Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Marina Raskova and the Night Witches

This badass chick of history personally dropped more than 900 tons of bombs on Nazis. But she'd never planned on becoming a bomber pilot - she wanted to be an opera singer. Today, she's remembered as a Russian folk hero. Meet the tough and photogenic Marina Raskova, commander of the so-called "Night Witches."

Raskova's father was a noteworthy opera singer. Her mother, a teacher, had a great respect for knowledge and had seen to it that Raskova's brother, Boris Malinin, became a scientist who specialized in shipbuilding. Like most parents, they foresaw a fine future for their child that didn't pan out. Trained and pushed to become a musician, Raskova kept at it even after her influential father's death in a motorcycle accident when she was just seven years old. To honor his memory, she wanted to be the best opera singer in the world.

Turns out, Raskova was her own worst critic. She was so hard on herself, so impatient with her own perceived shortcomings as a singer, that she eventually quit music entirely. Instead, she followed her mother and brother into the field of science, focusing on chemistry in her later school years. When she completed secondary school, she helped to support her mother and brother by taking a job as a chemist with a company that made dyes. There, she met and married a handsome fellow by the name of Sergey Roskov. Together, they had a baby in 1933, and gave her the appropriately Russian name of Tanya.

Then things started to change for Raskova. In addition to her scientific background, she was a talented artist and had a good eye for detail. This led to a fateful job - a draftswoman with the Soviet Air Force Academy. While there, she was trained as a pilot and became the first woman in Russian history to obtain an official pilot's license. She was promoted to teaching at the academy soon after.

She could have stopped there and rested on her laurels, but Raskova was a driven woman. She participated in three record-breaking flights and became a folk heroine almost overnight. Her most famous flight was with two other women on a non-stop journey of more than 4,000 miles from Moscow to deep in Siberia. The entire trip took 29 hours, but it was not without peril. In a plane called the Motherland (a converted bomber), they made it almost to their destination when, in the terribly cold weather, the plane accumulated so much ice on its wings it began to lose altitude. To make matters worse, visibility was so poor that the women were literally flying blind, and had very little idea where to find the airfield they were to land on.

In a desperate move, the crew began to jettison everything they could out of the airplane to reduce weight and gain altitude. In the end, it wasn't enough. Raskova, figuring they needed to drop at least another 100 pounds, realized there was one thing they hadn't dropped yet - a crew member. She heroically rose to the occasion, strapped on a parachute, and dropped into an icy-cold sea of cloud in the dead of night. Miraculously, she survived her landing, but found herself in deep woods. Meanwhile, the other two crew members were able to gain altitude, find their bearings, and make land.

But it took Raskova some 10 days to rendezvous with the plane. Presumed dead, she appeared out of nowhere at the airfield with a handsome hunter who'd found her in the wilderness. Together, they made the long trek through the cold to meet up with the plane (whether this hunter had anything to do with her later divorce has been a source of occasional speculation and gossip over the years).

The Soviet media, such as it was, made great play of this, and Raskova was given the award "Hero of the Soviet Union" - the first woman to be so honored, and one of only three people to receive the honor before World War II.

This may have been the last anyone heard of Raskova, if not for a man named Adolph Hitler. In June 1941 Nazi troops stormed into Russia. Ultimately, this would devolve into a nightmare for the Germans, but in the first stages they were shockingly successful. By November that year, they'd captured some 3 million Russians, had Leningrad under siege, grounded the Soviet air force, and wiped out a huge chunk of the Red Army.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin pushed the country to rebuild and fight on, but he was short of men. Perhaps this was why, when Raskova approached him about forming all-female combat regiments, he agreed. Technically, there was no bar against women serving in the military in Soviet Russia. In reality, their appointments were often blocked or held up. But Stalin agreed to Raskova's request in October 1941, and with the famous "Order 0099" he established three fighting forces made up entirely of women. Raskova was assigned to oversee these three air regiments, and personally commanded the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment. The vast majority of these women were under the age of 20, and the oldest were not yet 30. 

Very soon, the women were running night-time bombing raids on Nazi military targets. These ranged from "harassment raids" meant to unsettle and demoralize the Germans to precision strikes against military targets. They were phenomenally successful, and by the end of the war, they'd flown more than 30,000 combat missions.

These missions were usually undertaken in horrible conditions. The planes they used were outdated, mere toys compared to German planes. But while they were not speedy, they were highly maneuverable. This meant that they were light, with almost no insulation. The women often flew in temperatures of -55 degrees Fahrenheit with only flight jackets and helmets. The planes got so cold that if a woman accidentally touched the metal with her bare skin, it would stick to the metal and rip off. The planes - which were modified crop-dusters - could only carry a few bombs at a time, which meant the pilots had to fly up to eight missions in one night. Finally, in order to save carrying capacity for bombs, the women always flew without parachutes.

Raskova developed the tactics for a special squadron of female bombers who were given a fearfully respectful nickname by the Nazis - the "nachthexen," or "night witches." She personally recruited them, interviewed them, trained them, and supervised their missions. The name came from the fact that the Nazis could never hear their engines - just the sound of wind passing above before a firestorm of devastation. It sounded to some Germans like flying broomsticks. The women used a tactic developed by Raskova: a few miles out from their targets, they'd cut their engines and glide into range. Then they'd drop the bombs, restart the engines in mid-air after leaving the target area, and fly back home amidst a withering hail of anti-aircraft fire (often to pick up another load of bombs and do it all over again).

