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Mighty Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes Tribe and Friend to Rome

Mighty Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes Tribe and Friend to Rome


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Standing next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament in the heart of London is a giant bronze statue of a woman with her two daughters on a chariot. This was Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni tribe, and arguably one of the most well-known figures from Roman Britain of the 1 st century A.D.

Less well-known, but perhaps more significant was Cartimandua, the queen of the Brigantes tribe. Although both women were powerful figures in their own right, one distinctive feature that separated the two queens was their policy towards the Romans. Whilst Boudicca famously led a rebellion against the Romans, Cartimandua pursued a more pro-Roman policy.

Cartimandua’s tribe, the Brigantes, occupied the region known today as northern England, and was said to be the largest tribe on the British Isles. When the Romans under the emperor Claudius invaded Britain in A.D. 43, Cartimandua may have already been the leader of the Brigantes. It is also possible that Cartimandua was one of the eleven rulers of Britain who surrendered to Rome without a fight, as mentioned on the inscription on the now lost Arch of Claudius. Thus, the Brigantes tribe was a client kingdom of Rome, whose loyalty to the empire ensured its autonomy.

County map of England & Wales, overlaid with Territory of the Romano-British Brigantes Tribe of Northern England. Wikimedia Commons

Inscription from the Arch of Claudius, Capitoline Museums. (Wikimedia GFDL )

In A.D. 51, the leader of the Catuvellauni tribe, Caratacus, was finally defeated by the Romans after resisting them for almost decade. He decided to flee to Cartimandua for sanctuary, only to be surrendered by her to the Romans. Although this ensured the favor of the Romans, it made her less popular with her own people. Cartimandua’s loyalty towards Rome, however, would not go unrecognized, and she was rewarded handsomely by the Romans. More importantly was the military support provided by Rome several years later.

MORE

In A.D. 57, a quarrel arose between Cartimandua and her consort, Venutius. This resulted in a civil war when Venutius, angered by the capture of his brothers and relatives by Cartimandua, invaded her territory. The Romans decided to interfere by sending military aid, first auxiliaries, and then a legion, to their client. As a result, Cartimandua was able to secure her throne, and it seemed that the queen and Venutius were reconciled for the time being.

Rome’s support for Cartimandua would be repaid several years later in A.D. 60/61, when Boudicca led a revolt against Rome. Cartimandua did not join the revolt, thus relieving the Romans from the fear of being attacked from the north. Had the anti-Roman Venutius emerged victorious during the Brigantine civil war, the fate of the Roman army in Britain may have been quite different.

In A.D. 69, Cartimandua decided to divorce Venutius, and marry Vellocatus, his armor-bearer. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, this was prompted by the queen’s passions. Although this may be true, the situation may be more complex than just a simple love affair.

A.D. 69 was also the year of the Roman emperor Nero’s death, and the Roman Empire was plunged into chaos. The time was ripe for Venutius to settle old scores, and Cartimandua had to act swiftly. It has been argued that by taking Vellocatus as her consort, Cartimandua effectively deprived Venutius of his most trusted client-chief, and weakened his power. Nevertheless, Venutius had the affection of the Brigantes, and he led a revolt against Cartimandua. Once again, Cartimandua sought the Romans for help. This time, however, the Romans could only afford to send auxiliaries, as the legions were busy fighting in other part of the empire. Although she lost her throne, Cartimandua managed to flee to the Roman fort at Deva (modern day Chester).

Theatrical mask created by the historical Brigantes tribe, found at Catterick. Wikimedia, Fair Use

Following the defeat of Cartimandua and her Roman allies, Venutius would lead the Brigantes for a brief period of time. He would eventually be vanquished by the Romans, thus bringing the territory of the Brigantines under direct Roman rule.

As for Cartimandua, the once mighty queen simply vanished from the historical records, her fate unknown, and remains a mystery to future generations.

Featured image: A print, entitled ‘Caractacus, King of the Silures, delivered up to Ostorius, the Roman General, by Cartismandua, Queen of the Brigantes’.

References

Castelow, E., 2015. Cartimandua (Cartismandua). [Online]
Available at: http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Cartimandua-Cartismandua/

Richmond, I. A., 1954. Queen Cartimandua. The Journal of Roman Studies, Volume 44, pp. 43-52.

