Book Review: “The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War” by Antonia Fraser

The warrior Queens Fraser

Before there was Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and other contemporary women historians and writers, there was Antonia Fraser. Many years ago, in her heyday, I read everything she wrote that I could get my hands on. There was “Mary, Queen of Scots, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, “King Charles II” and a biography of Marie Antoinette, among others. Her non-fiction books were the gold standard of history. But somehow I missed “The Warrior Queens”.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Boudica, the Celtic queen of the Iceni tribe who rose up in rebellion against the occupying Romans in Britain in the mid-first century. I had heard she burned London to the ground! What an amazing story. I had to learn more. Apparently, Fraser felt the same way. The writing of this book was born out by her love of the story of Boudica. Most of the book is dedicated to Boudica’s story, relating it to the lives of other women who led their nations in war. Many of the women in this book I have heard of such as Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, the Empress Matilda of England and her cousin King Stephen’s wife Matilda of Boulogne, the twelfth century Georgian Queen Tamara, Isabella of Castile, and Queen Elizabeth I of England. These are some of my favorite women of history.

Fraser gives us the story of these women leading their troops into war in her inimitable intellectual manner which is very compelling. Her history is fair and balanced, engaging and fun. Her historical arguments make good sense. I especially found the story of the Rani of Jhansi to be captivating. She led her troops against the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. I knew nothing about her so it was refreshing to learn of her convictions and bravery.

Her final subjects are Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher. It is interesting to see Fraser’s perspective on these modern women and their role in war. This book is women’s history at its finest. I can’t recommend it enough. I couldn’t put it down.

Book Review: “Boudicca’s Rebellion AD 60-61: The Britons rise up against Rome” by Nic Field

Boudicca's rebellion book cover

The story of Boudica, the Celtic Warrior Queen has always intrigued me. She rose in rebellion in the first century against the Roman Empire when they occupied Britain and had some success. I wanted to know more. In searching for sources, I found this book was available. The cover has an almost cartoonish drawing so I was a little dismayed. But I was wrong to be concerned. This is a very thorough account of Boudica’s rebellion with lots of valuable information.

Osprey Publishing specializes in military history books. They advertise that their books are “Accounts of history’s greatest conflicts, detailing the command strategies, tactics and battle experiences of the opposing forces throughout the crucial stages of each campaign.” This is certainly the case with this book. Author Nic Fields has an excellent grasp of the history of the Roman military. He details how the soldiers dressed, how the Roman army was organized, what weapons they used, etc. There are photographs of Roman military re-enactors, illustrating what they looked like. There are photos and explanations of archaeological evidence from the era along with maps and drawings.

Fields tells us about the primary sources: Tacitus and Cassius Dio. He gives thorough analysis of both authors, their accounts of the events and the differences and similarities. He explains how the Celts had no written records so we can only go by the Roman version of events. The sections of the book include opposing commanders, opposing armies, opposing plans, the campaign and the aftermath. I especially liked his detailing of the Celtic forces and the type of chariots they used to fight with and how they employed the chariots during battle.

My favorite section of the book talks about the location of the final battle between the Romans and Boudica’s forces. Tacitus and Dio do not give the actual location. The only thing we know is the battle occurred in the Midlands of Britain. Fields has identified a possible location and gives several photographs. This is really fascinating.

As mentioned, the book is filled with photographs. The illustrations of Peter Dennis are fantastic. He incorporates what we know about the Celts and Boudica herself. Certain items in the illustrations are numbered and there is a legend beneath the picture explaining the historical fact behind what you are seeing. I enjoyed the artist’s imagination very much.

So, I learned a lot about Boudica’s campaign against the Romans and this book made the time period come alive. I also learned about Osprey Publishing and will use them as a resource again for military history. I can highly recommend this book.