Brexit Precedents: Hell Hath No Fury! Boudica & Britishness

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Since the end of June 2016 when the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Brexit has been a gaping wound in Britain’s and Europe’s body politic.

This controversial phenomenon has not only divided opinion and saturated headlines in Great Britain but frequently made the news worldwide too, especially in regard to some of the more unseemly behaviour in Britain’s much vaunted ‘Queen of Parliaments’. Not even the advent of the corona virus in the late winter of this year (2020) could dispel the ongoing saga of Britain’s often toxic negotiations with Brussels from the media. As things stand the United Kingdom will leave the EU at the end of the year — with or without a deal.

What is interesting to students of the extant historical record, is that Brexit marks one more incidence of the British (and particularly the English) people’s often strained relationship with continental European politicians and institutions, a factor which often threatens the unity within the United Kingdom too.

An Island Mentality

Intrigued, I began to look back in history to search for the first incidence of this ‘phenomenon’. When and why did it begin? Is it simply a matter of Britain being an island, physically separated from the continent, creating what is often called an ‘island mentality’? I think this would be a far too simplistic explanation, although clearly one would expect a recognisably different culture to develop in a more remote geographic location such as Britain, especially when travelling was more difficult.

Great Britain became an island some time after the Ice Age or Pleistocene era ended and the Holocene began. One could argue that this was the original geographical Brexit, setting the scenic context upon which all later human political dramas were to play out.

It seems to me that the first popularly known occurrence of a nascent sense of Britishness stems back to the first century AD in the person we now know as Boudica, formerly Boadicea. By Britishness I do not mean it in the modern sense, of course. There was no nation of Britain, no England back then. The idea of the nation state was still more than a millennium into the future. 

Freeing the Yoke

However this rather infamous punctuation in British history seems to encapsulate something essentially to do with independence, a sense of wishing to be free from the yoke of abusive foreign rule. To give a more recent example, I am sure that many Americans still look back favourably to the Boston Tea Party as something which epitomized the unacceptable face of colonialism, to the point where feelings boil over, resulting in more drastic measures being taken.

The events to which I now refer occurred in the early years of Roman Britain. The period of Roman rule of Britain is quite clearly defined in the record. Julius Caesar had attempted invasion twice a century before, in 55 and 54 BC and ultimately failed to subdue the country, leaving no legions behind.

It is often implied that the British of that time were nothing more than some rag tag collection of ‘Celtic’ tribes, wholly inferior militarily and culturally to Caesar and his legions. Obviously this was not true; what the British lacked was not so much cultural sophistication but perhaps Roman political guile and ambition of never ending conquest. 

It was the Emperor Claudius who successfully invaded Britain in AD 43, marking the beginning of the province of Britannia, which, interestingly, never permanently included what we now call Scotland.

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Establishing Romanisation

By AD 60 it would appear that Roman rule was getting well established. The Britain the Romans were occupying constituted a series of kingdoms, perhaps broadly similar to what is called the Heptarchy of later Anglo-Saxon England. The Romans had a long established method of ruling which involved so-called client kingdoms, where the ruler was nominally independent, yet subservient to the Emperor. It was a way of avoiding spending too much time and resources on outright military conquest. Each ruler was encouraged to accept Romanisation and all the cultural benefits this civilisation allegedly brought with it, thereby becoming a beacon for what some called Pax Romana.

The system appeared to be working reasonably well until a certain king, Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe, who were centred around what is now the county of Norfolk in East Anglia, died around AD 60. His will apparently left the kingdom to his two daughters and the Roman Emperor, who happened to be Nero. However, the will appears to have been ignored and the kingdom illegally seized, Prasutagus’ grieving wife and queen, Boudica, was flogged and her two daughters raped, at least according to the Roman historian Tacitus, although Dio Cassius states that the dispute arose through the withdrawal of loans. He also mentions two cities being devastated, not three, which is clearly an error. It is difficult to envisage the sheer swiftness and vehemence of Boudica’s reaction as being in response to a ‘mere’ financial matter.

Brutal Response

So whatever the actual cause of the revolt, it is quite clear the Roman authorities in Britain were not expecting Boudica, the Iceni, the Trinovantes and other British tribes, to respond in the violent and brutal manner they did. Queen Boudica, at least according to Dio Cassius, would seem to have been quite an astonishing presence:

“she was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: She wore a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her…”  – Dio Cassius

Even allowing for a little exaggeration in the above description, she was clearly no pushover. Even today, nearly two millennia later, East Anglia in eastern England has a strong regional identity, a distinct cultural life and accent, not always enamoured with the prognostications of central government only a hundred miles away. Whether East Anglia still produces such women of renown, however, is open to question. 

Chariots and Woad

Unfortunately, we do not know the details of how Boudica organised herself militarily, but as a young British noblewoman she would have been familiar in the arts of war. Within a short space of time the sense of injustice and mounting anger against Roman misrule led to the formation of an army of immense size.