Tacitus, The Annals [Online]
[Church, A. J. and Brodribb W. (trans.), 1888. Tacitus’ The Annals.]
Available at: http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html

Tacitus, The Histories [Online]
[Church, A. Tacitus’ The Histories.]
Available at: http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/histories.html

West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, 2007. Cartimandua. [Online]
Available at: http://www.archaeology.wyjs.org.uk/RomanWeb/Cartimandua.htm

www.englishmonarchs.co.uk, 2005. Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes. [Online]
Available at: http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/celts_15.html

By Ḏḥwty


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Boudica

Britain has produced many fierce, noble warriors down the ages who have fought to keep Britain free, but there was one formidable lady in history whose name will never be forgotten – Queen Boudica or Boadicea as she is more commonly called.

At the time of the Roman conquest of southern Britain Queen Boudica ruled the Iceni tribe of East Anglia alongside her husband King Prasutagus.

Boudica was a striking looking woman. – “She was very tall, the glance of her eye most fierce her voice harsh. A great mass of the reddest hair fell down to her hips. Her appearance was terrifying.” – Definitely a lady to be noticed!

The trouble started when Prasutagus, hoping to curry favour with the Romans, made the Roman Emperor Nero co-heir with his daughters to his considerable kingdom and wealth. He hoped by this ploy, to keep his kingdom and household free from attack.

But no! Unfortunately the Roman Governor of Britain at that time was Suetonius Paulinus who had other ideas on the subject of lands and property. After Prasutagus’s death his lands and household were plundered by the Roman officers and their slaves.

Not content with taking all the property and lands, Suetonius had Prasutagus’ widow Boudica publicly flogged and her daughters were raped by Roman slaves!

Other Iceni chiefs suffered in a like manner and their families were treated like slaves.

Not surprisingly these outrages provoked the Iceni, Trinobantes and other tribes to rebel against the Romans.

The Britons at first had great successes. They captured the hated Roman settlement of Camulodunum (Colchester) and the Roman division there was routed, the Imperial agent fleeing to Gaul.

Boudica and her allies gave no quarter in their victories and when Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St. Albans) were stormed, the defenders fled and the towns were sacked and burned! The revolting Britons even desecrated the Roman cemeteries, mutilating statues and breaking tombstones. Some of these mutilated statues can be seen today in Colchester Museum.

Finally Suetonius, who had made a tactical withdrawal (fled) with his troops into relative safety of the Roman military zone, decided to challenge Boudica. He assembled an army of 10,000 regulars and auxiliaries, the backbone of which was made up from the 14th Legion.

The Roman historian Tacitus in his ‘Annals of Rome’ gives a very vivid account of the final battle, which was fought in the Midlands of England, possibly at place called Mancetter near Nuneaton, in AD61.

Boudica and her daughters drove round in her chariot to all her tribes before the battle, exhorting them to be brave. She cried that she was descended from mighty men but she was fighting as an ordinary person for her lost freedom, her bruised body and outraged daughters. Perhaps as taunt to the men in her ranks, it is said that she asked them to consider: ‘Win the battle or perish: that is what I, a woman will do you men can live on in slavery if that’s what you want.’

The Britons attacked crowding in on the Roman defensive line. The order was given and a volley of several thousand heavy Roman javelins was thrown into the advancing Britons, followed quickly by a second volley. The lightly armed Britons must have suffered massive casualties within the first minutes of the battle. The Romans moved in for the kill, attacking in tight formation, stabbing with their short swords.

The Britons now had little chance, with so many of them involved in the battle it is likely that their massed ranks worked against them by restricting their movements so they were unable to use their long swords effectively. To ensure success the Roman cavalry was released which promptly encircled the enemy and began their slaughter from the rear. Seemingly mad with blood lust, Tacitus records that 80,000 Britons men, women and children, were killed. The Roman losses amounted to 400 dead with a slightly larger number wounded.

Boudica was not killed in the battle but took poison rather than be taken alive by the Romans.

Boudica has secured a special place of her own in British folk history remembered for her courage The Warrior Queen who fought the might of Rome. And in a way she did get her revenge, as in 1902 a bronze statue of her riding high in her chariot, designed by Thomas Thorneycroft, was placed on the Thames embankment next to the Houses of Parliament in the old Roman capital of Britain, Londinium – The ultimate in Girl Power!


