Ruler women in history and why their history is seldom told



I will every now and then return to some of the most daring, fierce and historically important women that my history books omitted or defamed mercilessly. In the last century women of power, (Meir, Gandhi, Butto, Cíxǐ tàihòu, Jiang Qing, Thatcher, inter alia) have either been assasinated or publically defamed often with references to similar personality traits attributed to women who were burned as witches and it is, by no means, a coincidence.

Shortly after her death, Mother Theresa, was scrutinized and found guilty of pride, agressivness, auhtoritarianism, political hidden agendas, a lakey and lobbyist of Papist conservatism in order to preserve female submission, while the the praise from a multiple religious leaders or political parties was endless while she was still alive. She was hated and feared by the high and mighty, even of her own faith. Her obvious indifference to multireligious dogma and inhuman cultural traditions may be a reason why she isn´t canonized, despite popular demand after her death.

Women who prove to be strong in times of conflict and historically famous for their warrior or leadership skills are more often than not analyzed with focus on their sexually assumed high Testosterone levels with one sole exception, the canonized Joan of Arc, whose carnal knowledge was described as non existent. Most probably she was raped or sexually abused by her enemies. The predominantly male historians and papist biographists focused on divine purity to cultivate a religiously correct legend of a virgin invincible farmer´s daughter uncontaminated by female sexuality. 

Female sexuality was, and still is, a paramount threat in religious and secular contexts. Physicallly and intellectually strong women are often labelled as promiscuous, unnatural, Sapphic or, in the worst case, in strong affinity with Satan or other dark forces. In modern history  Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margareth Thatcher´s hard core politics have been addressed from a genus perspective, a destiny they share with a long list of influential women, whose achievments, negative or positive, are seen as female anomalies or severe personal disorders.

Let us start with a legendary Celtic woman, described as the daughter of a Celtic King, Emporer or Autocrat, depending on the biographer. In reality is seems more plausible that she was the daughter of a tribal ruler, sometimes described as her husband, in a tribal organized Britain without any kingdoms or, even less, an empire. After the 400 years of Roman occupation and influence, Britain rapidly regressed to tribal conditions which persisted until the late Middle Ages and disappeared, at least formally, with William the Conqueror, who however had no influence over the Scottish tribes which were defeated much later in history.


BOUDICCA ( also known as: Boudica, Boadicea, Boadacaea )

(? - 61 CE)

Most of us passing the imposing statue of a woman in pompous splender of power and grandeur on Westminster Bridge in London probably believe that she is Britannia, an equivalent to the French Marianne or the Swedish Mother Svea. Every true Brit, however, does not. No one is unfamiliar of who she is, of her rightful name and what she symbolizes.

Boudicca, often called a British Celtic warrior queen led a devastating and bloody revolt against Roman occupation and has become a symbol of the British tradition to oppose tyranny of all kinds and is hailed as the incarnation of British stamina and independence.

We know the history of Boudicca through two writers: Tacitus, in "Agricola" (98 CE) and "The Annals" (109 CE), and Dio, in "The Rebellion of Boudicca" (about 163 CE).
Boudicca was the wife (or daughter) of Prasutagus, who was the head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk. In 43 CE, the Romans invaded Britain, and most of the Celtic tribes were forced to submit. However, the Romans allowed two Celtic tribal rulers to retain some of their traditional power; one was Prasutagus, a pragmatic strategy to pacify opposition (Pax Romana) they had learned from Alexander the Great of Macedonia.

The Roman occupation brought increased Roman settlement, military presence, and attempts to suppress Celtic religious culture. There were major economic changes, including heavy taxes and money lending.

In 47 CE the Romans forced the Iceni to disarm, creating resentment and social disorder. Prasutagus of the Celtic Icani tribe and the husband of Boudicca had been given a grant by the Romans, but the Romans then redefined this as a loan. When Prasutagus died in 60 CE, he left half his kingdom* (no formal monarchy but more adequatelty a tribal dominion or a territory controlled) to the Emperor Nero to settle this debt.

The Romans arrived to collect, but instead of settling for half of the Icani territory, seized control of it. To humiliate the former rulers, the Romans beat Boudicca publicly, raped their two daughters, seized the wealth of many Iceni and sold much of the ruler´s family into slavery.

