In the mid-first century, the Romans were in the process of conquering Britain. In the north, extending into what is now Scotland, the Romans faced the Brigantes.
Tacitus wrote of a queen leading one of the tribes within the larger group of tribes called the Brigantes. He described her as "flourishing in all the splendor of wealth and power." This was Cartimandua (about 47-69 CE), whose name includes the word for "pony" or "small horse."
In the face of the Roman conquest's progress, Cartimandua decided to make peace with the Romans instead of confronting them. She was thus allowed to continue to rule, now as a client-queen.
Some in a neighboring tribe within Cartimandua's territory in 48 C.E. attacked the Roman armies as they moved forward to conquer what is now Wales. The Romans successfully resisted the attack, and the rebels, headed by Caractacus, asked for aid from Cartimandua. Instead, she turned Caractacus over to the Romans. Caractactus was taken to Rome where Claudius spared his life.
Cartimandua was married to Venutius but wielded power as a leader in her own right. A struggle for power among the Brigantes and even between Cartimandua and her husband broke out. Cartimandua asked for help from the Romans in regaining peace, and with the Roman legion behind her, she and her husband made peace.
The Brigantes did not join the rebellion of Boudicca in 61 C.E., probably because of Cartimandua's leadership in maintaining good relations with the Romans.
In 69 C.E., Cartimandua divorced her husband Venutius and married his charioteer or arms bearer. The new husband then would have become king. But Venutius raised support and attacked, and, even with Roman assistance, Cartimandua couldn't put down the revolt. Venutius became king of the Brigantes and ruled it briefly as an independent kingdom. The Romans took Cartimandua and her new husband under their protection and removed them from her old kingdom. Queen Cartimandua disappears from history. Soon the Romans moved in, defeated Venutius, and ruled the Brigantes directly.
Importance of Cartimandua
The importance of Cartimandua's story as part of Roman Britain's history is that her position makes clear that in Celtic culture at the time, women were at least occasionally accepted as leaders and rulers.
The story is also important as a contrast to Boudicca's. In Cartimandua's case, she was able to negotiate a peace with the Romans and stay in power. Boudicca failed to continue her rule and was defeated in battle because she rebelled and refused to submit to Roman authority.
In 1951-1952, Sir Mortimer Wheeler headed an excavation at Stanwick, North Yorks, in northern England. The earthwork complex there has been studied again and dated to the late Iron Age in Britain, and new excavations and research were carried out 1981-2009, as reported by Colin Haselgrove for the Council of British Archaeology in 2015. Analysis continues and may reshape the understanding of the period. Originally, Wheeler believed that the complex was the site of Venutius and that Cartimandua's center was to the south. Today, more are concluding the site is that of Cartimandua's rule.
Nicki Howarth Pollard. Cartimandua: Queen of the Brigantes. 2008.