Historical Notes: Boadicea's bones under Platform 10

TAKING A photograph of the drab old Platform 10 at King's Cross station, I told a quick-witted chap that Boadicea's bones lay buried under it. He quipped, "Did she die waiting for a train to Royston?"

Yes, well, in Boadicea's time it was no joke. (You say Boudicca? Fair enough.) By some historical opinions she nearly threw Nero's hated Romans out of Britain at that very spot - "Queen's Cross" would perhaps be a better name for what should really be one of England's greatest shrines.

Upon his death in AD 60 her husband Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, who occupied what is now roughly East Anglia, left half of his fortune to his wife Boadicea and their two daughters and the other half to Nero, then emperor of Rome. Nero immediately ordered his soldiers to seize her wealth and sovereign land. Upon her protest she and her daughters were brutally scourged and her daughters also raped. There was already outrage and even active rebellion against Roman tyranny and taxation among British tribes but no concerted, strongly led action had yet been taken. Queen Boadicea, with her neighbouring tribe of Trinobantes, at last managed to spark the explosive ire of tribal leaders.

She has been described (perhaps by the Roman historian Tacitus) as having a commanding stature and appearance. Long yellow hair streamed down over her shoulders, and her dress was a many-coloured tunic fastened round the waist by a chain of gold.

History suggests she had the blessing of the Druids in her uprising. In fact, the Roman governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, had already decided that he could never rule the country unless they were exterminated. He was now in the North Wales island Mona (Anglesey) with a large army slaughtering the Druids. Meanwhile, Boadicea with a large force of her own and of other tribes that joined her was trampling all before her. She had one burning wish - to see every Roman legion cut to pieces and hurled back into the sea. Marching to Colchester, she not only laid it to waste with fire and sword but also slaughtered a whole legion that came to relieve the garrison.

One Roman weakness in Britain was that many centres were held almost entirely by retired soldiers. They were perfectly capable of collecting taxes and quelling small revolts, but a determined force such as Boadicea's was completely beyond their ability to contain. From Colchester her by now vast force of battle chariots with long knives fixed to the wheel hubs sacked the important Roman centre of Verulamium (St Albans). She then took and destroyed London.

The present area of King's Cross used to be called Battle Bridge and it is here that excavations for the present railway station unearthed evidence of Roman battle equipment. Suetonius had by this time hastened back from Anglesey with a force of barely 10,000 men.

He was seriously concerned, not only about problems of keeping his legions fed but with the vast potential threat of Boadicea's growing capability of carrying out her unswerving aim of defeating the Romans. Wherever she had fought she showed no mercy, killing all and taking no prisoners. Britain torn from the grip of Rome was a distinct possibility! Boadicea's forces would far outnumber Suetonius' in direct combat. There was surely a distinct suggestion of fear and chaos among his soldiers, their phalanxes remorselessly cut down by Boadicea's flashing chariot-knives. In the end, however, Roman military training and discipline won the day.

Her ignominious and cruel fate now in the hands of the Romans, Boadicea and her daughters are said historically to have taken poison on the battlefield when the outcome was no longer in doubt. So today, there lie her bones, under Platform 10. We should tread gently o'er that ground.

Douglas Greenwood is the author of `Who's Buried Where in England' (Constable, 26 July, pounds 9.99)

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