Queen Boadicea (aka Queen Boudica) lived in the Norfolk region of England where she was wife to King Prasutagas, head of the Iceni tribe.
Our knowledge of her life and actions is incomplete, but it is accepted that she was a person of royal birth who had two daughters. It is also said that she was fierce looking, with a strident voice and a great mass of red hair.
Following an earlier attempt at rebellion against the Romans by Prasutagus, about 10 years earlier, the Iceni lived a moderately peaceful life. This lasted until King Prusatagas died. It seems he had left a share of the territory to the Romans as his legacy, as a kind of ‘peace offering’.
The Romans who occupied England at that time took this as an invitation to occupy the region, and to plunder the wealth of the Iceni territory, and that of the neighbouring tribes.
Boadicea was not well pleased by this, and protested to the Romans. She was punished for protesting by being flogged in front of her family, and her two teenage daughters were raped.
As a result she called on the Iceni tribe to go into battle with the Romans. The neighbouring Trinobantes tribe joined forces with the Iceni for the battle ahead.
Ferocious battles followed, including great amounts of damage to the cities of Colchester, Saint Albans and London, which were each destroyed – London particularly in a terrible fire that killed many tens of thousands of people. Meanwhile the strength of Boadicea’s army increased, numbering up to 200,000 soldiers.
Despite the heroic images of the Briton tribes, they were also a very brutal group, themselves very capable of acts of horrible cruelty, matching anything the Romans were capable of.
There is also the possibility that Boadicea and King Prusatagas were in league with the Romans, but that ’errant’ Roman generals moved in when the King died, because a Queen was not able to inherit such a territory. Thus the war was perhaps launched perhaps as a personal vengeance because of that, and the bad treatment suffered by the Queen and her daughters, rather than as a great ‘moral war’ against the oppressing Romans.
Whatever the reason, there were dramatic early victories bacause the Romans had few defensive forces in the region. It took some time for an army to be raised, and for them to catch up with the stampeding forces of Queen Boadicea. However, after some months of destruction, Boadicea and her army were defeated.
This was surely inevitable, given the enormous miltary power and capabilities of the Romans at that time, although some historians seem to suggest that the Romans could have been forced to withdraw from England if events had turned out differently.
For the final great battle, the tribal Britons greatly outnumbered the Romans, and were so confident of winning that they had brought their families to watch from the edges of the battlefield. Many of the Briton soldiers were women, spurred on to great things by the speeches of Queen Boadicea.
The victory was not to be. In the final conflict there were 400 Roman casualties and 80,000 casualties among those from the Briton tribes. The Romans simply had tactical knowledge and weaponry that far exceeded anything possessed by the tribes, which enabled a terrible wholesale slaughter. For example, the battle was in a narrow valley, and the tribes had blocked their own retreat with supplies and equipment, thus trapping themselves at the mercy of the Romans.
Not killed in battle, Queen Boadicea committed suicide to avoid being captured, and the lands which had belonged to the Iceni were then put under a tyrannical Roman rule. The memory of ‘Boudica’ lives on, rightly or wrongly presenting her as the first British hero standing defiantly against oppression.