In the heart of Nero's reign, the pacification and Romanization of Britain was quickly beginning to pay dividends. However, the apparent greed of Nero, as he slipped farther into his own debauchery, would be the catalyst that brought the Roman wheel to a grinding halt. Boudicca (Boadicea Victoria among other various spellings), the source of British resistance, was the wife of the Iceni King Prasutagus who had submitted to Claudius after the invasion of AD 43. Married sometime around AD 48 to 49 she bore two daughters (names unknown) and would remain with her husband until his death by illness in AD 61. His death, accompanied by the attempt to provide security for his family and people, would ultimately bring about the downfall of the Iceni.
Upon his death in AD 61, Prasutagus left one half of his inheritance to his two (now likely early teenaged) daughters with Boudicca acting as regent ruler on their behalf. In order to appease the newly arrived Roman masters of southern Britain, his will arranged for the second half of his estate to be allocated to the Roman emperor Nero. In what seemed to be a reasonable effort to preserve his own familial dynasty while appeasing Rome turned out to be just the sort of written excuse the Romans needed to claim all the Iceni lands and properties for themselves. Nero's financial procurator in Britain, Catus Decianus, was sent to the home of Boudicca to make an assessment of all properties and inheritances, to make a true Roman determination on what 'legally' should belong to Nero (including the repayment of earlier 'loans').
As it was considered illegal for a client King to not will his entire estate to the Emperor (from a Roman perspective) Decianus and his legionaries were completely within their right to exact payment in full. According to Tacitus: 'His (Prasutagus) dominions were ravaged by the centurions; the slaves pillaged his house, and his effects were seized as lawful plunder. His wife, Boudicca, was disgraced with cruel stripes; her daughters were ravished, and the most illustrious of the Icenians were, by force, deprived of the positions which had been transmitted to them by their ancestors. The whole country was considered as a legacy bequeathed to the plunderers. The relations of the deceased king were reduced to slavery.'
This act of extreme aggression, while certainly appearing to be unwarranted, may have been an indication that all was not completely tranquil within Roman controlled Britain to begin with. Throughout the province, several small rebellions (and/or continued resistance to the spread of Roman power on the outskirts of its controlled territories) were continuing to take place. Suetonius Paulinus, the recently appointed governor of Britain, was already busy on the Island of Mona (Anglesey) suppressing rebels and destroying the Druids. This suppression of druidic Celtic tradition and custom certainly did little to endear the Roman occupiers to their new subjects. While busy there, 300 miles from where the brutalizing of Boudicca and the Iceni was to occur, an Iceni neighbor, the Trinovantes (among others) were involved in a relatively minor rebellion of their own. Coupled with the rage of Boudicca's people, it wouldn't be long before much of southeastern Britain would rise up in revolt. Word reached Paulinus of the impending trouble and he began to march, but the absence of the bulk of Rome's legions allowed the anger and suppression to boil over into all out rage.
The leader of this rage was the woman who faced the Roman whip, suffered the rape of her daughters and the pillaging of her people. According to Dio Cassius, "Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch." Within a short time she was able to gather an army of over 100,000 and in speech worthy of modern Hollywood (and in the stylish tradition of several ancient Roman historians), she inspired this army to wreak havoc on Roman colonists, take Celtic vengeance, and (according to modern sensibilities) fight for the freedom of Britain.
Did you know...?
Boudicca's fame took on legendary proportion in Victorian Britain, and Queen Victoria was seen as her "namesake".