Celtic Warrior Queens: Boudica of the Iceni

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com, 8th October 2020, titled Celtic Warrior Women: Queen Boudica of the Iceni by zteve t evans.

Queen Boudica

Queen Boudica, ruler of the Iceni people of Britain, was famous for leading a violent uprising against Roman rule. She was married and had two young daughters whose names are unknown. Her husband Prasutagus had ruled as a client-king of Rome and his realm was roughly the area of modern Norfolk. As a client-king he had entered into an alliance with Rome which allowed him to rule and receive Roman patronage in return for recognizing its overall authority and keeping law and order. When he died he left his kingdom jointly to the emperor and his two daughters, perhaps hoping to avoid trouble.  Despite this, his kingdom and property was annexed by Rome and his family maltreated, sowing the seeds of rebellion among the Britons. According to Tacitus, Boudica was beaten with rods, her two young daughters raped, and the estates of the Iceni nobles confiscated. This spurred Boudica to lead a bloody rebellion against the might of Rome.


As a woman, widowed with at least two children, the qualities that people would traditionally call female were plain to see. Yet after the maltreatment inflicted upon her and her young daughters by the Romans, other, less ‘traditionally female’ qualities emerged, transforming her into a powerful, avenging force. Qualities of leadership, intelligence, aggression, courage and assertiveness in a struggle to free her people came to the fore. Such attributes were seen as subversive for women to openly display in a patriarchal society, but were some of the very qualities that the suffragettes were keen to promote as acceptable in women to help and inspire their struggle against the system.

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Warrior Women — The Battle of Britomart and Radigund the Amazon Queen

Imaged by Frederic Shields [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] (Cropped) Wikimedia Commons
This article was first published under the title of British Legends: Warrior Women — The Battle of Britomart and Radigund the Amazon Queen on #FolkloreThursday.com, 28/02/2019 by zteve t evans

The Faerie Queen

The epic unfinished poem, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, published 1590-96, created a parallel of the medieval universe that alluded to events and people in Elizabethan society. The narrative draws on Arthurian influences, legend, myth, history, and politics, alluding to reforms and controversial issues that arose in the times of Elizabeth I and Mary I. It is an allegorical work that both praised and criticised Queen Elizabeth I, who is represented in the poem by Gloriana, the Faerie Queene. The six human virtues of holiness, chastity, friendship, temperance, justice, and courtesy are all represented by a knight. Spenser raises many questions about Elizabethan society, especially about the role of women in maintaining the patriarchal order. This is represented by a spectacular battle between Britomart, the Knight of Chastity, and Radigund, the Amazon Queen.

Britomart the Knight of Chastity

Britomart is a virginal female knight, who not only represents chastity but is also associated with English virtue, especially military power. The Brit part of her name comes from “Briton while martis comes from the Roman god of war, Mars, meaning war-like person. From an early age she refrained from the traditional activities of girls at the time, and was trained in the use of weapons and combat, preferring such typically masculine activities. She dressed in the armour of a knight, acted like a knight, fought like a knight, and wielded a magical black spear.

After a long quest and many adventures seeking him, Britomart married Artegall, the Knight of Justice whom she had seen in the magic looking glass belonging to Merlin. Yet, as was often the way with knights, Artegall was bound to a quest he could not abandon without losing his honour. Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, had given him the task of rescuing the Lady Eirena from the tyrant Grantorto. It was his chivalric duty to complete the quest or die trying. Despite her sorrow at his leaving, Britomart knew she had to allow her husband to complete his quest, and looked forward to his return.

Queen Radigund, the Warrior Queen

On his quest, Artegall, accompanied by Talos, an iron-man who helped him in the dispensation of justice, came to the country of the Amazons, ruled by the warrior Queen Radigund. She fought against any knight who arrived in her realm and would not submit to her will. After conquering them, she forced them to obey her every command or die. Radigund made all defeated knights remove their armour and against their will wear female clothing, forcing them to work by spinning thread, sewing, washing clothes, and other tasks that women usually did. If any refused or complained, she executed them.

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Queen Cordelia of the Britons


Cordelia by William Frederick Yeames – Public Domain

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the legendary Queen Cordelia was the youngest daughter of King Leir, of the Britons.  She was unfairly rejected by her father for telling him a truth he should have known.  Instead, he bestowed his favor upon her two sisters who falsely proclaimed their love for him for personal gain.  It’s a story of how love, loyalty and forgiveness triumph over lies, deceit and greed and how a woman took up arms to fight in support of the father she loved and became one of the legendary warrior women of the Britons.  

The daughters of Leir

Geoffrey tells us that King Leir had three daughters, Goneril, Regan and the youngest was Cordelia who was his favorite.  As he approached old age he decided he would marry off his daughters and divide his kingdom up between them.  Calling his advisors to him he asked for their advice and they told him to give his kingdom to those who loved him the most.  Leir called his daughters to him and asked how much they loved him.  Goneril and Regan fawned before him and flattered him greatly exaggerating their love for him.

