Writer’s Deep Dive: Boudica

One of the greatest tools and sources of inspiration that a writer has is history. The lives, actions, and motivations of historical people can be invaluable in shaping believable characters. As part of my series on female warriors, I will be sharing the stories of several formidable women. Today, we start with Boudica

Now, let’s dive in!

The Basics

Boudica (also known as Boadicea) was the wife of Prasutagus, who ruled the Iceni tribe in ancient Britain, in what is now Norfolk [1] The Romans had invaded in 43 AD and he had allied himself and his tribe with the invaders, hoping to preserve their independence. [2] When Prasutagus died in 60/61 AD, he tried to pacify the Romans further by leaving half of his fortune to the Emperor Nero, the other half going to his two daughters. [3] However, this wasn’t enough for the Romans. They sacked then confiscated much of the Iceni lands, pillaged the house of Prasutagus and Boudica, [4] claimed all the late king’s money, refused to acknowledge Boudica as her late husband’s heir, and demanded immediate repayment of money they had lent to him. [5] Not content with just this humiliation, the Romans flogged Boudica publicly and raped her daughters.

Boudica was determined that this humiliation had to be answered. She rallied the Iceni then gained the support of several neighboring tribes that already hated the Romans and were horrified at the abuse she and her daughters had suffered. She managed to raise an army 120,000 strong. [6]

A 1793 engraving showing Boudica rallying people to her cause, with her daughters at her side. Boadicea Haranguing the Britons by William Sharp. Photo source.

Boudica and her army first marched on Camulodunum (modern Colchester) while the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was away campaigning on the island of Mona (known today as Anglesey). [7] The city was a target of special hatred because they brutalized the neighboring Britons and built a lavish temple to Claudius. [8] Thankfully, the city was an easy target since the residents had dismantled much of the defenses to build houses and the Romans could only muster 200 soldiers, who were easily defeated. [9] There are no records of how involved Boudica and her daughters were in the fighting but she was definitely the one leading the army and her daughters were there.

Boadicea and Her Daughters. The statue was commissioned by Queen Victoria and stands on the west end of Westminster Bridge. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Suetonius hurried back to the capital of Londinium (modern London) but when he saw Boudica’s army, he turned tail and ran. Boudica’s army captured the city, burned it down, and slaughtered everyone they found. They then moved on to the city of Verulamium (known today as St. Albans), which they captured and destroyed. [10]

Suetonius regrouped, amassing an army of 10,000 men. [11] He took up position on defensible ground and waited for Boudica to come to him. Even though the rebel army now numbered between 230,000 to 300,000 warriors they were defeated by the superior training, tactics, and equipment of the Roman forces. According to the historian, Tacitus, the Romans were so hateful that they slaughtered the women and animals. [12] There are conflicting stories of Boudica’s fate. Historians have claimed that she poisoned herself, was killed in battle, or died of a sickness. There are no records of what became of her daughters.

The Britons against the Romans. Photo source.

The Write Angle

For authors writing women warriors, especially those leading armies, Boudica can offer a huge amount of inspiration and insight. She was skilled at rallying fighters to her cause and played up the abuse leveled against her and her daughters to enrage people and stoke the hatred they already had toward the Romans. She was knowledgeable about the land and the weak locations that were the best targets.

Her army was incredibly brutal and did torturous things to people whose only crime was living in a Roman city. I have not gone into detail because of the horrific nature of the subject; you are welcome to research it yourself if you like.

In the end, Boudica’s pride was her downfall. She came to underestimate her enemy. She won three decisive victories against Roman cities and had come to believe that her superior numbers would overcome any advantage the Romans possessed. Her enemy was able to regroup and employ tactics that had been successful in the past, including against overwhelming odds. Ultimately, they used her hubris and hatred against her.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or by writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Hingley & Unwin (2006). Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. p. 197.
[2] Hingley & Unwin (2006). Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. pp. 19, 23.
[3] Newark, Timothy (1989). Women Warlords: An Illustrated Military History of Female Warriors. London: Blandford. p. 85.
[4] Tacitus, The Annals, 14.31
[5] Cassius Dio, Roman History, 62.2
[6] Hingley & Unwin (2006). Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. p. 70.
[7] Hingley & Unwin (2006). Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. p. 44.
[8] Hingley & Unwin (2006). Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. p. 71.
[9] Webster, Graham (1978). Boudica, the British Revolt against Rome Ad 60. Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield. p. 90.
[10] Hingley & Unwin 2004, p. 180
[11] Tacitus, Annals 14.34
[12] Tacitus, Publius, Cornelius, The Annals, Book 14, Chapter 35

1 Comments on “Writer’s Deep Dive: Boudica”

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