Sunday, December 03, 2006

History and literature

By the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. But the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Virgil to reintroduce her into British history as "Voadicea" in 1534. Raphael Holinshed also included her story in his Chronicles (1577), based on Tacitus and Dio, and inspired Shakespeare's younger contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher to write a play, Bonduca, in 1610. William Cowper wrote a popular poem, Boadicea, an ode, in 1782.

It was in the Victorian era that Boudica's fame took on legendary proportions. Queen Victoria was seen as her "namesake". Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, Boadicea, and ships were named after her. A great bronze statue of Boudica in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after Persian fashion), together with her daughters, was commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft. It was completed in 1905 and stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, with the following lines from Cowper's poem, referring to the British Empire:

Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.
Ironically, the great anti-imperialist rebel was now identified with the head of the British Empire

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