Not everyone was impressed with Raskova and the Night Witches. While the Soviets lauded them in public as great heroes, information released since the fall of Communism in Russia indicates the women were frequent targets of abuse by their male colleagues. Not only was male chauvinism on display - there was jealousy, too, because the female bombers often got the best planes. Because the women weren't generally trained as mechanics or ground crew, men often filled these roles, which they felt made them subservient or less heroic than their female counterparts. There were at least two recorded cases of sexual assaults on the air bases (suppressed at the time), and a great deal of what we would today call sexual harassment: a poor thank-you to some of the bravest pilots on either side in World War II. Even in her personal life, Raskova was affected by this attitude. Unable to bear playing second fiddle to his heroic wife, her husband filed for divorce in 1935.

The state, however, honored dozens of these women, many of whom lived through the war and retained their heroic status, trading it in to provide good careers and well-connected husbands.

Unfortunately, Raskova was not one of them. She did not live to see the end of the war. After a bombing raid deep into Nazi-controlled territory, she was leading two crippled planes back to an ad hoc airfield near Stalingrad when, we must assume, something went terribly wrong with her aircraft. She was forced to attempt an emergency landing in the best place available - the banks of the Volga River. It wasn't the perfect spot to land, and indeed, Raskova crashed. She and her crew were killed.

Stalin personally saw to it that Raskova received the first Russian state funeral of the war. She was honored with full Soviet pomp and circumstance. Her face was placed on propaganda posters, films were made about her, and she adorned several postage stamps in Russia and its client states. A street in Moscow was named in her honor. Her ashes were buried in the Kremlin Wall on Red Square.

Perhaps the nicest tribute to her came from Soviet scientists who orchestrated the Venera spaceships that investigated the planet Venus between the early 1960s and 80s. A prominent patera, or shallow bowl-like crater, on Venus is named in her honor. Naming part of a celestial body for her seems a fitting tribute to this woman who certainly know how to fly high.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Stanislawa Leszczynska

Most of our Badass Chicks of History have been fighters, driven to violence to achieve their ends. You don't have to be a "hero" to be a "badass." This time, let's look at someone who instead of defending cities under siege, spying, or dressing as men to join wars, was a badass for delivering babies. What's so badass about that? Read on.

There are numerous people the Catholic Church is officially considering for sainthood. One who should certainly make the cut is Stanislawa Leszczynksa, who delivered some 3,000 babies during World War II at the Nazi concentration camp is Auschwitz. She's one of many individual Catholics who risked their lives to stand up to the world's greatest villains. Any unbiased reading of history proves Pope Pius XII did very little to help those persecuted by the Nazis, and his cowardly failure to publicly denounce the so-called "Final Solution" should be a source of shame to Catholics to this day. At the same time, the heroism of Catholics like Stanislawa should be a source of immense pride, and proof that good can triumph over evil - even when evil carries a badge and a gun.

Stanislaw was born in the late 1890s in Vistula Land, better known as Polish Russia. Her father was drafted in to the Imperial Army of the Tsars, and was sent off to fight the Turks. Meanwhile, her mother worked brutal hours at a factory so she could afford to send Stanislawa to a private school. When her father returned from the army, he moved the family to Brazil, where he hoped to find better economic opportunities. Apparently it didn't work out - the family moved back two years later. In retrospect, they probably wished they hadn't. But if they hadn't, at least 30 people still alive today would never have been born, or died soon after.

When World War I broke out, her father was drafted again. During the war Stanislawa met a handsome man who ran a print shop, Branislawa. They married and had four children (three sons and a daughter). Not content to sit at home, Stanislawa continued her education, graduating with top academic honors from a college for midwives in 1922. These skills served her well.

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the family found themselves in the middle of the Jewish Ghetto. Stanislawa's family were Catholics, but the ghetto was established around their neighborhood. Defying not only the Nazis, but the general anti-Semitic feeling of the time, the family took great risks to help their Jewish friends. This included everything from smuggling food and medical supplies into the ghetto, to printing forged documents to help Jews leave Europe. Unfortunately, Stanislawa was caught in a sting operation mounted by the Gestapo. She was immediately arrested, along with her daughter and two youngest sons. Bronislawa and their eldest son were away at the time, and escaped arrest (she never saw her husband again - he died in the Warsaw Uprising some years later). Her two young sons were sent to work as slaves in stone quarries, while Stanislawa and her daughter (now 24) were sent to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. Stanislawa's camp tattoo was "41335," and she wore it for the rest of her life.

Stanislawa was stripped, shaved, and given only two left-foot slippers and lice-ridden underwear for clothing. Undaunted, she almost immediately began breaking the rules. Having concealed her midwife license, she stopped a camp guard and showed it to him - that in itself was against the rules, and took much courage. She was referred to the camp physician - the infamously vile Dr. Josef Mengele. He assigned her to the "sick ward," a 120-foot-long building crammed with some 1,200 ailing prisoners. About a dozen people died every single day. It was heated by a single brick stove that was lighted only a few times a year. Mengele used prisoners who were physicians to care for sick prisoners, because he did not want Nazi doctors polluted with the blood of inferior races. He assigned Stanislawa to work as a midwife. Even then, when he ordered her to declare every baby "stillborn" and to drown them, she flat-out refused right to his face. It's a wonder Mengele didn't order her killed right then and there. Why he didn't, we'll never know.

We're almost forced to conclude that Mengele had some measure of respect for her skill. He didn't expect any babies to survive full-term, and was astounded that Stanislaw, in such horrid conditions, with no medicine, in freezing cold, could boast a better record of healthy births than even well-funded German hospitals of the time. It behooved him to have her handy, because any babies born with blue eyes (or were otherwise appropriately "Aryan-looking") were taken from their mothers and given to childless Nazi couples. Once, he joked with Stanislawa that under different circumstances, she would be making so much money as a midwife she could "stand for beer" for the whole camp (that is, buy all the guards a beer). Mengele even said to other officers, on the record, that Stanislawa was "the personification of hope" for the inmates. Lest he seem too friendly, though, let's remind ourselves he was one of the most sadistic butchers of all time.