The Roman governor Suetonius turned his attention to attacking Wales, taking two-thirds of the Roman military in Britain. Boudicca meanwhile met with the leaders of the Iceni, Trinovanti, Cornovii, Durotiges, and other tribes, who also had grievances against the Romans including grants that had been redefined as loans. They planned to revolt and drive out the Romans.

Boudicca's Army Attacks:

Led by Boudicca, about 100,000 British attacked Camulodunum (now Colchester), where the Romans had their main center of rule. With Suetonius and most of the Roman forces away, Camulodunum was not well-defended, and the Romans were driven out. The Procurator Decianus was forced to flee. Boudicca's army burned Camulodunum to the ground; only the Roman temple was left. History has it that the settled Romans were slaughtered in a most brutal way, the breasts of the Roman women cut off and the the onslaught ended by killing each man, woman and child of Roman ethnicity and  the Britons, natives who had adopted Roman customs.

Immediately Boudicca's army turned to the largest city in the British Isles, Londinium (London). Suetonius strategically ( or cowardly ) abandoned the city, and Boudicca's army burned Londinium and massacred the 25,000 inhabitants who had not fled. Archaeological evidence of a layer of burned ash shows the extent of the destruction. The attack has been described as one of the most brutal in history in Roman chronicles and as an example of Boudicca´s bloodthist, not taking into account that inter tribal wars preceeding the Roman colonization were all equally devastating for the losers.

Next, Boudicca and her army marched on Verulamium (St. Albans), a city largely populated by Britons who had cooperated with the Romans and who were killed as the city was destroyed.

Changing Fortunes:

Boudicca's army had counted on seizing Roman food stores when the tribes abandoned their own fields to wage rebellion, but Suetonius had strategically seen to the burning of the Roman stores. Famine thus struck the victorious army, weakening them. This however, seems not to have been the case. Boudicca, convinced that her army would win, had brought her own stores and women and children behind in the rear to watch the onslaught on the Romans.

Her fatal mistake was to agree to a field battle, Roman style. The disciplined Romans were stratigically placed with a hilly and inaccesible forest in their rear in order to protect hemselves from a potential ambush, whereas Boudicca could not retreat because of the massive cluttering of wagons with food, arms and spectators she had brought to winess her expected victory. She was caught in a trap and her forces and the spectators massacred.


”Boudicca fought one more battle, though its precise location is not sure. Boudicca's army attacked uphill, and, exhausted, hungry, was easy for the Romans to rout. Roman troops of 1,200 defeated Boudicca's army of 100,000, killing 80,000 to their own loss of 400” (Tacitus). This seems highly unlikely and in the dramaturgy, as told by Tacitus, too similar to the battle of presentday St Alban, obviously written for the Romans to elevate the moral spirits of an empire in decline.

What happened to Boudicca is uncertain. It is said she returned to her home territory. Boudiccia died two years after the battle of St Alban, from sickness or, to improve the story, by taking poison, just like Teuta of Albania and Cleopatra of Egypt, two women as prominent in history as Boudicca.

Boudicca's story was nearly forgotten until Tacitus' work, Annals, was rediscovered in 1360. Her story became popular during the reign of another English queen who headed an army against the Spanish invasion, Queen Elizabeth I.

The description of Boudicca´s personal characther range from monstrous, sadistic and mad (by the Romans) to a female hero of great courage, stamina and a fierce defender of independence. The  British urge for independance has been a continous pattern dominating most of the British history and has become a concept of honor defining or stereotyping the Brits and, equally important, the Scots and the Irish. The fact that she was a woman erased her from history except for in the minds of the Brits. Her statue is placed on Westminister Bridge in pompous glory, close to the power center of a former empire.

In short:

Many tribal wars during the Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age and the pre-Columbian North American indegenous world were fought with women warriors and leaders. In genus egalitarian cultures, and there have been quiet a number of them, it is the skill that decides who will lead or rule and not the genus. This actual fact has been and is still being deliberately ignored and gives us a false picture of leadership during millenia. Our awareness of female power seems to start with Catherine the Great in 18th century Russia, and she, ladies and gentlemen, was a late bloomer in the succession of prominent female leaders.    

Douglas Modig