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From warrior queens to world-changing writers, Norwich’s daughters have made history for thousands of years. We’re marking International Women’s Day with a celebration of 5 amazing Norwich & Norfolk women.
The Warrior Queen of the Iceni: Boudicca, Boudica, Boudicea or Boadicea
Famously red-headed and fiery, Boudicca was married to the head of the Iceni tribe, Prasutagus, who ruled across the south east of England. They lived together in Norfolk, with Prastagus as the King of the Iceni, semi-independent from the Roman rule. When Prastagus died, the Romans took back the land and property, and are said to have beaten Boudicca and abused her daughters. Bouddica vowed revenge, and united the tribes of England, all of whom were sick of being mistreated at the hands of the Romans. Described as tall and formidable, with eyes that seemed to stab you, Bouddica was one of the greatest threats the Romans faced. She led the army to Colchester, where they razed the city to the ground, then continued to London, which her army also sacked. As her army grew, they marched north, where they met the Romans. Although the Britons fought valiantly, the Romans’ superior weapons, and battle tactics, triumphed against Bouddica and her army. Bouddica is thought to have taken poison, rather than be taken prisoner by the Romans.
Lady Emma de Gauder
Lady Emma de Gauder was married to Ralph de Gauder, Earl of East Anglia, who led a rebellion against William the Conqueror. When her husband fled to Brittany (or perhaps returned to Denmark for reinforcements), Lady Emma was left alone to defend the castle. Just 16 at the time, Lady Emma protected the castle and its people – and Norwich Castle was only a wooden fort at the time! Lady Emma held out against William the Conqueror for three months in 1075: a remarkable achievement and testament to her strength! As her husband failed to return with the promised reinforcements, Lady Emma sued for peace, and negotiated for secure passage with William the Conqueror. She chose to turn the castle over to William’s men, and left the city safely.
Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich was the first woman writer to be published in English, in 1395! Her Revelations of Divine Love is still in print today, and she is well known for the quote: ‘All Shall Be Well, And All Shall Be Well, And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well’. Julian of Norwich (also known as Dame Julian or Mother Julian) was an anchorite, who lived in permanent seclusion in a small cell in a church which still stands today. Not much of Julian of Norwich’s previous life is known, and she preferred to write anonymously, from the solitude of her cell. Nonetheless, Julian of Norwich is one of the most influential figures in Christian mysticism.
Amelia Opie was an author and prominent abolitionist. Alongside writing thirteen popular novels, Amelia campaigned for the end of slavery, and was the first signatory on a 187,000 long petition from women to stop slavery, presented to Parliament. She had no formal schooling, but her first novel was published anonymously when she was only 21. Her passion for abolition and equality was a common theme in her writing, and her anti-slavery poem The Black Man’s Lament was published in 1826. Amelia Opie is known to have been a lover of society, but her radical principles, and friendships with activist such as William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft made her an unusual character within the more sedate circles of the gentry.
A twentieth century hero, Edith Cavell is known for her extraordinary dedication to saving lives through her medical skills, and her subsequent execution for ‘treason’. Living in Belgium during the First World War, Edith Cavell treated soldiers from both sides of the war with no discrimination, saying that she couldn’t ‘stop while there are lives to be saved.’ When she helped 200 allied soldiers escape from German occupied Belgium during the war, she was arrested. She was arrested by German soldiers, accused of treason, and found guilty by court-martial, before being sentenced to death. There was a global outcry, and in spite of international condemnation, she was executed by firing squad. The night before she was killed, she received Holy Communion from an Anglican Chaplain, and said to him: “I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” She is buried in Norwich Cathedral, and a statue in her honour can be found outside on Tombland.