Boudicca (also known as Boadicea and Boudica), was a Celtic chieftainess who led the Iceni and a number of other Celtic tribes, including the neighbouring Trinovantes, in a major uprising against the occupying Roman forces in Britain in AD 61.
Statue of Boudicca by Westminster Pier
Prasutagus, her husband, led the Iceni, who lived in the future East Anglia. He had compromised his political position by entering into a number of agreements with the Romans, amongst them bequeathing part of his dominions to them, in hope that they would protect his family's title to the remainder. When he died, the Romans seized all of his lands, plundered them and committed a number of atrocities, including flogging Boudicca and raping her daughters.
In anger Boudicca swiftly assembled an army, said by some sources to number as many as 100,000 men, although the numbers were probably much lower. They laid waste to Colchester, London and Verulamium and achieved a fearsome reputation due to their treatment of their enemies. She also sacrificed hundreds of Roman women to the warrior goddess Andraste.
The Roman historian Dio Cassius, who lived a century after these events, described her:
- Boudicca was tall, terrible to look on and gifted with a powerful voice. A flood of bright red hair ran down to her knees; she wore a golden necklet made up of ornate pieces, a multi-coloured robe and over it a thick cloak held together by a brooch. She took up a long spear to cause dread in all who set eyes on her.
Contradictory reports of Boudicca's death survive: if she did not die in battle, some accounts state that she committed suicide by poison rather than be captured; others assert that she died in a Roman prison cell.
Boudicca's fame endured in Britain for several centuries afterwards. Gildas alludes to her in his typically oblique fashion as a "treacherous lioness".
A statue of Boudicca, depicted as conceived in folk memory, with her two daughters astride a chariot with knives set into the wheel-hubs, stands in central London beside the river Thames, next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. It was made by Thomas Thornycroft in the nineteenth century.