Contents

Caratacus's name appears as both Caratacus and Caractacus in manuscripts of Tacitus, and as Καράτακος and Καρτάκης in manuscripts of Dio. Older reference works tend to favour the spelling "Caractacus", but modern scholars agree, based on historical linguistics and source criticism, that the original Common Brittonic form was *Karatākos, pronounced [karaˈtaːkos] , cognate with Welsh Caradog, Breton Karadeg, and Irish Carthach, meaning "loving, beloved, dear friend". [1]

Claudian invasion Edit

Caratacus is named by Dio Cassius as a son of the Catuvellaunian king Cunobelinus. [2] Based on coin distribution Caratacus appears to have been the protégé of his uncle Epaticcus, who expanded Catuvellaunian power westwards most likely from his palace in Verulam the heartland of the Catuvellauni into the territory of the Atrebates. [3] After Epaticcus died in about AD 35, the Atrebates, under Verica, regained some of their territory, but it appears Caratacus completed the conquest, as Dio tells us Verica was ousted, fled to Rome and appealed to the emperor Claudius for help. This was the excuse used by Claudius to launch his invasion of Britain in the summer of 43. The invasion targeted Caratacus's stronghold of Camulodunon (modern Colchester), previously the seat of his father Cunobelinus. [4] [5] Cunobelinus had died some time before the invasion. Caratacus and his brother Togodumnus led the initial defence of the country against Aulus Plautius's four legions, thought to have been around 40,000 men, primarily using guerrilla tactics. [6] They lost much of the south-east after being defeated in two crucial battles, the Battle of the River Medway and River Thames. Togodumnus was killed (although John Hind argues that Dio was mistaken in reporting Togodumnus's death, that he was defeated but survived, and was later appointed by the Romans as a friendly king over a number of territories, becoming the loyal king referred to by Tacitus as Cogidubnus or Togidubnus) [7] and the Catuvellauni's territories were conquered. Their stronghold of Camulodunon was converted into the first Roman colonia in Britain, Colonia Victricensis. [4] [8] [9]

Resistance to Rome Edit

We next hear of Caratacus in Tacitus's Annals, leading the Silures and Ordovices of Wales against Plautius's successor as governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula. [10] Finally, in 50, Scapula managed to defeat Caratacus in a set-piece battle somewhere in Ordovician territory, capturing Caratacus's wife and daughter and receiving the surrender of his brothers. Caratacus himself escaped, and fled north to the lands of the Brigantes (modern Yorkshire) where the Brigantian queen, Cartimandua, handed him over to the Romans in chains. This was one of the factors that led to two Brigantian revolts against Cartimandua and her Roman allies, once later in the 50s and once in 69, led by Venutius, who had once been Cartimandua's husband. With the capture of Caratacus, much of southern Britain from the Humber to the Severn was pacified and garrisoned throughout the 50s. [11]

Legends place Caratacus's last stand at either Caer Caradoc [ citation needed ] near Church Stretton or British Camp [ citation needed ] in the Malvern Hills, but the description of Tacitus makes either unlikely:

[Caratacus] resorted to the ultimate hazard, adopting a place for battle so that entry, exit, everything would be unfavourable to us and for the better to his own men, with steep mountains all around, and, wherever a gentle access was possible, he strewed rocks in front in the manner of a rampart. And in front too there flowed a stream with an unsure ford, and companies of armed men had taken up position along the defences. [12]

Although the Severn is visible from British Camp, it is nowhere near it, so this battle must have taken place elsewhere. A number of locations have been suggested, including a site near Brampton Bryan. Bari Jones, in Archaeology Today in 1998, identified Blodwel Rocks at Llanymynech in Powys as representing a close fit with Tacitus's account. [ full citation needed ]

Captive in Rome Edit

After his capture, Caratacus was sent to Rome as a war prize, presumably to be killed after a triumphal parade. Although a captive, he was allowed to speak to the Roman senate. Tacitus records a version of his speech in which he says that his stubborn resistance made Rome's glory in defeating him all the greater:

If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend rather than a captive, nor would you have disdained to receive with a treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a great many nations. But my present lot, disfiguring as it is for me, is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your slavery? If I were now being handed over as one who had surrendered immediately, neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency. [13]

He made such an impression that he was pardoned and allowed to live in peace in Rome. After his liberation, according to Dio Cassius, Caratacus was so impressed by the city of Rome that he said "And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, still covet our poor huts?" [14]

