“Boadicea and Her Daughters”*

*bronze sculptural group sited on the north side of the western end of Westminster Bridge. It is considered the magnum opus of its sculptor, the English artist and engineer Thomas Thornycroft.

James Grout notes on his website, Encyclopaedia Romana, that he has now retired from the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco. In anticipation of his retirement from UCSF, the Encyclopaedia moved to the University of Chicago on August 16, 2005, “a transition (my fourth) facilitated by Bill Thayer and James Eason”.

He explains: “The genesis derived from having played SPQR (an acronym for Senatus Populusque Romanus, “The Senate and People of Rome”), an online game set in the Roman Forum in AD 205. The early emphasis in the Encyclopaedia on architecture and the imperial forums was prompted by a desire to better understand that time and place.”

Grout writes of Boudica:

“It is not coincidental that Boudica took on legendary proportions for the British people during the reign of Victoria, another great queen. Sponsored by her consort Prince Albert, who provided horses from his stables as models, the great bronze statue of Boudica and her daughters (see image) was placed at Westminster Bridge across from the Houses of Parliament  in 1902, a symbol of the nation and its imperial ambitions. (The Second Boer War had ended that year.) Built of wicker and wood, the war-chariot of the Britons actually was much lighter and more agile than the one on the embankment of the Thames, where its wheels are fitted with scythes and the rearing horses uncontrolled by reins.

The British Empire then was at its height and Boudica, a patriotic heroine who died defending the liberty of her country against a foreign invader, whose power now had been eclipsed by its former province—or so states the inscription at the base of the statue by the poet William Cowper:

Regions Caesar never knew

Thy posterity shall sway.

The lines are from Boadicea: An Ode, written in 1782, and spoken by a Druid to a bleeding Boudica who, upon hearing them, rushes into battle, asserting in the last quatrain of the poem—

Ruffians, pitiless as proud,

Heaven awards the vengeance due:

Empire is on us bestowed,

Shame and ruin wait for you!”

The sentiment of a Rome that “tramples on a thousand states” draws upon the account of Tacitus (Annals, XIV.35), who presents Boudica as a woman wronged. Cassius Dio (Roman History, LXII.7), on the other hand, considers the revolt of the Iceni to be that of cruel barbarians. Certainly, Tennyson portrays the queen as more bloodthirsty in…Boädicéa (written in 1859 but not published until 1864).

A symbol both to Tacitus and Dio, Boudica has continued to reflect the biases and prejudices of those who appeal to her, the events of the past interpreted to suit the requirements of the present.

Tacitus writes that the Britons made no distinction in the sex of their leaders but were used to women commanders in war, the most famous of whom were Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes, and Boudica, queen of the Iceni.

Cartimandua capitulated to Rome soon after the Claudian conquest and grew rich and prosperous as a result. When the British patriot Caractacus sought refuge in her kingdom, she handed him over to Rome, which defended her in the civil war that later resulted. And, when the Iceni rebelled, it was Cartimandua who held back the Brigantes, the largest in Britain, from coming to their aid.

At first, the Iceni, too, had been a client kingdom of Rome. But, with the death of Prasutagus, his consort Boudica led the people in failed revolt. Boudica poisoned herself and the survivors starved—two British queens who responded so differently to Roman domination.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s