We do know that the ancient British had long used the chariot in battle and that they covered themselves in blue woad, to give that distinctive, terrifying appearance. Whilst the Roman army is rightly considered virtually peerless, it is quite clear that the British chariot would have been very effective too.

Very quickly, Boudica appears to have identified key sites for attack, the first being Camulodunum, or present day Colchester, which was the original capital city of the new province. This is where the temple to the Emperor Claudius, the conqueror of Britain, was established and in Boudica’s eyes would surely have represented a strike at the heart of the oppressor.

London Abandoned

Unfortunately for the Romans the then governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was hundreds of miles away on important campaign against the Druids in what is now north west Wales on the isle of Anglesey, or Mona. Although Suetonius immediately scurried back towards London when he heard of the attack, he had insufficient army numbers to defend the city, toward which Boudica’s huge host was relentlessly heading.

A part of the Roman Legio lX HIspana were the only troops who stood in Boudica’s way and were swiftly dealt with, leaving London resigned to its fate. Those who could escape the newly founded commercial capital would have done so. Those who remained were shown no mercy whatsoever.

Following this, the victorious British army, obviously fired up with bloodlust, marched northward towards Verulamium, present day St. Albans in Hertfordshire, to carry on their serial rape, torture, murder and arson. The city was reduced to ashes like London and Colchester before it. Once again, governor Suetonius could only step aside whilst he began to muster enough troops to face the British rebels in an open pitch battle.

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The Final Battle

Now whilst it may not be proven, for other sites must be considered, the location of this battle is thought to have been at present day Mancetter in the English West Midlands. Probably luring the now over confident British army to a battlefield of his own choice, Suetonius’ much smaller force were decisively victorious, ending the short but brutal rebellion. Boudica allegedly killed herself, though we can’t be entirely sure. Historian Dio Cassius stated that she died through illness. The number of Britons who died on that day must have been enormous. Those killed in London, Colchester and St. Albans would have been even more.

The Emperor Nero did briefly consider withdrawing Roman troops from the province, yet the decisive nature of Suetonius’s victory prevented this. The revolt, whilst provoking a great deal of initial suppression from the Roman authorities, would also have tempered their rule in the long run.

The Epitome of British Resolve?

Boudica has become the stuff of British legend, with a well known statue of her and her violated daughters now standing in London. Indeed it was the Victorians, who built that statue, who did most to resurrect her memory and status, a reminder that the suppressed will only take so much before taking up arms themselves. When the Roman legions were finally withdrawn, 350 years later, it was at their own behest, not through the forces of insurrection. 

Queen Boudica’s rebellion ultimately failed, yet traces of its brutality still remain to this day. Although she must have taken up arms initially to seek revenge for her own and her daughters’ defamation, she has become a British heroine, the epitome of some spirit which is uniquely… well, British. It is a spirit which is continually under threat, yet nevertheless periodically renewed. Brexit, whatever one’s opinion of it, is simply the latest incarnation of that ‘bulldog spirit’ which represents Great Britain — at least in part.

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

There are many books about Roman Britain.

The origin of the giant sarsen stones at Stonehenge has finally been discovered with the help of a missing piece of the site which was returned after… (Reblog)

Last year archaeologists pinpointed the origin of many of the ancient monument’s massive stones. A new study identifies the source of the rest. A …

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The Inexplicable Giant Mystery Stones Near Guadalajara Mexico — Hyacinth Research (Reblog)

Brien Foerster The post The Inexplicable Giant Mystery Stones Near Guadalajara Mexico appeared first on Hyacinth Research.

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*Fascinating material which should be taken more seriously in my view. Find a book along these lines here.

Ancestral — The Light is On (Reblog)

That dream came alive in snowcapped peaks flowing like a thousand whispered secrets, its laughter gently echoing off the slopes down into the valley…

Ancestral — The Light is On

***Reblogged by Francis Barker 2020… poetry

The Traditional Model of the Cosmos, Part II: Plato, Aristotle, and Perfect Form — The Wisdom of Our Grandmothers (Reblog)

Part Two of the series about the Traditional Model of the Cosmos is now ready. This one gives a brief description of the differences between Plato and Aristotle on the subject of Perfect Form. For further reading, see: Robert Hand, On Matter and Form in Astrology Traditional Science, Quantum Physics, and Simulated Worlds

The Traditional Model of the Cosmos, Part II: Plato, Aristotle, and Perfect Form — The Wisdom of Our Grandmothers

The Channel Islands & the Other Islands of the English Channel – Part 3 The Isles of Portland and Wight & the Iles Chausey — Revealing What Has Been Hidden in Front of Our Eyes (Reblog)

This is the last part of a three-part series on the islands of the English Channel. In the first-part of the series, I took a close look at the features and history of Alderney Island in the Channel Islands, which are British Crown Dependencies. In the second-part of the series, I looked at the same…

The Channel Islands & the Other Islands of the English Channel – Part 3 The Isles of Portland and Wight & the Iles Chausey — Revealing What Has Been Hidden in Front of Our Eyes

Favourite Books: ‘The Nature of Alexander’ by Mary Renault

I will forever associate this terrific biography with the year 1981, Charles and Diana‘s wedding and the Island of Crete.