Medieval Welsh traditions Edit

Caratacus does not appear in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (1136), although he appears to correspond to Arviragus, the younger son of Kymbelinus, who continues to resist the Roman invasion after the death of his older brother Guiderius. [16] In Welsh versions his name is Gweirydd, son of Cynfelyn, and his brother is called Gwydyr [17] the name Arviragus is taken from a poem by Juvenal. [18]

Caradog, son of Bran, who appears in medieval Welsh literature, has also been identified with Caratacus, although nothing in the medieval legend corresponds except his name. He appears in the Mabinogion as a son of Bran the Blessed, who is left in charge of Britain while his father makes war in Ireland, but is overthrown by Caswallawn (the historical Cassivellaunus, who lived a century earlier than Caratacus). [19] The Welsh Triads agree that he was Bran's son, and name two sons, Cawrdaf and Eudaf. [20]

Modern traditions Edit

Caradog only began to be identified with Caratacus after the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus, and new material appeared based on this identification. An 18th-century tradition, popularised by the Welsh antiquarian and forger Iolo Morganwg, credits Caradog, on his return from imprisonment in Rome, with the introduction of Christianity to Britain. Iolo also makes the legendary king Coel Hen a son of Caradog's son Saint Cyllin. [21] Richard Williams Morgan claimed that a reference to Cyllin as a son of Caratacus was found in the family records of Iestyn ab Gwrgant and used this as evidence of the early entry of Christianity to Britain: "Cyllin ab Caradog, a wise and just king. In his days many of the Cymry embraced the faith in Christ through the teaching of the saints of Cor-Eurgain, and many godly men from the countries of Greece and Rome were in Cambria. He first of the Cymry gave infants names for before, names were not given except to adults, and then from something characteristic in their bodies, minds, or manners." [22]

Another tradition, which has remained popular among British Israelites and others, makes Caratacus already a Christian before he came to Rome, Christianity having been brought to Britain by either Joseph of Arimathea or St. Paul, and identifies a number of early Christians as his relatives. [23]

One is Pomponia Graecina, wife of Aulus Plautius, the conqueror of Britain, who as Tacitus relates, was accused of following a "foreign superstition", which the tradition considers to be Christianity. [24] Tacitus describes her as the "wife of the Plautius who returned from Britain with an ovation", which led John Lingard (1771–1851) to conclude, in his History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church, that she was British [25] however, this conclusion is a misinterpretation of what Tacitus wrote. An ovation was a military parade in honour of a victorious general, so the person who "returned from Britain with an ovation" is clearly Plautius, not Pomponia. This has not prevented the error being repeated and disseminated widely.

Another is Claudia Rufina, a historical British woman known to the poet Martial. [26] Martial describes Claudia's marriage to a man named Pudens, [27] almost certainly Aulus Pudens, an Umbrian centurion and friend of the poet who appears regularly in his Epigrams. It has been argued since the 17th century [28] that this pair may be the same as the Claudia and Pudens mentioned as members of the Roman Christian community in 2 Timothy in the New Testament. [29] Some go further, claiming that Claudia was Caratacus' daughter, and that the historical Pope Linus, who is described as the "brother of Claudia" in an early church document, was Caratacus' son. Pudens is identified with St. Pudens, and it is claimed that the basilica of Santa Pudenziana in Rome, and with which St. Pudens is associated, was once called the Palatium Britannicum and was the home of Caratacus and his family.

This theory was popularised in a 1961 book called The Drama of the Lost Disciples by George Jowett, but Jowett did not originate it. He cites renaissance historians such as Archbishop James Ussher, Caesar Baronius and John Hardyng, as well as classical writers like Caesar, Tacitus and Juvenal, although his classical citations at least are wildly inaccurate, many of his assertions are unsourced, and many of his identifications entirely speculative. He also regularly cites St. Paul in Britain, an 1860 book by R. W. Morgan, and advocates other tenets of British Israelism, in particular that the British are descended from the lost tribes of Israel. [30]


Claudius dies and the revolt is quelled

Emperor Claudius died suddenly in 54 AD. in highly suspicious circumstances at the same time of the Brigantes rebellion. His stepson, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus known as Nero, came to the throne. In his writings, Suetonius says that Nero once considered abandoning Britain as it was taken too many resources to hold the country. Resources that could be better used to expand the Roman Empire.

With the death of Claudius, his friends and advisors also disappeared from the scene, though not in such extreme ways. Claudius was elevated to the level of a God, but also allowed to become a subject of ridicule. Such was the attitude of the Romans to treat a late Emperor in this manner.