For example, even though Mengele didn't kill Stanislawa for defying his orders to murder babies, he did have his subordinates viciously beat her to break her resolve. It didn't work. In the end, he directed a child-murderer who happened to be a prisoner to drown all non-Aryan-looking newborns in a barrel of water. This prisoner, known only to history as "Klara," was aided in her baby-killing by a redheaded prostitute named Pfani. But what they didn't know was that Stanislawa was actually managing to hide babies from them.

Some 3,000 children were born on Stanislawa's watch. Of those, 2,500 were either discovered and killed, or died from freezing or starvation. Only about 30 lived through the war and grew to adulthood - and most are still alive. The "Aryan" babies who were allowed to live and were taken from their mothers, Stanislawa marked with a secret tattoo, in the desperate hope that maybe, after the war, the mothers could find their lost children. When mothers couldn't breast-feed their babies due to malnutrition and ill health, she did the best she could to round up wet-nurses. Not once was she ever reported by another prisoner hoping for better treatment or a reward from the camp guards. If that's not a ringing endorsement of the bravery of the entire sick ward, I don't know what is.

The vast majority of the babies were Jewish, but Stanislawa secretly baptized every single one as a Catholic. Under normal circumstances this would be rude to say the least, but in this case I think we can overlook it. Stansislawa's faith is probably what kept her going. Over and over, she attributed the birth of the healthy babies to the direct intervention of God. She also provided hope and comfort for prisoners of all races and religions, organizing very quiet prayer meetings attended by Catholics, Protestants, and Jews alike.

"She stayed up every night, hardly ever sleeping," said one survivor, Maria Salomon, whose daughter, Liz, was delivered and successfully hidden by Stanislawa. "She was able to create a peaceful atmosphere in a terrible place. My Liz owes her life to Stanislawa Leszczynska. I cannot think of her without tears coming to my eyes."

Liz and Maria were members of a lucky few who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. So were Stanislawa, her daughter, and her two sons who'd been captured. When the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, she quietly returned to her home in Lodz, where, amazingly, her entire family was reunited, minus Branislawa. She continued working as a midwife until her retirement in the 1950s.

Stanislawa was taciturn about her experiences at Auschwitz. Understandably, she didn't like to talk about it. But in 1970, the Polish government honored her at long last, and she shared part of her story. At the celebration, she was moved to tears when some 30 of the children she'd delivered - adults by then - sang to her a lullaby she used to sing to babies at Auschwitz. The local obstetrician's college was named in her honor. Stanislawa died soon after in 1974.

So while the image of a "badass" often conjures up fists, blades, and guns, I can't think of anyone more badass than a women who managed to stand up to Dr. Mengele and get away with it, who was a beacon of comfort and hope in conditions that are as close to Hell as Earth has ever been, who had the courage, the skill and the wherewithal to not only deliver, but successfully hide, precious babies from the worst villains the world has ever known. When I think of some of the jackasses, butchers, and madmen that have achieved sainthood, to deny this role to Stanislawa would be nothing short of spiritually criminal.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Margaret "Captain Molly" Corbin

You know who thought Margaret Corbin was a badass? The U.S. Congress, that's who. She was the first woman in United States history to receive a government pension for military service. She's also believed to be the first woman wounded in battle during the American Revolution.

Margaret, better known to history as Captain Molly, had a troubled past. Born in western Pennsylvania to an immigrant from Northern Ireland, she was raised in what passed for "frontier" at the time. At age five, she and her brother went to visit their uncle. While they were gone, Native Americans raided her cabin and killed her father. They kidnapped her mother and carried her off to who-knows-where (she was never seen again). Margaret spent the rest of her childhood with her uncle, who took over raising her and her brother.

When she was 21, she met a handsome southern farmer, John Corbin of Virginia. When hostilities broke out between England and her American colonies, Corbin was one of the first to enlist, joining the First Company of Pennsylvania artillery. Like many women of the time who were married to soldiers, Margaret went with her husband as a "camp follower." She, like others, helped the cause by cooking, cleaning, tending to the wounded, and generally playing "Mother Hen" to the soldiers.

Corbin would lose his life, however, and Margaret would become a hero in one of the most costly and humiliating defeats of the American Revolution - the surrender of Fort Washington.

The fort, commanding high ground in northern Manhattan, was one of several that General George Washington hoped would prevent the British from taking control of the Hudson River and the waterways around New York. The short version of the story is that it didn't. Once the British invested the rivers with heavy gunships, Washington decided it would be best to move the entire army north to White Plains.

However, he left it to his subordinates whether Fort Washington should be abandoned, or whether those men should be left behind to hold out and harass the British. The fort's commander, Colonel Magaw, believed he could hold out until the end of the year (this was mid-November). Washington was going through a period of great indecisiveness at this time, telling General Nathaniel Greene that he should decide whether the men in the fort should stay or go. Filled with false confidence, Greene and Magaw decided to stay. About 2,000 men were available for defense.

But the fort was not as impregnable as it looked, high on its rocky bluff. There was no source of fresh water, for one thing, and there were at least two places where highly disciplined troops could expect a reasonable chance of success if they attacked.

General Howe, commander of the British, decided to call in his big guns - not the gunships in the river, but the dreaded German mercenaries known as Hessians. Under the command of the very capable General Knyphausen, some 4,000 Hessians attacked the fort early in the morning on November 16 (just four days after Margaret celebrated her 25th birthday).

The American defensive lines outside the fort had some success holding off the attack - at first. But they were inexperienced and undisciplined compared to the Hessians. They were also woefully under-gunned. Even still, with just one 18-pound cannon (that is, one that fires 18-pound balls) and about 150 men, Americans on a ridge of high ground were able to hold off about 800 Hessians who tried to storm their position (in what today is Fort Tryon Park).

