Boudicca in Braintree

In a post-Brexit world, it’s interesting to remember that historically Britain spent many years struggling internally with civil rivalries and distrust. We discuss some of the Celtic tribes in Essex who experienced these struggles and their potential link to Boudicca in Braintree.


When Julius Caesar first invaded Britain in 55 BCE, he was not met with a unified force of Celts who banded together to repel the invaders. Similarly, when Claudius invaded in AD 43, the Celts did not combine their forces to drive him back. Celtic Britain was divided up into tribes, many of whom had too many years of dispute and distrust to put aside in an alliance, even for this greater good.


It was not until AD 60 that the Romans had to face a widespread revolt and were forced to battle thousands of unified Celtic warriors with a common goal. The Iceni queen, Boudicca, led an uprising to avenge the wrongs done to her by the Romans, who had stolen her lands and attacked her family, and she remains probably the most famous Celtic leader of this time.


All that we know of Boudicca comes from two Roman historians, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, so it is difficult to paint an accurate portrait of the kind of person that Boudicca might have been or how accurate our stories of her are. However, when it comes to tracing Boudicca in Braintree, we know that the Iceni’s lands were bordered to the south by the territory of the Trinovantes, who occupied modern day Essex, Hertfordshire, and Suffolk, and when Boudicca sent out the call to war, the Trinovantes were among the tribes who joined her.


At one point the Trinovantes were among the most powerful tribes in Celtic Britain, but their capital of Camulodunum (modern day Colchester) had been seized by the Romans and turned into a settlement for legionaries, giving the Trinovantes a personal reason to side with Boudicca. Camulodunum was the first city attacked in the uprising, and it fell to the Celtic armies and was demolished.


Unfortunately, the revolt could not replicate its early success. Although more cities were destroyed, Boudicca and her troops were defeated by the Roman army. Boudicca’s fate is unclear, but we know the Romans exacted heavy vengeance for the uprising.


In 2020, archaeologists discovered an Iron Age settlement in Cressing, which would have been home to members of the Trinovantes tribe. Excavations showed that the settlement had been burned down and abandoned during the latter part of the First Century AD, and historians have posited that the settlement was destroyed as part of the Romans’ punishment for the revolt – sobering evidence of Boudicca in Braintree and the impact her influence had there.


by Alice Smales

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