Even so, Claudius had an outstanding military reputation. The Romans were a very proud race and believed that public image was paramount. If Nero had withdrawn from Britain, it could had been viewed as a defamation of Claudius and all the victories he had had accomplished. Maybe it was for this reason that Nero stayed with the British situation.

The next governor was Quintus Veranius, who had received early promotion to this high status. He had been very successful in his campaigns on the eastern front of the Empire, in Lycia and Pamphylia. He would without doubt have invaded Wales and spread north east to the Brigantes. There was only time for a few raids against the Silures, before he died suddenly in office. On his death bed, Verabius claimed that he could have conquered the whole province in two years. ( Two years being the normal length of stay in office for a governor. )

C. Suetonius Paullinus succeeded Veranius in this office. He too had a strong reputation in military circles. He had been the first Roman general to make a crossing of the Atlas mountains in Mauretania and so was experienced in mountain warfare. This may had been the reason he had been chosen to lead the forages into Wales and the Pennines.

By 60 AD, Paullinus had taken Wales and was preparing to cross the waters to Angelsey. This island had become the last point of retreat for the rebels. Being surrounded by water, this was logical since the British forces could only retreat towards the sea. The Druids, seen as one of the strongest bands of people in Britain, were also on the island. Angelsey was to be no pushover. It is written that it was defended by praying Druids, fierce warriors and wild women. The assault and taking of Angelsey was brutal, bloody and savage in the extreme. These people were fighting for their lives with no avenue of retreat. Paullinus was so engrossed in these battles that he did not see that behind him the worst from the British was yet to come.


The Expulsion of the Pony: Cartimandua

We’re going back farther than we’ve ever gone before, back to the 1 st century, a time when warrior kings ruled the land and vast armies of gladiators battled to the death for supremacy taking ever greater swathes of land across the kingdoms of Europe. But as we know from the likes of Boudicca, these stories of Arthurian legend were very much real and very much involved warrior queens. Whilst these epic dark fairytales of bloodshed and mayhem continue to be told today, not every warrior queen has been remembered. Some have been lost to history and Cartimandua is one. Just like Boudicca, she commanded a vast people and confronted the might of the Roman aggression, running, running ever more toward danger and never away. A controversial figure, but a courageous one, who was this forgotten warrior queen? And just what kind of world did she create?

Prologue

The first century. So long ago much of history has become fused with legend and mythical tales, details hard to fathom, the truth hard to conjure. What we do know is that in the 1 st century, the Brigantes were everywhere, a Celtic people living across northern England. Not much is known of the early life of today’s mysterious ruler, Cartimandua, only that she came to power right at the beginning of the Roman conquest of Britain. She could not have found herself as a queen in a more difficult time, a time when the tribes of Britain were facing annihilation from the hands of the Roman aggressors…

There was little escape for Cartimandua and all the tribal leaders. Many chose to fight. Others found another way to survive. Cartimandua was the granddaughter of King Bellnorix and by all accounts, she was a beloved leader. She was extremely strong and more than a match for any invading army, the soldiers of which often ran the other way when she came knocking. Hugely influential and deeply courageous, Cartimandua was a living legend for her people. She had two options. Fight or surrender. Whilst many fought, many tribal leaders, to retain their land and their titles, dedicated loyalty to Rome and the promise to fight on their behalf. In those days, fighting meant the end of hundreds and often thousands of years of these tribes’ existence, their history gone. In a flash. To commit loyalty to the invaders was not necessarily cowardly but often a shrewd move to survive. Nobody could blame the tribal leaders for doing this. It made sense. Those who did this had to trust the Romans. It was, to say the least, an impossible situation.

We believe ‘Cartimandua’ is a compound of the Celtic root ‘carti’ and ‘mandu’, meaning, ‘expel’ and ‘pony’. The expulsion of the pony? Perhaps. Perhaps it may refer to a well-groomed small horse. I’m opting for the expulsion of the pony because I don’t think any woman wants to be compared to a horse…

The Invasion

We’re in the year 43. A very long time ago. The Romans had set their hearts on conquering Britain, annexing this vast land to their burgeoning empire. In 43, Britain had 33 known tribes, each controlling their own kingdom. Or queendom, in Cartimandua’s case. This was a time of immense change. The old world and the new world were about to collide and many would not survive. Roman General Publius Osteorius Scapula invaded Britain with his mighty army, dubbing the native tribes… Celts. Greek for… barbarian.