Manning that gun was John Corbin. Long after the other American guns outside the fort were silenced, his group fought on. Suddenly he was struck by a Hessian musket-ball, and died almost instantly. Margaret took no time to grieve, but immediately took his place at the gun. She made sure it was fed with ammunition, and fought on even though she was struck three times with musket-balls. Finally the Hessians fired a canister of deadly grape-shot that tore into Margaret's shoulder, mangled her chest, and lacerated her jaw. Her fellow-soldiers abandoned their position and fled to the fort, dragging her along to receive what scant medical attention there was. By this time all the outlying defenders who could fled back to the fort - Fort Washington was, in fact, barely big enough to hold them all.

By this time Colonel Magaw realized he'd miscalculated. There was no way to hold the fort. Knyphausen demanded surrender, but Magaw asked for a half-hour to think about it. No one wanted to surrender to Hessians - they had a bad reputation for stabbing people with bayonets after they'd surrendered. One Hessian, in this battle, beheaded a Colonial soldier and put his head on a pike. But the British General Howe offered terms for surrender: that is, surrender and we won't kill you. Magaw made the hard choice.

The British took some 2,000 prisoners in one fell swoop. It was a terrible blow and had half of Congress thinking maybe they'd chosen the wrong fellow in General Washington. Nevertheless, British military honor was somewhat more humane than German, and the troops who surrendered were not run through with bayonets. Some might have wished they had been, however. Over the course of that winter most of them died from disease, starvation, or freezing in hastily erected prisons.

The British weren't interested in caring for the wounded, however, and most of them were paroled and allowed to seek medical attention where they could. Margaret was one of them. A few of her companions rowed her across the Hudson River to seek medical care at Fort Lee in New Jersey. After being stabilized, she and a few others were transported via bumpy wagon ride to Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, Margaret never fully recovered. For the rest of her life, she was without the use of her left arm. It was difficult for her to bathe and dress herself. Three years later, through the influence of General Henry Knox (a true hero of the revolution), Pennsylvania awarded her $30 for the "relief of her present difficulties." Later, again with Knox's influence, Congress granted her a lifetime pension - that is, half the monthly pay of an active soldier - and a one-time cash award to purchase a new set of clothes. Margaret was the first woman ever so honored. She was enrolled in the Corps of Invalids, who were stationed near West Point.

Margaret was cared for by a family friend, Mrs. Randall, and retired to Buttermilk Falls (now Highland Falls) near West Point. Sadly, however, Margaret had a very tough time integrating herself into the community. The "laidies" of the town looked down on her and snubbed her socially, partly because of her "uncleanliness" and partly because of her "disagreeable temper." Margaret spent most of her time with the invalid soldiers, smoking her pipe in the sunshine all day long when she could.

Luckily, those same townsfolk who snubbed Margaret saved her story from historical oblivion. They told stories about her to their children and grandchildren. Margaret died in 1800, just a few days shy of her 50th birthday. She was buried near her home, but within a generation the grave site was overgrown and lost.

But there's a nice coda to the story. Thanks to the persistent folk tales about her, the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 1900s tried to confirm her identity. They used the recently edited treasure trove of papers left by General Knox. With the help of a riverboat captain who claimed his grandfather helped bury Margaret, they located and exhumed her body. A physician confirmed it was her, from the obvious signs of her wounds that lingered even in death. She was reburied in 1926 with full military honors at West Point - one of only two Revolutionary War soldiers so honored.

Today, a scenic drive in Fort Tryon Park (where the battle took place) is named for her, and there's a monument plaque at the entrance to the drive. Her memory lives on, of course, not only as a heroic symbol of equality-under-fire, but as a Badass Chick of History.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christiana Davies, "The Pretty Dragoon"

Christiana Davies was better known to her friends as Kit Cavanaugh. A fierce fighter with a violent streak and a nose for plunder, Kit's fellow soldiers in the British Army called her "the Pretty Dragoon." The nickname was ironic - they all thought she was a man. Christiana was, indeed, masquerading as a man, on a mission to find her lost husband. She found him, but not in the way she expected. Along the way she racked up enough points to earn her a place among the Badass Chicks of History.

Davies was born in Dublin, Ireland. Her father was a respected brewer and maker of fine malts. He started his little daughter off with sewing lessons. She was terrible at it and bored by it. Then he decided to teach her to read and write. Her tutor said she had no patience for it, but was instead "mad with desire for the out-of-doors." Eventually her father relented and allowed her to work with the men. She spent her early teen years plowing, making hay, and going horseback riding. She loved to ride a gray mare her father and uncle gave her, and would spend hours bareback storming around the countryside. 

Like many teenage girls, she developed an inappropriate crush on a male relative of her mother's. The fellow took advantage. This was quietly hushed up. Further romantic entanglements were put off by wars in Ireland conducted by King James II of England. He was Catholic, and was eventually forced to cede the crown to his daughter Mary and her husband. Even though Davies' father was a Protestant, he supported James. Wounded in battle, his property was confiscated and the family fell into poverty. 

Harassed by local Catholic militias, Davies' mother once took refuge in a parish church with some other belligerent Protestants. A Catholic militia blocked up the church and intended to burn it down, with the Protestants inside. When Davies heard of this, she took a cooking-spit and ran to the rescue. The teenage girl stabbed a grown sergeant in the leg. She was arrested, but the attack was diverted, and because it wasn't authorized, the authorities released Davies with a warning. 

The family fortunes having fallen, she moved into Dublin proper to work at her aunt's pub. Davies excelled at the work. When her aunt died, she left the place to her. Davies met her first husband here, Richard Welsh. He worked as a waiter in the pub while she ran the place. They had two children together, and while she was pregnant with their third, he disappeared. 

