This Women’s History Month has brought us a few interesting predicaments as some here in the United States seem to be launching a verbal and ideological war against women. I have already called for us to re-embrace the word “feminist” and have paid my respects to those I have long admired on International Women’s Day.
Today, on this last blogpost of March (besides Flash Fiction Fridays, of course), I have chosen to highlight a woman who, when her husband’s pacifism and desire to avoid conflict with the surging Roman Empire ended with a terrible turn of events, led a march that burned down Londinium and shook Rome and its patriarchy to its core — Queen Boudicca of the Inceni.
Boudicca was married to Prasutagus of the Iceni who, in an attempt to keep the peace with the Roman Empire, became a client/king and submitted to answering to the Roman ruling class. When he died, Prasutagus left his kingdom to his two daughters and the new Roman emperor to ensure tranquility for his people.
In Celtic society, women often held positions of prestige and power. Many owned land and played important roles in political and religious life. They also chose their own spouses and could initiate divorce. These were all rights that Roman women did not have at that time.
Roman law did not allow royal inheritance to be passed to daughters, muchless have a co-ownership of a kingdom with females, so the kinsmen of the Iceni royal house were enslaved. Boudicca was flogged and forced to watch her daughters publicly raped and tortured at the hands of the Romans.
Queen Boudicca would not stand idly by. There would be revenge. She rallied neighboring tribes, people who had suffered much under Roman taxation and had been driven off their own land and made to live as prisoners and slaves, and assembled an army.
They stormed the Roman cities of Camulodunum and Colchester, massacring the Romans and destroying their towns. Then they set their sights upon Londinium, which they burned to the ground and killed all the inhabitants.
The historian Tacitus recorded what is supposed to be Boudicca’s final battle cry to her troops.
"The Britons were used to the leadership of women, but she came back before them not as a queen of a distinguished line, but as an ordinary woman, her body cut by the lash avenging the loss of her liberty, and the outrages imposed on her daughters. Roman greed spares neither their bodies, the old or the virgins. The gods were on our side in our quest for vengeance, one legion had already perished, the others are cowering in their forts to escape. They could never face the roar of our thousands, least of all our charge and hand to hand fighting. When the Romans realize their small force and the justice of our cause, they will know it is victory or death. This is my resolve, as a woman — follow me or submit to the Roman yoke. (Webster, 99).”*
When Boudicca lost her final battle, she is thought to have poisoned herself, rather than submit to Roman capture.
Boudicca’s rebellion is remembered as a monumental time in British history. She was a mother, wife and warrior who defended her children and her country, an avenging angel whom history shall never forget.