London and Boudicca – John Harding

When we think of what soldiers look like today, we think of brave men or women in camouflage clothing, arranged into regiments and coordinated with military precision. We see pictures on television or in films of ultra-professional, unflappable highly trained personnel, taught to respond admirably in extreme conditions. And in many cases, while we may have personal reservations over the political will and reasons for deploying them to foreign climes, admiration for the professionalism, sacrifice and dedication of our armed forces never wavers.

Armies and soldiers in yesteryear, may have lacked the training, but the bravery and loyalty remained; always bound by a common cause. All of the accounts of major battles that defined British history, such as the English Civil War, the Battle of Bosworth or the Battle of Hastings were always fought by two passionate armies with military equipment.

But some British history has been steered by armies that lacked the training, the dress and the chainmail. Some of the most revered individuals in our past were not reticent at engaging their enemies without the requisite military strategy, equipment or even clothing.

imageAnd none, is this so clear than the Queen of Iceni, Boudicca – also known as Boadicea or Boudica.

Boudicca was married to Prasutagus, who ruled his empire as a Roman ally in a corner of a remote island of the Republic. When he died, he left his kingdom to his wife and Rome, which was ignored; Boudicca was beaten and her daughters publicly raped, to underline the power of Roman rule.

In retaliation, Boudicca brought the Iceni tribe, the Trinovantes and others together in an alliance to attack Camulodunum, previously a town under Trinovantian control but annexed by the Romans. After destroying the city and butchering the inhabitants, they drove the Romans from Londinium (now London) – a newly established city – and slaughtered all the remaining residents. Boudicca marched on Verulamium (now St Albans) and ransacked the city.

Between the destruction of the three settlements, an estimated 80,000 people were killed by Boudicca and her supporters. They met an established Roman army at Watling Street, and superior Roman tactics prevailed despite being outnumbered multiple times over. Boudicca was defeated and committed suicide in a remote field to avoid being captured.

But the remarkable account of Boudicca was more than just the story of a wronged woman unleashing retribution on poorly-defended Roman cities; it was a clash of cultures. The Roman army was well-trained, well-armed and well-clothed. Boudicca’s army was less so.

The accounts are that Boudicca fought topfree; her supporters fought naked. Their bodies painted in blue woad, or smothered in faeces. Outnumbered, the Roman legions saw hordes of naked, wild Britons streaking across the open field to attack them, unencumbered by clothes and possessing greater agility. The woad on their skin acted as an anti-sceptic. Thr weapons: whatever equipment they could find.

The Iceni were not the only people to fight the Romans without clothes; the Scots, the Boli and Insubres, as well as the Gauls were also known to line up against the Republic to bear arms without being encumbered by armour or clothing. It’s a practice that continued in the Liberian Civil War with the barbaric General Butt Naked.

I mention this, for a single point: Boudicca is revered in this country. The legend of the plucky Brit who stood up against the might of the Romans, and who possessed a spirit and drive that against all the odds stood up to the power of the Republic. One of East Anglia’s most famous Britons, Boudicca has been immortalised in books, film, television series and games.

And a statue.

Opposite the Houses of Parliament and alongside Westminster Bridge, arguably the most famous statue in London, is of the anti-imperalist rebel, Boudicca. Outside the very house which has voted in favour of curtailing our civil liberties, is the women who fought for freedom and liberty.

The statue, a tribute from London towards the bravery of the woman who destroyed the very city 1850 years previous. But it has her body clothed; her daughters are shown topfree, but the hero is clothed.

So butchery, brutal retaliation and savage torture is all fine; but nudity, pah! Well, this is Britain after all

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John Harding

jdharding@gmail.com

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