She later received a letter from him, saying he'd been press-ganged into service in the British Army and was currently serving in the Netherlands. There is, however, evidence that he in fact volunteered for this service. But Davies was determined to track him down. She left her kids with her mother, took some of Richard's clothes, cut her hair, and joined up with the British infantry. 

It's reported she passed all military drills with flying colors, and she soon found herself in Holland as a member of the 1st Royal Foot. She survived numerous battles, and developed a reputation of being greedy for loot. But Davies was captured by the French and sent to a military prison. She was released after nine days in a prisoner exchange - in the meantime, no one learned her secret. She was terrified of being discovered, however, because the French captain at the prison was actually her paternal cousin. He never recognized her. 

Soon after, she became involved in an affair. She began, in her own words, "very merrily making love to the young and pretty daughter of a wealthy burgher." The girl fell madly in love with Davies, ending her relations with a British sergeant. He was angry about it, and challenged Davies to a duel. She killed him and was arrested. The girl's father, however, anxious to avoid scandal, arranged for Davies to be released. But as soon as she was free, Davies broke it off with the girl, pretending to have received a commission to join the Royal Dragoons (dragoons are soldiers who ride into battle on horses, but dismount to fight). She did, however, manage to successfully join up with the dragoons voluntarily, relying on her childhood horseback riding experience.

This is when Davies got her nickname "the Pretty Dragoon," and put up with a lot of good-natured teasing from her fellow soldiers for being so feminine-looking. She managed to fool them all. Davies said in her autobiography that she even urinated with her fellow soldiers by wearing a "tube affixed with leather straps." One wonders what other uses Davies but this tube to, because she was apparently so successful at impersonating a man that a prostitute accused her of being the father of her child. Rather than expose her secret, Davies was obliged to pay child support for a kid that couldn't possibly have been hers. 

One contemporary described her as "absolutely fierce," particularly when it came time for plundering a city or town after a battle (this was one way soldiers supplemented their incomes). Davies was instrumental in taking down the bell from a Catholic church and having it shattered so the men could share the metal. She once looted 100 hats from a shop, intending to re-sell them. But her favorite plunder was silver plate, and she was particularly fond of a huge silver chalice she stole from a burning church in Bavaria. "I spared nothing," she wrote. "I burned or destroyed anything I couldn't carry away."

Once, when on a routine patrol, Davies' unit got lost. They came across a peasant's hut, where a sow had birthed several piglets. Mouth watering for fresh pork, Davies beat the peasant and took one of the pigs. A fellow soldier tried to take it from her, and a fight erupted. He cut off her left pinkie finger, and she put his eye out with the butt of her pistol. The two were disciplined when they returned to headquarters, but Lord Hay, the general of the dragoons, was so fond of his "Pretty Dragoon" that Davies escaped any serious punishment. 

Davies soon found her husband. She was shot in the leg at the Battle of Schellenberg, and exasperated the wound by continuing to fight. After the battle, she was given less strenuous duty of guarding French prisoners. One of the other soldiers stationed to guard them turned out to be her husband, but she recognized him before he recognized her. Worse for him, he was in the process of publicly making love to a Dutch girl when Davies found him. She "abused him and great length and hit him about the face," says a contemporary, but she ended up forgiving him (after all, it had been 13 years since the two had seen one another, and both had been unfaithful). Richard agreed to keep her secret, and they told everyone they were brothers. 

Davies was the jealous type. When she learned that one of Richard's former mistresses was following the army, she attacked the poor girl and cut her nose off! 

At the Battle of Donawert in 1704, Davies was shot in the hip and thrown from her horse. It took three surgeons to remove the musket-ball, but throughout the operation, Davies managed to conceal her gender. 

However, when she was struck in the head with a fragment from a mortar shell at the Battle of Ramillies, she suffered a serious skull fracture. While she was unconscious, army doctors discovered that she was a woman. But - in a move that really is astounding when you consider the time - Lord Hay, commander of dragoons, ordered that her pay be continued. When she recovered, he asked her to stay with the army as a cook and quartermaster.

"She is a pretty lass," Hay wrote, "but she was the best man I ever had." 

Hay thought it best for propriety's sake if Richard and Davies were remarried in front of the soldiers. None of them seemed to think any less of her after they realized she was a woman. In fact, she became a beloved mascot of the dragoons. At her wedding, all the soldiers lined up to kiss the bride, a process which took hours. They all chipped in to buy her a female wardrobe. Some begged for scraps from her garments to wear into battle, or asked her to kiss their muskets for good luck.

Though she spent her time now dressed as a woman and doing woman's work - such as cooking and issuing supplies - she couldn't stop her addiction to looting. Whenever a battle ended and there was pillaging going on, she'd dress as a man and join in. 

Her reunion with Richard didn't last long, sadly. He was killed at the Battle of Malpaquet. Davies was grief-stricken, and spent a day and a half examining some 200 corpses, so that she could find and bury her husband. 

A certain Captain Ross took her under his wing, and the troops began to call her "Mother Ross." The relationship does not seem to have been romantic, however, because Davies married another dragoon named Hugh Jones. But he too died in battle soon after. 

In 1792, the war was in its final stages. Davies returned to England with the rest of the Dragoons. Hay introduced her to noble patrons who ensured she got an audience with Queen Anne. The queen is said to have been fascinated by Davies, giving her a cash award and a modest lifetime pension. 

Davies went back to Dublin, where she was reunited with her children. But it's said they did not recognize her and had little to do with her. She opened a new pub, and then met an ex-soldier named Davies. They married, and that's how she got the name we know her by. But Davies was something of a jackass. "My evil genius persuaded me to marry him," she wrote. He ran through her pension as soon as she got it, and no matter how much money she made at the pub, it slipped through her husband's fingers. The two were not settled, stay-at-home types anyway, and soon sold the pub and spent years travelling all over Ireland, Scotland, and England. They were supported in part by Davies' noble patrons and admirers. 

