Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thinking about Boadicea...

My one an only painted Ancient British chariot

Big Red Bat has just put up a post on his Queen Boadicea model and it reminded me that I bought a bunch of British chariots from him a few months ago.  I have built and painted a Celtic chariot for the game we did at Fishbourne Palace some years ago but you really do need more than just one for an Ancient British army!  So, why not do a Boadicea one, I think? I still can't deal with this "Boudica" business, however, even though I know that it was the result of a monk misspelling her name in the middle ages. 

Gripping Beast Boadicea

Big Red Bat's model is the Gripping Beast one which features the most terrifying Boadicea model ever.  In fact, she looks rather like one of the Morlocks from The Time Machine (1960).  Certainly not an attractive figure but, of course, we have no idea what Boadicea looked like: ugly old harridan or glamourous Amazon (or, more likely, something in between).  

Boadicea preferred her woad in a tasteful shade of green

Dio Cassius reported that Boadicea was unusually tall and had waist-length red hair.  Certainly, she is almost invariably depicted with red hair and it has even been suggested that redheaded women's fiery reputation is partly due to the character of Boadicea.  Whether she actually had red hair (not improbable in ancient Britain) or whether this was just a Roman writer's attempt to make her sound alien and terrifying we don't know.

A not very accurate chariot pulled by three horses but lots of red hair for Boadicea and her daughters

Dio Cassius was writing a hundred and fifty years after the Iceni rebellion, whereas the other chronicler of the events, Tacitus, was born just five years before the death of Boadicea.  He however, has nothing to say on her appearance.

Boadicea by John Kenney

Oddly, the first picture of Boadicea I can remember had her depicted with black hair.  This picture from the fondly remembered Ladybird book Julius Caesar and Roman Britain featured splendidly evocative paintings by John Kenney.  Kenney, who took part in the Normandy landings, worked on many of the Ladybird books, including another favourite of mine from the same period, The Story of Nelson.  Kenny also illustrated six of the Thomas the Tank engine books between 1957 until 1962. 

His Ladybird book cover picture of Suetonius and Agricola at the climactic battle with Boadicea had a lot to do with me buying my very first set of Airfix soldiers: Romans of course!  Agricola was, of course, Tacitus' father in law which is what gives his account of the rebellion by the Iceni more authenticity than Dio Cassius's later version.

There is very little information about her so we don't know when she was born; only that she died in 60-61 AD by suicide or illness.  As a historical figure she was forgotten about for 1300 years only re-emerging when Tacitus' work was rediscovered in 1360.  She became popular in Britain again in Tudor times during the reign of Elizabeth I (not coincidentally).  It was in the Victorian period when she really became popular as a British heroine with allusions being made to Britain's own warrior Queen, Victoria. Granted she didn't lead her armies in a scythe equipped chariot but she was leading an Empire engaged in almost continual military action.  This made her, ironically, rather more like a Roman Emperor than a barbarian queen.  Still, Boadicea was so popular that Prince Albert commissioned a massive bronze statue of her and her daughters from the sculptor Thomas Thornycroft who was, incidentally, the great grandfather of the poet Siegfried Sassoon.  In fact, Thornycroft never saw the statue installed on the Embankment as he died seventeen years before it was cast, in 1902.

The appearance of Boadicea in Victorian times usually had her in a rather inauthentic classical dress, often with a crown on her head, as depicted in Thornycroft's statue, and with the inevitable scythes on her chariot wheels.  There is no archaeological evidence for scythed chariots in Britain but the Spanish-born Roman geographer Pomponius Mela, writing shortly after the invasion of 43 AD, mentions there use in Britain.  It is on this one passage that all the later interpretations are based.

Angus McBride's illustration of Boadicea for Look and Learn magazine in the sixties, which I own the original of, doesn't include any scythes but does have the popular wicker type cab which I remember from my Airfix Ancient Britons.

These days it is now believed that the chariots had two arches each side rather than one, as seen in the recreation the BBC did  ten years ago based on an excavation in Wetwang, Yorkshire.  This reconstruction also used evidence from finds in  Anglesey, Somerset, Nottinghamshire and Switzerland.

Chariot in Kentucky

The reconstructed chariot was taken to Kentucky in 2003 where it was driven at an equestrian celebration, obviously with an eye to Boadicea, with an imposing lady on board.  It is clear from this how the latest evidence has moved away from the solid wheels of the Airfix and some of the nineteenth century recreations.

Foundry Boadicea

The only other two 28mm model chariots featuring Boadicea I know of both have the double arch sided cabs, although the Foundry one cheats a bit by putting them within a larger arch.  Their Boadicea adopts the ballgown and cloak approach of the Victorians and, indeed Angus McBride.

Warlord Games version

The most recent model is the Warlord Games one and contains a Boadicea in a dress and a fetching chainmail  top.  She appears to be modelled on Alex Kingston who portrayed the Warrior Queen (as it was named in the US) in the 2003 TV film Boudica.  This one really should be the one I go for but it is not, as I will explain, the approach I am planning to take.