Cordelia’s refusal

When Cordelia, his youngest and favorite daughter came before him she refused to do the same as her sisters, insisting that he should not need such false proof of her great love for him which she showed every day.  However, Leir’s advisors counseled him to divide his kingdom between Goneril and Regan and give Cordelia nothing as she would not answer him and furthermore refuse to find her a husband.  Leir listened to them and did what they suggested and married Goneril and Regan to the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany giving both a huge wedding dowry.  Goneril married Duke Maglanus of Albany and Regan married the Duke of Cornwall.

Cordelia’s punishment

Cordelia got nothing and when Aganippus who was the King of the Franks courted her and asked for her hand in marriage Leir refused to pay a wedding dowry.  Aganippus told Leir his love for Cordelia was not dependent on a dowry or anything else he could give as he loved her anyway.  All he wanted was his permission, which was granted.  So Cordelia left her father and married Aganippus and moved to his court in France and they lived there happily.

Goneril and Regan betray Leir

When Goneril and Regan married they received half of Leir’s kingdom and his wealth between them. They would get the other half on his death but their husbands usurped the throne taking all for themselves.  Marglanus gave Leir a retinue of sixty knights but his daughter, Goneril, halved this after two years.  Leir went to Regan thinking she would support him better but she cut his retinue further to five men.   Disappointed, Leir went back to Goneril to plead for more but she reduced his retinue to a single man to protect him.

Leir goes to Cordelia

With his own daughters abusing and humiliating him in this way Leir fears for his life and goes to France to seek out Cordelia.   Arriving outside of her court and not knowing what kind of reception to expect after his own treatment of her he sends her a message of his arrival asking to see her.  Cordelia, rather than being vengeful at his treatment of her in the past welcomes him and has him bathed and dressed in Royal fashion.   She gives him a large retinue of men to support him and he is received with honor by her husband, Aganippus, the King of France.  Aganippus, makes him a regent of France and promises along with other French nobles to restore his throne to him.

Cordelia the warrior

King Aganippus raises an army and along with Cordelia and Leir lead it into battle against the usurpers of Leir’s realm, Regan and Goneril and their husbands.  They successfully defeat them and win back Leir’s realm.   Although Leir had previously left half his kingdom to Regan and Goneril with them getting the other half when he died this was revoked.

Leir’s death

Leir ruled his kingdom for three more years before dying and when her husband died Cordelia returned to Britain.  She was crowned Queen and succeeded him.  She buried Leir in a shrine underneath the River Soar dedicated to Janus and held a feast every year in his honor.

Queen Cordelia

Cordelia was to rule as queen for five years in peace but her two sister’s sons Marganus and Cunedagius came of age and inherited their father’s dukedoms.  They resented Cordelia because she had defeated their fathers and because she was a woman.  They claimed that if anyone should rule it should be them and they took to war to defeat her. Although a woman, Cordelia was a warrior and fought many battles.  She led her own army against them fighting herself on many occasions.

Cordelia’s death

Eventually, her nephews defeated, captured and imprisoned her where she died.  She was succeeded by her nephews who split the realm into two.  Cunedagius ruled the country southwest of the River Humber and Marganus ruled the country to the northeast of the River Humber.  Eventually, they fought against each not being satisfied with what they got and Cunedagius defeated and killed Marganus.


Although the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth are not regarded as reliable historical evidence today they were highly thought of in his time and into the 16th century before it became discredited.  Whatever the historical facts may be it is the human characteristics demonstrated by Cordelia of love, loyalty and forgiveness and her willingness to go to war for her father despite his foolishness, set against the failings of Goneril and Regan that resonate through the ages.

© 29/06/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright June 29th 2016 zteve t evans

Warrior Women: Anne Bonny, Pirate of the Caribbean


Anne Bonny – By Anushka.Holding (Own work)  – CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Anne Bonny the female pirate

Anne Bonny was certainly not like most women of her era breaking just about all the social conventions there were. The history, legends and folklore that surround pirates of the sea throughout the ages, paint a picture of a male dominated world with most women playing a traditional, subservient, non-aggressive role where they do appear.  Anne Bonny was different. She and shipmate, Mary Read, gained fame as female pirates actively engaged in piracy in the Caribbean alongside the infamous Calico Jack.

Early years

She was born Anne McCormac in Kinsale, County Cork, in Ireland in around 1700.  Her mother, Mary Brennan was a maid employed by William McCormac, a lawyer, who although married to another woman, was Anne’s father.  To escape his in-laws wrath  McCormac moved to London with Mary and their daughter.  They began dressing his daughter as a boy and called her Andy in an attempt to hide from his wife’s family. Whether this ploy was to affect Anne in later life is uncertain but the disguise was eventually discovered. McCormac moved  across the Atlantic Ocean North America to settle in Charles Towne (Charleston), South  Carolina, taking Mary and their daughter with him. In the process he also changed his name to Cormac in the hope of finding a fresh start. He succeeded in building a new career and business as a lawyer and plantation owner.