But they were both getting older, and their health was failing. Davies suffered from both scurvy and dropsy and a host of other ailments, as did many ex-soldiers. However, Lord Hay managed to secure her a living space at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a nursing home for military veterans. He even got her husband a job there. 

One night, as her husband was ill, Davies stayed up all night at his bedside. In doing so, she caught a cold, which blossomed into a terrible high fever. She, who had been shot at least three times and lived to tell the tale, fell victim to a germ and died soon after. 

Lord Hay made sure her final request was honored. A burial with full military honors was ordered, and as a final mark of respect, the Royal Dragoons insisted Davies be buried in her uniform. And so another Badass Chick of History passed into legend. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nancy Morgan Hart

Somewhere in South Carolina in 1735, a girl was born to the Morgan family, frontiersmen and future patriots in the American Revolution. The girl's cousin would grow up to be the talented American general Daniel Morgan. The girl herself would grow up to fight the British and Tories (British loyalists) with unremitting fury. Her name was Nancy Morgan Hart, and there's no doubt she was a Badass Chick of History.

Even as a child, folks noticed her short fuse. She had a temper, made worse by a simmering spirit of revenge against anyone who wronged her or her family. Alas, she was no great beauty, said to be close to six feet in height, with long limbs, wiry, unruly red hair, and a face scarred by smallpox. She was also cross-eyed. Perhaps because of this, she did not marry until she was 36 years old, when she wed Benjamin Hart (whose descendants would include Thomas Hart Benton and Henry Clay). Together, the two eventually settled on fertile farmland in the Broad River valley in Georgia, building a modest cabin that would later become famous.

Nancy may not have been a glamorous woman, but she was capable! Despite being cross-eyed, she was known as an excellent shot with a rifle. She often did the hunting for the family, and even the local Native Americans, with whom she was friendly, praised her tracking and survival skills. Later, they even came up with a nickname for her: "War Woman." She certainly earned it.

Turns out, it was Nancy, not Benjamin, who "wore the pants" at home. Said to be domineering, she took complete charge of the management of the family farm and finances. Benjamin, a quiet, unassuming man, was content to let his wife manage their large family (which eventually grew to eight children!). Nancy was ably assisted by her oldest daughter Sukey. This was especially true when Benjamin was called up to join the Georgia Militia to fight the British and American Tories. By now, the Revolutionary War was in full swing and the British had moved up from St. Augustine, Florida, to capture Savannah, Georgia.

Nancy's first entanglement in the war came when, in the absence of Benjamin, she was on the family horse, taking a heavy bag of grain to the local mill. A group of Tories accosted her, knocked her from her horse, and stole it. Witnesses say she said nothing, but picked up the heavy bag and carried it all the way to the mill herself. Grimly, she filed this insult away for future retribution.

As British and Tory scouts advanced into the Georgia interior, they searched for places where a large force could ford the Broad River. They returned to base, complaining of "incessant sniper fire." According to Nancy's children, it was Nancy who pulled the trigger. She stationed herself in a tree on "her side" of the river and took pot-shots at the scouts every time they tried to cross.

Her temper was well-known, and a Tory agent went to spy on her and find proof. Sneaking up to the cabin, he peaked in through one of the many cracks in the walls. He didn't see anything too suspicious - just Nancy boiling lye to make soap. But young Sukey looked up and saw the eyes staring through the cracks. Rather than screaming or fainting, Sukey quietly pointed them out to Nancy. Without missing a beat, Nancy took a ladle-full of boiling lye and dashed it at the cracks in the wall. The spy was completely blinded. Nancy captured him and brought him to the Georgia Militia.

Probably in collaboration with militia Colonel Elijah Clarke, who learned guerrilla tactics fighting the Creek and Cherokee tribes, she went on several espionage missions herself. Thanks to her height and non-traditional looks, Nancy was able to disguise herself as a man. To avoid uncomfortable conversations, she took on the role of a mentally retarded laborer. In this guise, she was able to penetrate Tory-friendly taverns and eavesdrop, dutifully reporting to her husband or Clarke any worthwhile plans she overheard.

According to her grand-niece, Nancy was actually with the militia visiting her husband when the force was mobilized to defend the mouth of the Broad River against a British advance. Legend has it the militia had eight swivel-guns and only seven swivel-gunners. Nancy volunteered to man one herself during what became known as the Battle of Kettle Creek. Stunning British losses here helped convince the loyalists that while they could capture towns and coastal centers, it would be a tall order to penetrate the dense interiors of North America.

The most famous story about Nancy is her single-handed capture of six Tory soldiers. They were chasing a prominent rebel leader when they came across the Hart cabin. The group's officer questioned Nancy: had she seen the rebel captain? Had he taken refuge there? Truth is, he had, but Nancy wasn't telling. She said she didn't know what they were talking about. The officer clearly believed she was lying, and decided to extort a fine meal from her. She had a prize turkey that the family only used for breeding. The officer ordered the animal shot, and forced Nancy to prepare it. Inside the house, the Tories leaned their loaded rifles in a corner and set to the feast. While they were guzzling copious amounts of wine, Nancy sent Sukey out to get water from a local spring - supposedly. Sukey's real instructions were to blow a conch shell hidden in a stump, which the locals used to warn one another of outsiders. Nancy hoped her husband and neighbors would hear the call.