They were labelled uncouth, uncivilised and beyond the realm of taming, savages destined to be put down as the animals the Romans believed they were. The Romans were not expecting a resistance and even less, peoples who were intelligent and cunning. We know now that the Celts were far braver than the Romans, far more willing to die to protect their land and their own. They were ferocious warriors, often painting themselves with a blue dye named ‘woad’, charging headfirst into conflict with no regard for whether or not they would come home. In history, these tribes are among the bravest.

Whilst they lacked military skill, ultimately their downfall, their thirst for Roman blood spoke highly of their courage, but the Romans were simply too powerful. Cartimandua feared the end was nigh. She watched with her elders as the south of England was consumed by Roman might, many of the tribes driven to extinction, tens of thousands murdered. She was fearful. Her tribe were her family. They were going to be killed. Many would be raped and many sold into slavery. Cartimandua didn’t want to die or her tribe to fade into history. The Celts were not the barbarians. In this war, the Celts were the heroes.

At once, Cartimandua called her tribal leaders. This was a great debate. What do we do? Unite to fight or sit and wait for them to come to us? Would the Romans be satisfied with the south or would they want the entirety of Britannia? Was Cartimandua’s tribe safe? Or were they facing the same doom that had washed her sisters and brothers away?

The answer was obvious. The Romans believed in a ‘right by might’, that people they deemed ‘lesser’ than them must be vanquished. But Cartimandua did not want war.

She faced an impossible dilemma.

The Scourge

Any tribe who refused to surrender was ‘scorched’, lined up and killed, one by one, the women and the children not spared, their villages torched to the ground. Those who surrendered did not always face a better life. Many were captured as slaves. We’re taught in school how wonderful the Romans were. They really weren’t. They were savage.

The Roman conquest of ‘extermination’ by ‘might’ was brutal. Defiant tribes fought hard, but none won. One Roman legion leader, Agricola, was praised for the slaughter of the Ordovician people. A mighty tribe cut down and he was not done yet. News of this kind of slaughter travelled fast and only served to worry Cartimandua ever more.

The tribes knew that they could not succeed in the face of Roman imperialism and many compromised to maintain their culture and freedoms. By the year 47, Cartimandua could see the Roman armies on the horizon. Her time was running out. She hoped for a sign from the gods, but nothing was stopping the vicious Roman death squads advancing farther north. Their numbers were astounding, astonishing legions of soldiers that just kept coming. Their weapons and armour was far more advanced. They were impressive. And terrifying.

The Romans had arrived. They were on the edge of Brigante territory. Agricola made his intentions clear. You are less than us. We will wipe you out if you do not surrender. The Romans were confident Cartimandua would do just that. Surrender. After all, she was ‘but a woman’, in Agricola’s words. She was practical and decided that the best thing to do for the safety of her tribal family and her own children… was to negotiate. Many condemn her for this. Fight! Fight for your people! Take up arms! Bring the war to the Romans! I think that’s harsh. She only wanted peace. To be left alone with her children and her people. I think this is a mark of a great leader. She knew she could not win. History has remembered her for this act in a negative light, pouring scorn upon the one who refused to fight. No, not for me. This makes her a hero. Anyone who refuses to fight is a hero in my eyes…

Cartimandua, on her own, marched toward the Roman leader, Agricola. She was not armed nor prepared to fight, even though she was more than capable. The Romans knew all about her and many feared her. I want my people to be left alone! She demanded. I want our tribal independence. I want no bloodshed… I think that makes her a braver person than any of us can possibly imagine.

Agricola was stunned. These were not barbarians but intelligent, caring people. Would he listen to Cartimandua? Or would he take her land by force?

A Roman Rule

The Brigantes were the greatest threat to Rome. They were, in terms of territory, the largest tribe in Britain, mainly centred around what is now Yorkshire. Agricola knew that Cartimandua could be a valuable ally. And she knew that she was arranging for a peace treaty in a way that could be best described as selling your soul to the devil. But it had to be done. And so the Brigantian tribes of Derbyshire, Lancashire, Cumberland and, most crucially, Yorkshire, united to become a client of Rome. They were now controlled by diplomacy, not war. Most importantly, it meant that Cartimandua was allowed to maintain control of her own land and her own people, as long as ‘tributes’ were paid to Rome and she provided recruits for the Roman army. She had saved her people. All without blood spilled.

