We all know that red-headed women have a reputation of being passionate, fiery individuals and one most notorious was Boudicca who set a fierce precedent for women. Cassius Dio described her as “possessing a greater intelligence than often belongs to women” and described her as tall with long tawny hair down to her waist, a harsh voice and piercing glare. It is this description of Boudicca discovered during the Renaissance that has gone down in history as one prescribed to possibly the greatest warrior queen in English History. The legacy of Boudicca is one that lived on through future generations of strong women such as Queen Victoria, who saw Boudicca as her namesake as their names shared the same meaning.
The Iceni tribe was an independently ruled kingdom and important Roman ally during first century Eastern Britain. After the initial Roman Conquest in 43AD by the Emperor Claudius, Prasutagus may have been one of the eleven original kings to submit to the Emperor or installed as client king in 47AD after the tribe rebelled, naming the emperor as co-heir alongside his daughters to keep peace. According to the Histories, Prasutagus lived a long and prosperous life with his kingdom retaining their status as allies to the Roman Empire until his death in c.60AD. It was upon his death that the Emperor Nero broke their alliance, ignoring the terms set down by Prasutagus in his will, and took over his kingdom with disastrous consequences.
Upon the death of Prasutagus it should have been decreed that his kingdom be shared equally between his two daughters and the Roman Emperor solidifying the alliance between the two but the reality was far from different. In his histories, Tacitus does not explain why the Roman Emperor suddenly decided to wage war against the Iceni tribe or take the lands from the chiefs, nor does he give any reason as to why Boudicca was flogged and her daughters raped; although with Nero’s tyrannical reputation these outbursts were hardly surprising. Upon this harsh treatment the Iceni tribe, their neighbours, including the Trinovantes, conspired to revolt. The tribesman chose Boudicca as their leader and she earnt her reputation as a fearsome warrior queen as she led her forces against the Romans. Tacitus records that Boudicca addressed her army with empowering words; “It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters… this is a woman’s resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves.”
The first settlement to face Boudicca’s wrath was Camulodunum, now modern day Colchester, where the mistreatment of locals and temple erected in honour of Claudius made the city a good centre for the unrest to begin. Those who did not initially flee were besieged in the temple for two days before the entire city was razed to the ground. The next stop for Boudicca’s forces was Londinium, a relatively new settlement, were the residents evacuated with the governor Suetonius and any who stayed were slaughtered. Down again went a roman settlement. The third and final settlement destroyed was Verulanium (St Albans) where many archaeologists theorise that her story ended. As Boudicca’s forces advanced, Suetonius was built up his own near Exeter, driving them back where they were impeded by the wagons that contained their families. It was this mistake that led to the destructions of the Britons forces and the end of Boudicca. Although none of the sources agree with how Boudicca met her end the most popular version, that adds to her warrior queen status, was that she preferred to take her own life rather than be taken as a slave to the Romans.
Boudicca’s reputation as a bad-ass redhead was solidified by this legend and it is her daring deeds in the name of her people and her resolve to fight against the injustices she faced, which has kept her in the centre of British legends and the hero of gingers.