Meanwhile, as the Tories' attention was on the turkey and wine, Nancy secretly moved to where the rifles were stacked and, one by one, slid them out of a crack in the cabin wall. When the soldiers finally realized what she was doing, there were three rifles left. Nancy brandished one and told the intruders not to move. The officer ignored her and she shot him dead. Another soldier made a move for the rifles, but she snatched up another one and fired, killing him, too. She took the remaining rifle and held the rest at gunpoint until Benjamin and a posse of neighbors arrived. Benjamin wanted to shoot the Tories, but Nancy said hanging would serve them better. She tied all the nooses herself and watched with satisfaction as they swung from the tree just outside the cabin.

The cabin was actually swept away by floods during her lifetime, though it has since been reconstructed by the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1912, railroad workers were clearing space to lay a track through the territory and found six skeletons buried in a line, four of which clearly had broken necks - a rare confirmation of what many considered a folk tale.

After the war, Nancy became deeply religious. Ironically, it was her temper that led her to the church. When she heard a new Methodist congregation had started nearby, she went to check them out. She found them deep in a prayer meeting, and, as was the custom in those days, the church doors were tied with a leather thong to discourage latecomers from disrupting worship. Irritated, she produced a hunting knife and hacked through the thong. She kicked the doors open and stalked into the church. Somehow during this meeting, she was saved, and spent the rest of her life "fighting the devil as hard as she ever fought the British," according to her grand-niece.

Nancy's supportive spouse Benjamin died in the early 1780s, and she went to live with her son. They moved around quite a bit, but eventually settled in Henderson County, Kentucky. That's where Nancy spent the rest of her days in peace and relative prosperity as the proud, commanding matriarch of a frontier family. She lived to the ripe old age of 95.

Now if that's not a Badass Chick of History, I don't know what is.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Catalina de Erauso, The Nun-Lieutenant

In 1592, a young girl was born to a prominent Basque family in Spain. Destined for the nunnery, she escaped a cloistered life, decided to become a man, and spent the next 20 years rampaging across the New World. And in the end, rather than be condemned for this behavior, she was praised for it. Meet Catalina de Erauso, a Badass Chick of History.

The hidalgo of St. Sebastian was her father, a well-known military man. All of her brothers joined the Spanish Army. When Catalina was four years old, her father sent her to a Dominican nunnery to be raised to enter the church as a nun. She stayed until she was 15, but for all those years she hated it and planned to escape. One day, when Catalina's mother came to attend church services at the convent, she didn't even recognize her own daughter - and that gave Catalina the germ of her idea.

A few days before she said her final vows and took up a life "behind the veil," Catalina escaped from the convent. Hiding in a grove of chestnut trees for several days, she cut her hair short and altered her clothes as much as possible to appear to be a boy. Once she was satisfied, she began her great adventures.

Living as a man, she took various jobs as a servant, a page, and a clerk, all with a view toward getting a berth on a ship bound for the New World, where she hoped to make her fortune. As luck would have it, she actually got onto the crew of a Spanish galleon commanded by her own uncle - who didn't recognize her.

Arriving in South America, she began calling herself Alonzo Dias, and joined the army. She led men to victory in several skirmishes against natives, and eventually her military opinion was often solicited by the Spanish generals. However, Catalina/Alonzo developed a terrible reputation for drinking, gambling, fighting, and general trouble-making. Said one contemporary: "(She) chose for (her) associates the most desperate and reprobate characters, and seemed to take a fiendish delight in outdoing them." 

Once, at a theater, a gentleman blocked her view. This precipitated some harsh words. Eventually Catalina stabbed him, sparking a chase that led across several towns before the authorities settled the matter. To get her out of trouble she was posted to the job of assistant to a Spanish commander. This commander turned out to be her own brother. But, despite working alongside Catalina on a daily basis, he never recognized her.

It's worth stopping to note an eyewitness description of Catalina from this time, from a fellow writing after he discovered she was a woman. "She was tall and strong, very fond of conversation. She applied an Italian medicine to her breasts to shrink them. She was masculine but appeared more like a eunuch."

Today, we'd probably say Catalina was transgendered. She was certainly gay. In fact, part of her bad reputation was based on the fact that she often "put peasant girls into compromising positions, then fled before the marriage date." 

Catalina admired her brother. She also admired her brother's mistress and attempted to seduce her. This led to a fist-fight, and Catalina was sent away to Chile to fight the Mapuche Indians in the Arauco War - one of the most savage and bloody conflicts in the history of the Spanish conquest of South America. Here, Catalina distinguished herself. A native chief captured the Spanish flag during a battle. He and several warriors fled with it. Catalina personally chased them down and re-captured the flag. She (as Alonzo, of course) was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and given her own company to command.

But it didn't take long for her violent nature to cause a fall from grace. In the town of Concepcion, in a house of ill-repute, she got into an argument with an important man-about-town and stabbed him. His relatives came after her, so she fled. After another murder she was captured and sentenced to hang. Seemingly unfazed, she called the hangman a drunk, and, as he bungled tying the noose, she quipped "put it on right or don't put it on at all!" However, a Basque friend of hers arranged for the Spanish military to come in with what turned out to be a literal last-minute reprieve.

For a time she wandered across South America, serving as a mercenary, a sailor, even a lawyer. Eventually, she rejoined the Spanish military, where she had a second, fateful encounter with her brother. A friend asked her to be his second in a duel. Late at night, he went to meet his opponent. It was so dark, Catalina later remembered, she couldn't see her hand in front of her face. Her friend got the worst of the fight, and flouting duelist convention, Catalina jumped in to help. Her friend's second then also jumped into the fight, and Catalina stabbed him in the dark. When she realized it was her brother, she was horrified. She spent eight months in prison on charges of rebellion, but she escaped with the help of her friend, the famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.

Fleeing to Peru, her bad temper got her into another fight that ended up with some poor bastard dead on the end of Catalina's sword. The authorities chased her and she took refuge in a church. There, the bishop took pity on what he saw as a young male criminal. He urged "Alonzo" to repent. Moved by his pity, Catalina fell to her knees, sobbing, and told the bishop she was a woman.