But this did not sit well with many of her people who wanted to fight many felt that it was their birth right to live and die as a warrior people and that Rome had taken that away. You have to feel for Cartimandua because she was caught between a rock and a hard place. Our brave leader… is she still capable? Is she still what we want? Cartimandua was faced with many anti-Roman revolts from within her own tribe. She didn’t know what to do.

Her territory was not under Roman control. It was, however, a Claudian policy to have pro-Roman territories on the boundaries of Roman territory, almost as a buffer from outside forces. But Cartimandua faced hostility. And the greatest revolt came from her own husband, Venutius.

Desperate to keep Cartimandua on her throne, the Romans sent in reinforcements to shore up her position. In 51, she faced her first true test of Roman loyalty. A former leader of the Catuvellauni tribe fled to Brigantian territory to seek political asylum after his tribe was defeated by the Romans. What would Cartimandua do?

The man in question was Caratacus, but unlike Cartimandua, he had chosen to fight. I can’t have this! I’m sorry, but you are putting my people at risk! She took a fateful decision. She handed Caratacus over to the Romans, in chains. It was a supreme act of treachery for many. Whereas others consider it a desperate attempt from Cartimandua to save her people yet again. The Romans rewarded her generously with great wealth and favours.

It was the last straw. You can’t blame her for doing what she did, I think many people would have done the same. I still maintain she was not being selfish or a coward but simply acting in the interests of trying to keep her people from being slaughtered, which the Romans made very clear would happen if she defected. It all came to a head one day in 48.

Retribution!

Venutius, Cartimandua’s husband, had secretly organised a palace coup to take out his own wife and restore their tribe to the warrior-like people they had once been, free of Roman interference. Cartimandua had many men loyal to her and at once, she called for help from the Romans to restore her rule. With Roman troops, she managed to hold the throne but at what cost? She had lost her husband yet preserved her queendom. But it only served to alienate more of her people against her. If she could do that to her own husband, what else is she capable of? Others defended her. You have to wonder how much a man loves his wife when he knew she would be killed in the coup if he had succeeded. We’ll never know what his true intentions with Cartimandua were.

Roman forces grew in number in Cartimandua’s territory to quell any uprisings, but they were growing in number. She was intelligent, though. She knew that, at any moment, the Romans could come and conquer her land. She always kept her eye on them. Throughout the 50s and 60s, Roman legions hovered with menace upon her borders. They were poised to support her if she needed help, which she often did. All of what Cartimandua did pushed her marriage to breaking point. Venutius was appalled with his wife. You are not the woman I fell in love with, not anymore. I don’t know who you are. He felt betrayed.

The actions of Cartimandua led to divorce, but Venutius was seething. And once more, he organised another coup and attempted to overthrow his ex-wife yet again. Perhaps this was facilitated by the fact that she had fallen for Vellocatus, her ex-husband’s armour bearer. Her reputation took a nosedive and once more, she had to call for help from Rome, forcing Venutius and those loyal to him to flee in exile. Cartimandua was now free of her pesky ex, free to rule her land with her new husband, Vellocatus. Many grumbled, but as for Cartimandua, she was unshakable. She had ruled for more than two decades.

Could anything topple her?

The Anti-Roman

This was not the last we heard of Venutius, far from it. Many of the Celt tribes were pissed off with Cartimandua and Venutius was committed to capitalising on this burgeoning hatred. At once, he started to rally together anti-Cartimandua forces readying for an all-out war against his ex-wife, preparing for a battle to invade Brigantia, take Cartimandua’s throne and then turn on the Romans, convinced they could take them. Delusional? Perhaps! But there was no stopping Venutius. He would not rest until Cartimandua was dead.

He was building alliances, a man far more popular than Cartimandua now was. She set about acquiring Roman troops to help defend her land. And, eventually, Venutius came. In 57, he launched his attack, but with the aid of Rome, Cartimandua did her best to expel her ex-husband’s third attempt to take her throne. This was the bloodshed and war she did not want but now? She had no choice! There was no room for negotiation. Take arms or die! So she took arms. But only because she had no choice. And you better believe she was on that battlefield. Kicking arse as usual. Remarkable considering she would have been into her 40s, back then, in the 1 st century, pretty old, all things considered…

The Romans and the Briganti people did their best to defend their queen and the client queen. At first, they were evenly matched but then, one day, Caesius Nascia arrived from Rome with the IX Legion Hispana… holy shit! Thought Venutius. This was Rome’s fiercest army. They had sent their strongest force, THAT is how much Cartimandua meant to the Romans. And once more, Venutius was defeated. But Cartimandua was very lucky. She escaped capture by the rebels by the skin of her teeth.

