Queen of the Brigantes
Many people know the story of Queen Boudiccas rebellion against the Romans. Fewer people realise that West Yorkshire and much of northern Britain were also ruled by a queen. Her name was Cartimandua and she ruled over a loose association of clans and tribes called the Brigantes. Queen Cartimandua seems to have had pro-Roman views. Consequently relationships between the Romans and the Brigantes went well at first. In AD 51 Cartimandua proved her loyalty by turning over the British rebel leader Caratacus to the Roman authorities and in AD 60 the Brigantes took no part in Boudiccas rebellion. The relationship probably benefited both sides: the Romans helped Cartimandua to keep control over the opposing factions among her people, while the Romans had a buffer state between them and more hostile tribes further to the north.
Rebellion breaks out
Cartimanduas rule ended in AD 69. Emperor Nero had died and a struggle broke out among the powerful men of the Roman Empire to decide who would be his successor. Troops were taken away from Britain to fight abroad. It presented a golden opportunity to anyone who wanted to stage a rebellion, safe in the knowledge that there was little that the Romans could do to prevent it.
Once such man was Venutius. He had once been the queens husband but she had left him for his cup-bearer, Velocatus. Perhaps Venutius had always had anti-Roman views and this was what had caused the rift between him and Cartimandua. Whatever the case may be, he gathered his foes together and struck against the queen. His troops gained the upper hand and Cartimandua herself was only saved from capture by a unit of Roman soldiers. We do not know what happened to her after that.
A few years later Venutius was defeated by the Roman governor Petilius Cerialis. Archaeologists once thought that the battle probably took place at Stanwick in North Yorkshire, but this now seems unlikely. However, Stanwick itself was a site of some importance. Archaeologists have found large quantities of Roman roof tile there and it is possible that, as part of her agreement with the Roman authorities Cartimandua was having a house built there in Roman rather than British style.
A royal residence in West Yorkshire?
Many people have thought that Cartimandua might have had a base in West Yorkshire. Some have suggested Castle Hill near Almondbury, but this site seems to have been deserted at the time of the Roman invasion. Another possibility is the hillfort at Barwick in Elmet, but this has not been tested by excavation. The Tolson Museum in Huddersfield has material on display from excavations at Almondbury.
What we know about Cartimandua comes from a single classical writer:
Tacitus, On Britain and Germany (translated by H. Mattingly 1967)
The following works look at the archaeological evidence for the period:
Branigan, K., 1980, Rome and the Brigantes: the impact of Rome on Northern England
Hartley, B, R. and Fitts, L., 1988, The Brigantes
Higham, N., 1987, Brigantia Revisited in Northern History 23
Faull, M. L., 1981, The Roman Period in Faull, M. L. and Moorhouse, S. A., (eds) West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to A. D. 1500 1
Turnbull, P and Fitts, L., 1988, The politics of Brigantia in Price, J. and Wilson, P.R., (eds) Recent Research in Roman Yorkshire BAR British Series 193
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