Here is the redoubtable Alex Kingston in her chariot dressed in a sort of (very) shabby chic interpretation of Ancient British clothing.  Oddly, I have never seen this film and I don't think that it is even in my collection of one thousand unwatched DVDs.  Although it is not unknown for me to buy a DVD I already have!  I probably didn't buy it because of the atrocious reviews it got and the only available version is the Region1 DVD which has huge cuts.  Also, she affected, bizarrely, a West country accent in it.  Couldn't she do an East Anglian one?  She was actually born and brought up in Epsom, about three and a half miles from where the Legatus lives so you would have thought that it would have been just as easy given that people from Surrey think everyone else in the world but them have funny accents and don't speak properly.

As someone without a car, a girlfriend with transport, especially flash transport, was very useful

I had a girlfriend from Norfolk in the early eighties, the impossibly pneumatic S, but she had a posh accent.  It was only when I went to see her family in Kings Lynn that I found out that they were still all authentically regional.  Roight?  S appeared to have dark blonde hair but as, er, I got to know her better I discovered that she was actually a redhead underneath, so to speak.  I was baffled as to why a girl with naturally red hair would want to dye it.   Maybe she was a descendant of the Iceni and it was a modern equivalent of lime washing..

Compared with Alex Kingston's here is a slightly cleaner looking Boadicea (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) from that well known historically accurate series Xena: Warrior Princess.  Still a redhead, though.

So, if I do a Boadicea how am I going to approach it?  In the past I have thought about using one of the Foundry Viking warrior women as they have trousers and a tunic which would equally well work for Britons (sort of).  The figures are a lot prettier than the Gripping Beast one too.  What crew would I include?  This version has Boadicea multi-tasking in her, frankly, rather Roman-looking chariot (perhaps she liberated it from Verulamium).

 Another three horsed chariot from Look and Learn

I feel she would need some crew, however.  In many pictures of her she is accompanied by her two daughters.  Before her final defeat she addressed her troops, according to Tacitus, from her chariot with her daughters beside her.  There is no suggestion that she went into battle with them but a chariot crewed by three woman has a strange attraction to me.

Next I need to consider her clothing. This example (below) is from the chicks in chain mail school of Fantasy illustration and our Boadicea sports an extremely tight pair of leather trousers, barely held together by some very loose stitching.  No doubt she also sports abdominals like Jessica Ennis.

In the Pegaso model below she is wearing even less.  This one makes the Xena version look positively historical.  I like the cloak, however.  

Probably the most inauthentic Ancient British queen garb comes from the 1967 Hammer Film The Viking Queen which is not about Vikings at all but Roman occupied Britain and a warrior queen leading her people in an uprising against their Imperial conquerors.  Sound familiar?

The Romans even have the British queen, Salina, tied up and flogged, as Boadicea was.  In fact, it's more Shakespearean than Roman, in a sort of strange collision of King Lear and Romeo and Juliet.  It was quite a big production for Hammer and the Roman uniforms were surprisingly accurate given the date.

Professor Quatermass prepares to give Queen Salina a good thrashing.  If the film had been made three years later Hammer wouldn't have had her chest obscured by a plank

The Viking element was really only there to explain the accent of one-hit wonder (actually it wasn't even a hit) of lead actress Carita Järvinen who was from Finland.  Although why Hammer didn't dub her as they did with so many of their actresses, including the British ones, I don't know.

Carita, as she was billed, even learned to drive a chariot for the production but she was very much a one woman chariot girl.  No doubt this was because the chariots in the film were based on the Roman model a la Ben-Hur.

Whether I can fit three figures into any of the models I have needs to be explored, however.  Given that I am tempted by a completely mythic rather than historic model  I need to think about the  ladies dress.  I have a Foundry naked Amazon hoplte sat on my work bench.  Well, she is not totally naked she is wearing a Pylos helmet, some sandals and a cloak.  Could she be the inauthentic Boadicea I have been looking for?  Hmm!  I feel a silly coming on!


  1. Very nice post, with multiple, interesting, comparisons...

  2. An excellent and entertaining post - I look forward to seeing the completed chariot!

  3. A very interesting piece! So my Newline Boudica, is, in fact, GB.

    I also very much look forward to seeing your projected chariot.

    Cheers, Simon

  4. Excellent... hugely readable... you need to send some articles to Henry!

  5. She certainly is a fascinating character from history, and one has to feel a bit sorry for her when one finds the reason for her rebellion in the first place, and ultimate defeat.

    I do rather like the 'Britannia' type image of her leading her chariots to war in the statue.

  6. Thank you for this very well researched and illustrated piece. And especially for the reminder of Xena whom my kids used to watch on TV every week, of course I had to give them a bit of fatherly support :-). Anyone remember who her cute blonde companion was?

    1. Renee O'Connor as Gabrielle. One of the biggest will they or won't they couples in TV history!