‘Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of all the citizens the adulterer was supported by the queen’s passion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and, at the same time, assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimandua into an extremely dangerous position.’ Tacitus.

Cartimandua had retained her throne. But once more, Venutius was not done. He bided his time and, in 69, he attacked. 69 was a remarkable 26 years after Cartimandua had reached peace with the Romans, ruling as queen for nearly 40 years. Sadly, this attack from Venutius, his fourth, was destined to be Cartimandua’s last stand…

The Final Battle

The death of Nero in 69 sent Rome into turmoil and vast political instability meant that the Romans had little control over their land. It meant that Venutius, now with a new army to his name, could attack once more knowing that, this time, Rome would not be able to send an army to protect Cartimandua. They could only send auxiliary soldiers. She was hopelessly outnumbered. She never stood a chance.

Seizing his opportunity, Venutius launched another attack and Cartimandua knew the end was here. She fought for as long as she could before she realised the battle was lost. Knowing Venutius would kill her, she fled. She was finally driven from her throne. The coup was not only successful but Vellocatus, who Cartimandua described as her only true love, was brutally murdered as a show of force. Cartimandua, devastated by loss after loss, found herself at Deva, a Roman fort in what is now Chester. Venutius took Brigantia and declared independence from Rome, a new, independent kingdom.

It was foolish. Without Cartimandua, Brigantia soon fell to the Romans and they conquered the land and slaughtered thousands. We’ll never know what happened to Venutius, nor will we ever know what happened to Cartimandua. After the year 71, she vanished into the mists of history. We will never know what happened to her. She would have been very old by this point, perhaps into her early 60s, which, for the 1 st century, is incredible. She ruled for decades but when she vanished into history, so did her name.

Cartimandua, however, lives on…

Epilogue

Whilst Boudica is well-known, Cartimandua is not. A first century warrior queen, she fought not always with weapons but with her courageous skills of endeavour and intellect, using peace and negotiation to protect her people. Without her, they would have died. With her, they lived for 26 years until she was usurped, at which point, most of her people died. Some have labelled her a coward, a selfish traitor. Others have labelled her a hero for doing whatever she could to protect the people she loved. Love, peace and kindness are not weaknesses or signs of disloyalty, but loyal signs of strength and fortitude. They are the most powerful weapons of all and thankfully for Cartimandua, she had this in abundance.

Very few Celtic tribes were ‘dealt with’ by the Romans, most were simply washed away, the fact that they were even willing to listen to Cartimandua makes her a very rare leader indeed, because only a handful were ever listened to in the history of Roman invasion. And never a woman, Roman society a highly traditional one. What does that tell you about Cartimandua? With Boudica, yes, she fought, but the Romans were never interested with peace. They wanted her dead from moment one. We know the Romans considered Cartimandua a greater threat because of her vast swathes of land and her courageous people willing to die for their cause. Yet Boudica was defeated, her daughters raped. Why did the Romans respect Cartimandua yet showed no respect to Boudica? It was because they feared Cartimandua most of all. They made an ally of her, commending her bravery and her courage, her intelligence and her fierce nature. Cartimandua has been forgotten.

But in the history of Britain, there are few braver…

Hers is a timeless life weaving through other longer lives like a flash of lightning in a clouded evening sky.

– Beatrice Fitzgerald Fernandez.


Background [ edit | edit source ]

Ancient sources [ edit | edit source ]

  1. Tacitus, The Annals. Chapters 29-37, translation Andrew Murphy 1794.
  2. Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book LXII

Modern sources [ edit | edit source ]

Sutcliff credited the following books in her Author's Note:

  1. T. C. Lethbridge's Witches and Gog-Magog provided "the theory that the Iceni were a matriarchy."
  2. Lewis Spence's Boadicea "gave me the most help with the actual revolt."
  3. A. R. Burn's Agricola and Roman Britain supplied the fact "that young Gnaeus Julius Agricola. was a tribune on the staff of the Governor Suetonius Paulinus."


Watch the video: Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes (September 2022).


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