marched with thousands of soldiers to forcibly repel the invaders. Her forces took the town of Camulodunum – modern-day Colchester – and slaughtered both the occupying Roman forces, and the forces sent to retake the town. Shortly afterwards, Boudica’s army marched on Verulamium, which is now St Albans, and sacked part of the city, as well as doing damage to Londinium.
Boudica’s rebellion against Rome was brought to end shortly after it started. In 61AD, her forces confronted a Roman army at an unknown location, and despite allegedly outnumbering the Romans, Boudica’s soldiers were defeated. Of Queen Boudica herself, it is said she poisoned herself, though a different account says she fell sick, and died. Of course, it’s possible she fell sick, because she had poisoned herself.
Boudica’s name may have been a title, so it’s possible the true name of this warrior queen is lost to history. As Boudica, accounts of her exploits were left to Roman historians to write, such as Lucius Cassius Dio, who wrote of her nearly a century later. Some historical accounts omit her name entirely, and for hundreds of years, her presence in British history went largely unnoticed. It took the Renaissance to bring Roman texts to British shores, whereupon the name Boudica – albeit often misspelt – became recognised once more. In the 1570s and 1590s, England was at war with Spain, under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, and Boudica provided a powerful symbol for Queen Elizabeth to use, especially at a time when female rulers were derided. Boudica began to become a powerful patriotic presence, and she would continue to do so across the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.
It was once claimed that Kings Cross station held Queen Boudica’s final resting place. There’s never been any proof of this, and it appears this was a post-WWII rumour. There are also plenty of stories about her ghost, across various locations.
Her enemies suggested Boudica was a savage, along with her people. Roman accounts certainly suggest the rebellious Iceni did not take prisoners, and killed without restraint or mercy. In England folklore, she is venerated as a hero, who bravely tried to resist the oppressors of her people. It goes to show that perspective is entirely dependent upon who writes the history books.