For someone who led a short and
inglorious life, the wife of Prasutagus, King of the Iceni has gained an almost mythical status.
The Iceni tribe occupied the modern
counties of Norfolk, parts of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. After the Roman invasion of AD 43, the King negotiated a treaty with the Romans and established himself as a client king for the remainder of his comfortable life.
Upon his death, however, despite the fact that he willed half of his kingdom to the Roman emperor and half to his family, the Roman administrator ignored the will and took over the entire kingdom.
Historian Tacitus wrote:
. . . his widow Boudica was flogged and their daughters raped. The chieftains of the Iceni were deprived of their . . . estates . . . The king’s own relatives were treated as slaves.
The tribes were enraged, and rallied to Boudicca who joined Iceni forces with the neighbouring Trinobantes, and then led an attack on the Roman colony Camulodunum (now Colchester), destroying it. For most of this we have to rely on Roman writers to supply a narrative – the Icini at that time were preoccupied in causing death and mayhem.
Having defeated the relatively ill-prepared troops they went on a slaughtering spree of industrial levels, burning down the cultural and commercial centres of Colchester, St. Albans and London, killing both Roman invaders and the indigenous peoples in their thousands.
In their one battle with the enemy’s regular troops they lost ignominiously despite vastly outnumbering their opponents. Tribal lands were laid waste and her people were ‘enslaved’. She is said to have committed suicide by taking poison. Not much glory then.
All the rage in Queen Elizabeth’s time (they were, after all, ruled at that time by a real warrior Queen); during Victoria’s reign Boudicca was almost deified so much so that an impressive statue was erected opposite Parliament in 1902. To further perpetuate the freedom fighter image the statue has at its base a secret tunnel entrance said to be an escape route from Parliament. No so say Guerrilla Exploring who just found a mass of service pipes.
Having a barbaric past hasn’t deterred modern romantics weaving tales about her and her final resting place; she has taken on an almost iconic queenly status.
First in the late 19th century a round barrow on Parliament Hill was declared to be Boudicca’s. Unfortunately it pre-dated her death by some considerable margin and it was most unlikely that the Romans would have allowed such a splendid grave to her built for a despised rebel leader.
Next comes the popular myth that she lies under Platform 10 (8 or 9, take your pick) of King’s Cross Station. The station was built on the site of a hamlet called Battle Bridge, which must obviously be the site of her last doomed stand. The earliest reference to ‘Battle Bridge’ is as late as 1559 coming from a simple corruption of an earlier Bradford Bridge.
Now hot on the heels of King Richard III’s remains being discovered beneath a car park, the Warrior Queen might, just might, be waiting to be discovered beneath a McDonalds in King’s Norton, Birmingham. Check out Boudicca, the burger queen of Brum.