Friday, August 11, 2006

Good evening, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101. I’d like to start tonight with a clarification on last week’s episode covering the Battle of Trafalgar. Once I listened to the podcast after it was released, I realized I never even mentioned why it’s called the Battle of Trafalgar. It was so named because it was fought off the coast of Spain, near the Cape of Trafalgar. Sorry to leave that little bit out – this week’s episode won’t feature any slips like that.
Tonight we’ll be learning about Boudicca, also know as Boadicea, the warrior queen of native Britons during the time of the Romans. When the Roman Empire extended its reach over British lands, the rulers of the native peoples were forced to pay local Roman officials if they wanted protection from attackers. The king who gave rise to Boudicca’s reign was Prasutagus, her husband. Prasutagus ruled the Iceni people, native Britons who inhabited the area around modern-day Norfolk. When Prasutagus died in 60 A.D., he did the customary duty of kings and gave half his wealth and territories to Nero, the Roman emperor at the time. The other half, along with his power as ruler of the Iceni, went to his widow, Boudicca, who would keep it under her care until Prasutagus’ daughters came of age. This was completely normal at the time – the Iceni people accepted feminine authority, and to them Boudicca’s gender presented no problems. However, the Romans thought otherwise. Being the “real” authority in the land, they treated Boudicca with contempt and outright hostility. She was publicly beaten by her Roman overlords and her daughters were raped. The lands of the Iceni nobles were confiscated, and the Roman historian Tacitus tells us, “Kingdom and household alike were plundered like prizes of war.” War itself didn’t come until the following year, when Boudicca led her people in revolt against what the Romans were doing.
Dio Cassius, another Roman historian who has left us with details on the life of Boudicca, describes the queen by saying, “In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying. Her glance was fierce, her voice harsh, a great mass of the most tawny hair cascaded to her hips.” From this, we can see that Boudicca was quite an imposing figure – and for good reason. She went on to lead one of the most violent periods in British history, and it started with the destruction of the town we now call Colchester.
Colchester was the first target of Boudicca’s wrath. She and the band of her followers destroyed the town, causing so much destruction that in 1907 a young boy swimming in the River Alde, Suffolk, the county north of Colchester’s Essex, found a bronze head of the Emperor Claudius. After the destruction of Britain’s oldest city, Boudicca led her army towards Londinium, the relatively new Roman town that later developed into the global hub we know as London nowadays. Londinium received no better treatment than Colchester – it was burned to the ground, and excavators along the River Thames in London have discovered a layer of red clay under centuries of the construction that built London that they have called Boudicca’s layer.
During all this, most of the Roman army was occupied in the northwest, hunting down the Druids they found to be so troublesome. Boudicca decided the Roman military was her next objective, and so she headed off to confront the army and get vengeance for the injustices committed against her and her people. However, Boudicca and her army weren’t alone on their trip – as Boudicca had picked up troops to rally behind her cause all along the way, many soldiers brought their entire families with them. This caused the rebel army to have an enormous train of civilians following behind them. In essence, all those opposed to Roman cruelty were massed together behind their tawny-haired leader, marching across the British countryside to battle the foreign rulers.
After stopping briefly in Verulanium, modern-day St. Albans, to demolish the city, Boudicca most likely encountered the Roman army under the command of Governor Suetonius in the Midlands, north of Coventry near Mancetter. Confronted with the vastly better trained yet smaller in number Roman army, Tacitus tells us that Boudicca paraded before her soldiers in her chariot, rallying them by saying, “I am fighting for my lost freedom, my bruised body, and my outraged daughters. Consider how many of you are fighting and why – then you will win this battle, or perish! That is what I, a woman, plan to do! Let the men live in slavery if the want to!” If ever their was an ancient inspiration of girl power, it was Boudicca.
Although Boudicca and her rebels overwhelmingly held the numerical advantage, the professional Roman army slowly wore down the native army. The train of families following Boudicca had fanned out around the battle site to watch the carnage, and this proved to be the end of the warrior queen. When the rebels were driven back by the Romans, the families’ positions accidentally acted to hem in the army – they were being pushed back by the Romans and had nowhere to go. The rebels were utterly slaughtered, losing 80,000 soldiers to the Roman casualty count of 400. Boudicca and her daughters all took poison, choosing to end their own lives rather than fall into Roman hands again. So ended Boudicca’s Revolt.
In 1902, a statue was raised near Parliament, showing Boudicca in all her battle-earned glory. According to legend, Boudicca fell in battle directly under platform 10 at King’s Cross metro station – of course, this is purely fictional, as most historians agree the warrior died in the Midlands at what has become known as the Battle of Watling Street.
Boudicca’s Revolt ultimately failed. However, the memory of those violent times is part of the soul of Britain today – that indomitable spirit that refuses to live under oppression and tyranny, epitomized by the valiant people that lead Britain to becoming what she is today.
That’s it for this episode of British History 101. If you’d like to look back over Boudicca’s Revolt, check out my blog at for a transcript of this and every other episode. Send suggestions, questions, comments, rants, and raves to Our music tonight is “O Madalena Che Portasti" performed by Joglaresa and available on Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. My best to you all, and as always thank you so very much for listening to and supporting British History 101. Have a great night, and we’ll learn together next week.

MP3 File


At 1:47 AM, August 17, 2006, Blogger Al said...

What a terrific podcast. Just stumbled on it and am totally delighted. I studied Medieval History in College so your podcast is an experience similar to listening to the golden oldies from back when....familiar tunes you haven't heard in a long time but with which there is immediate resonance.
Continued success.

At 9:39 PM, December 07, 2008, Blogger SK said...

I LOVE your podcast. I am a total anglophile, and so for obvious reasons I gravitated towards this. Awesome job.


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