Yes, nearly forty years ago we were on summer holiday on that wonderful Greek island, staying in a not-so-wonderful taverna. Nevertheless, I still fondly remember buying this book in an open air stall, somewhere near the waterfront of Aghios Nikolaos, quite early on in the holiday. I had read it before we left about ten days later.

Somehow we had conspired to be away when Lady Diana Spencer married the heir to the British throne – but enough of that.

Judging By The Cover

As a lover of history (so-called) and art, I was initially drawn to the cover. Few figures in ancient history are as iconic as Alexander The Great, who conquered much of the then known world by his untimely (or timely) demise in 323 BC in Babylon.

But of course, supposed facts are one thing, but weaving them together in an entertaining narrative is quite another. In my opinion, Mary Renault succeeded brilliantly. She is of course most associated with being a fine historical novelist with a penchant for ancient Greece, prerequisites for writing this acclaimed biography.

Vivid

I remember vividly (I have yet to re-read it) that it was easy to read, making me almost believe that I too was being tutored by Aristotle and later courting the beautiful Roxanne.

The fact that I did most of my reading on the hot sand or in a shady cafe, only added to the experience of travelling relentlessly eastward in my imagination.

Charismatic

Most especially the notion of conquest, that it is in fact a product of the mind, came across very strongly – to the point that by the end of the book I felt as if I had personally known this clearly insatiable and charismatic man — doubtless testimony to a great writer.

Maybe that day when I finally re-read this book is not too far away, though somehow I don’t think it will be in Crete.

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

Medieval Military History | The Siege & Downfall Of The Great City Constantinople — THE CHRONICLES OF HISTORY (Reblog)

Constantinople is a beautiful city that was founded by Roman Emperor Constantine I in 324 CE. The city served as the capital for the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire. It has faced many sieges and attacks throughout the years but managed to remain standing. The city had once been the most heavily fortified […]

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Haiku: Darkest Before Dawn

Matteo Kutufa dark
Photo by Matteo Kutufa

Haiku copyright Francis Barker 2020

The sunrise can look pretty much like a sunset. You’re walking the shoreline to breathe in the fresh air after a long party

Ayscoughfee Hall Museum and Gardens – and Birds!

I took this the other day.

Probably Spalding‘s ‘hidden’ gem, Ayscoughfee Hall Museum and Gardens is a medieval gem, well maintained, with a fascinating south Lincolnshire regional museum.

Formerly also a private junior school, now located elsewhere in the town under the same name, the gardens are noted for their topiary, the rather notable Edwin Lutyens world war 1 memorial and a very nice aviary with many interesting species finches and other birds. Lutyens was one of the most famous and capable British architects of the 2oth century.

Although the town has been deeply affected by the crises of this year, it is still well worth a visit if you live nearby or are on holiday in the area.

And by the way, the locals pronounce it ‘Asscoffee’!

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

Favoured Old Books No: 1: ‘Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient East’ W. Raymond Drake (Sphere)

 

Back in the early 1970s when I was a teenager, I grew to love this kind of book. I, like many, was fascinated by ufos, aliens and space, that maybe the myths of the Greek gods were a retelling of ancient visitation of spacemen from other worlds.

Such books would have been scorned by my history teacher, yet these were far more interesting to me than the learned tomes we were supposed to study for O level.

This is the one I bought in 1973, which, as you can see I covered with plastic, as lovingly as any schoolboy would cover a textbook. It’s in very good condition.

Of course it was Erich von Daniken‘s famous book ‘Chariots of the Gods‘ which had really fired my imagination a little earlier. Although he was to receive much criticism from both the scientific and religious communities, I still believe there is much to be learned from his books and from other authors like Drake.

I recall one school assembly put on by some pupils around 1973 which even brought up the subject of ancient aliens. Was God and astronaut? The following day the headmaster took to the stage himself and attempted to shoot down the theory in flames. Despite this, the theory is still out there and as popular as ever.

The great thing about Drake’s writing is that whilst he is clearly learned, he writes in such an accessible way – it had to be for me to read it! I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the Ramayana of ancient India and his interpretations of it.

IMG_3052

The general thesis of all these books is that extraterrestrials have visited ‘our domain’ in the past and have effected the course of human civilisation, perhaps even to the extent of altering our DNA through one method or another.

For me it is a wonderful adventure, and even if not all of it is true, it is highly entertaining, nevertheless. One qualification I would insert is that the understanding of the word ‘extraterrestrial’ has become more complex in recent years. I am quite sure there are other dimensions to reality, and that ours is only one.

Therefore the origin of these interlopers, whether they be in spacecraft or not, could be from the same third dimension as our own, or from the fourth or fifth dimensions, the latter which may surround us invisibly.

I think it’s important for us to keep an open mind, to explore and yes… to imagine.

Copyright Francis Barker 2020