News>Commentary - British Billy's Great Britons: Boudicca, Warrior Queen of the Iceni
The bronze statue depicting Boudicca , Warrior Queen of the Iceni - mistakenly labeled as 'Boadicea' - was erected in 1902 in London, near Westminster Bridge, on the north bank of the River Thames in the shadow of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Interest in Boudicca was limited until the 19th century, when it was sparked by the fact that 'Boudicca' is the Celtic word for 'victory' - so the Iceni ruler was the very first Queen Victoria. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Nick McNaughton)
Billy the Cat (aka British Billy) lives in Elveden, a local village about ten miles from RAF Lakenheath. Billy has been around a bit. He came from a rescue centre and prefers not to dwell on the past. He is proud of his country and its heritage and counts his friends and family as hailing from all corners of the British Isles. He is proud to be a “moggy”. Many of his American friends and admirers ask Billy about the things puzzling them about life and culture in the U.K., and if he doesn’t know the answer, he has ways and means of finding out. Feel free to send him any questions, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.
Commentary by British Billy
48th Fighter Wing public affairs
6/22/2011 - ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- As guardian of my home territory, I often have to summon my inner feline warrior against invading hordes of plundering vermin. For this reason, I have long regarded Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, as a fine example of the fearless warrior spirit.
Boudicca was born about 30 A.D and was married to King Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe in 48 - 49 A.D., bearing him two children, both girls. At this time Britain was a tribal nation. The Iceni were a Celtic tribe located in modern-day Norfolk, northern Suffolk and part of Cambridgeshire. Today it can be hard to imagine how it must have felt to be a Briton trying to survive under the rule of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. but Prasutagus was pragmatic in his dealings with the Romans, quelling rebellion and, while he was alive, the Romans more or less left the Iceni alone.
Then, in A.D. 60, he died. Prasutagus had tried to guard against this day by drawing up a will in which he left his kingdom jointly to his two daughters and to the Roman emperor Nero. At the least, he thought, this would give his widow Boudicca and their children half his property.
Unfortunately the Romans decided to interpret the will very much in their own favour. Direct rule was now more to the Romans' taste. On the Emperor Nero's orders, the imperial procurator seized all of Prasutagus's estate and declared that any resistance would be treated as an act of rebellion. When Boudicca took the matter to a higher Roman authority she was, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, publicly stripped and flogged and her daughters raped.
Even the humiliated Boudicca must have cut a striking figure. According to another Roman historian, Cassius Dio, writing 150 years later: "She was very tall and her aspect was terrifying, for her eyes flashed fiercely and her voice was harsh. A mass of red hair fell down to her hips, and around her neck was a twisted gold necklace."
The treatment meted out to Boudicca and her daughters - and to their people, many of whom were evicted and made slaves - turned the Iceni into rebels. They attracted support from other tribes and re-ignited widespread British discontent with Roman rule.
It is said that Boudicca and her daughters drove round in her chariot to all her tribes before battle, exhorting them to be brave. She cried that she was descended from mighty men but she was fighting as an ordinary person for her lost freedom, her bruised body and outraged daughters. Perhaps as taunt to the men in her ranks, it is said that she asked them to consider: "Win the battle or perish: that is what I, a woman will do; you men can live on in slavery if that's what you want."
Setting out from the Iceni centre at Thetford in Norfolk in A.D. 61, Boudicca and her followers descended on the then capital of Roman Britain at Camulodunum, modern-day Colchester, which they burned to the ground. Then they marched on to Londinium (London), which they sacked and razed. Finally, they turned north to Verulamium (present-day St. Albans, Hertfordshire), on which they inflicted great damage. According to Tacitus, a total of about 70,000 Romans were killed.
For a while, the rebellion continued but eventually the Iceni's luck ran out; they were slaughtered. It is said that Boudicca poisoned herself rather than be taken alive by the Romans. The sites of the final battle, and of Boudicca's death, are unknown.
Interest in Boudicca was limited until the 19th century, when it was sparked by the fact that 'Boudicca' is the Celtic word for 'victory' - so the Iceni ruler was the very first Queen Victoria. The famous statue depicting her - mistakenly labeled as 'Boadicea' - was erected next to the Houses of Parliament in 1902.
For a flavour of what it must have been like to live in those times, it would be worthwhile visiting the Iceni Village, which now also includes a nature reserve and museums, at Cockley Cley near Swaffham, Norfolk. It's only about a half hour's drive from RAF Lakenheath, so you have a fantastic educational experience almost on your doorstep.
Of course, many of the stories surrounding Boudicca are apocryphal. Half truths and mythology have always surrounded those of us who live life close to the edge. Nevertheless, there is much in Boudicca's story to inspire and inform us all; she is truly one of our greatest Britons.
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