Red hair and a fiery temper

By all accounts Cormac loved his daughter dearly and when Mary died she took over the running of the household at an early age.  At 13 years of age Anne was said to be an attractive girl with red hair and a fiery temper to match.  Some accounts say that later on she stabbed and killed a maid with a table knife and had almost beaten an attempted rapist to death. She also became the center of a string of accusations and rumors of her drinking in taverns and sleeping with drunks and fishermen.


Such rumors damaged her father’s business and he wanted her to settle down and to marry a local man but she rebelled. In 1718 she married James Bonny, a penniless sailor and petty pirate who may have had more designs on her father’s wealth than her.  Her father, did not approve of the marriage and disowned her.  It was rumoured that Bonny retaliated by setting fire to his plantation though there appears little evidence to support this.

What is known is the that Anne and James Bonny moved to Nassau, on Providence Island and known as the Republic of Pirates, a haven for English pirates.  They mixed freely with pirates and vagabonds and to her dismay her husband became an informant for Governor Woodes Rogers as a means of earning money.

Anne had become friends with many pirates and appeared to spend a lot of time carousing with them in bars and seducing them.  On one occasion she was caught in bed with one by her husband.  There was one named Pierre who was a well known homosexual.  He ran a popular brothel and helped her to leave her husband and to meet John Rackham, a notorious pirate.  He was known as Calico Jack, because of his preference for colorful clothing.

Calico Jack

The two became lovers and Rackman offered to pay her husband to divorce her which at the time was a recognised practice.  Bonny, through jealousy, spite or some other unknown reason, refused the offer. Later, she gave birth to Rackman’s  son in Cuba.  It is not clear what happened to the boy though some stories say that he was abandoned while other say he was left with Rackham’s family, or her own.

Anne then divorced her husband and rejoined Calico Jack to live the life of a pirate.  They were joined by Mary Read a female pirate who dressed and masqueraded as a man. It is not clear if Calico Jack and Anne were aware of this at the time though they certainly were later.   The three of them stole a ship anchored in Nassau harbor called the Revenge and recruited a crew of suitable cutthroats to man her and spent several months attacking and pillaging smaller ships raking in a considerable fortune.

Most pirates and sailors considered it bad luck to have women on board ships but Calico Jack and his crew did not appear to hold that superstition. Anne and Mary did not join the pirate ship for a pleasure cruise and took part in the fighting shoulder to shoulder with their male shipmates, who were said to respect their fighting prowess and combativeness. In the case of Mary Read they may not have known she was a woman to begin with because she hid the fact.   It is thought that Anne knew later and that she and Mary became lovers and that also Calico Jack knew.  In the case of Anne she openly wore female clothing only changing into male clothing when fighting was expected making no secret of her gender.

According to one story about her she obtained a mannequin such as used by dressmakers and smeared it with fake blood to give it a bloody corpse like appearance. As they approached a French vessel she stood over the fake corpse wielding an axe which supposedly persuaded the crew to surrender without a fight.

As her infamy grew, Governor Rogers posted her name in the Wanted Pirates circular that was published in the The Boston News-Letter.  Despite her growing notoriety as a female pirate of the Caribbean she was never the commander of her own ship and despite her successes with Rackham, Mary Read and the Revenge their luck was about to run out.

Bounty hunters

While Calico Jack and the crew of the Revenge were hosting a party during October 1720 when they were attacked by a ship under the command of bounty hunter, Jonathan Barnet, holding a commission from the Governor of Jamaica, Nicholas Lawes.  Bonny and Read were on deck and noticed an unknown ship approaching alongside.  Realizing it was bounty hunters they shouted a warning to the rest of the crew, most of whom were too incapacitated through drink to respond and hid below deck.  A few did respond, including Rackham but they were too drunk to offer much resistance. Rackham cried out for quarter and he and his men surrendered. Bonny and Read refused to surrender and put up a fierce fight and managed to hold off Barnet’s men for a brief time. They too were eventually overpowered and captured along with Calico Jack and the rest of the crew.

A sensational trial

They were all taken to Jamaica where they were tried and sentenced to hang by Governor Lawes.  The trial of two women for piracy caused a sensation at the time with women prisoners  being reviled in general.  These were two who had broken through from the traditional role of women to forge different and even dangerous identities in more ways than one and their trial caused a sensation.  Apart from the challenge of their murderous behaviour they also challenged the traditional subservient and domestic role of women in their time.  Bonny was allowed to see Rackham before his execution and reputedly, the last words she spoke to him were, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Both Bonny and Read begged for mercy pleading their bellies which was a temporary stay of execution that allowed the baby to be born in accordance to English Common Law.   Read died in prison possibly from a fever contracted during childbirth.


What happened to Bonny is not certain.  There appears to be no record of her execution or release.  It is speculated that her father may have paid a ransom for her, or she may have returned to James Bonny, or even taken up piracy again under a new name.  It is thought that the likeliest scenario was that her father paid a ransom for her and married her to a man from Virginia named Joseph Burleigh (spelling varies) and lived into her eighties producing eight children.  Although some records do tend to support this it is not absolutely certain.

© 02/02/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright February 2nd, 2016 zteve t evans