He took her under his wing and arranged for her to live in a convent. She stayed there for two years. Meanwhile, the story got out. It was a sensational tale for its time. She became known as "The Nun-Lieutenant." When the story drifted back to Spain, a verse play was produced about her. So when she  got permission to return to Spain in 1624, she found a crowd waiting for her in Cadiz. Her fame (or infamy) preceded her. Wherever she went, crowds would turn out to see her. The Spanish king gave her a lifetime military pension for her service, and Pope Urban VIII (the jackass who persecuted Galileo) was so impressed with her he gave her a papal dispensation to live as a man, take a man's name, and wear men's clothing for the rest of her life.

But Catalina (now officially re-named Antonio) could not rest in Europe. She went back to the New World and became a merchant, bringing riches out of the interior to the coasts in massive, well-defended mule trains. She died there of natural causes at the age of 58.

So yeah, she had a violent streak a mile long. And she probably wouldn't even appreciate being included in a list of women. Catalina/Antonio wanted to be a man all along, and, shockingly, the King of Spain and the Pope actually let her do it. That's a rarity for its time, no doubt about it. There's also no doubt that even though she'd rather not have been a chick, that Catalina de Erauso is certainly a Badass Chick of History.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Boudicca - also called Baoedicea, Bonduca, Vonduca, Voadicea, Woda, Bonduca, Vloadiciea, and so on - is probably the best-known of our Badass Chicks of History. She was an ancient queen of a British tribe who stood up to the Roman Empire. Ever since, she's served as an example of how effective a native insurgency can be against foreign occupying troops. She's also become a symbol of courage in the face of a lost cause. Let's learn more about her, and her lesser-known daughter of the same name who took up the fight after Boudicca's death.

Boudicca's name probably comes from an early Celtic word "bouda," which means "victory." An English equivalent of her name might be, therefore, "Victoria." Britain was not under a single ruler at this time. Various warlords ruled tribal kingdoms. One of the most powerful were the Iceni, who lived in northeastern Britain, and it was this kingdom that Boudicca married into. She was the daughter of the King of the Brigantes (another tribe), and through her mother, Europeia, the daughter of the King of Scots, she claimed to be descended from the Trojans and from Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy. If true, that's a pretty convoluted bloodline, but it's indicative of the fact that Boudicca certainly saw herself as descended from badasses.

Like a lot of legendary women, Boudicca had a wicked stepmother, Cartismandua. She forced Boudicca to marry her son by her first marriage - Arviragus, also called Prasutagus, the King of the Iceni. Not a bad marriage, all things considered.

Meanwhile, the Emperor Claudius had come to Britain to conquer. He needed military victories to bolster public opinion of him. Despite the fact that Julius Caesar had made much of "conquering" Britain, the truth is he was essentially driven off the island. Claudius saw himself as concluding unfinished business. Plus, the British Isles were rich in timber, tin, and slaves. And after all, Rome was running out of places to conquer by this time.

At any rate, Claudius's legions defeated Arviragus not once, but several times. In order to obtain peace, Arviragus was compelled by Claudius to divorce Boudicca and instead marry Claudius's daughter Gwenissa. This attempted brokerage of peace backfired, sparking a widespread rebellion among the Iceni and surrounding tribes. At first, their leader was Caractacus, Boudicca's brother. Later, Arviragus himself renewed his relationship with Boudicca and joined his forces to her brother's.

However, they were defeated by the Romans every single time they took the field against them. The Roman general Vespasian (who would later become Emperor) defeated Caractacus and Arviragus and made peace on terms that humiliated and essentially bankrupted the British.

Time passed; Claudius died and his degenerate nephew Nero became Emperor. Arviragus, at the end of his life (and still legally married to Gwenissa), hoped to protect Boudicca and their two daughters after his death. He came up with a terrible plan - he made the Emperor Nero the co-heir to his kingdom, along with Boudicca and her daughters.

The Romans did not acknowledge any transfer of power or property through a female, however. When Arviragus died, the Roman Governor of Britain, Suetonius (no relation to the Roman historian of the same name) was out of the country on business. He'd left his jackass procurator, Catus, in charge. Within a few weeks of Arviragus's death, Catus descended up on the Iceni. He confiscated all of Arviragus's property, levied crushing taxes, and demanded a huge payment from Boudicca (this was either a repayment of a loan made to her father by the Romans, or the re-imposition of some kind of extortion-type payments her father had once made).

Boudicca didn't have the money. Catus had her stripped and publicly flogged. Before her eyes, he ordered his legions to gang-rape Boudicca's two daughters. But for some reason, that was enough, and he left the territory, with Boudicca "burning for revenge," in the words of one historian.

As months past, word got out, and the Britons were outraged. Boudicca personally rode about the country in her war-chariot with her daughters, raising troops for a rebellion. She quickly amassed some 80,000 warriors from various tribes. It is estimated that some 5,000 women actually served in this force (which really isn't all that unusual among Celtic peoples - more than one Roman historian has written of "Amazons" fighting among the Celts of Europe).

Boudicca's force struck like lightning, with rapid successes - at first. They "rushed down like wild beasts" upon the Roman-held city of Camoludunum, and executed "with every torture they could devise" some 70,000 people. It's not to Boudicca's credit, but she made a point to execute all of the noble Roman women by cutting off their breasts and vaginally impaling them on tree branches as sacrifices to the Old Gods. I guess she was irritated.

Then even more Britons flocked to her banner, including her other brother, Corbred, King of Scots. They together devastated various Roman manors and agricultural centers, before falling on the city of Verulam (now St. Alban's).

There, however, the 9th Legion (and some auxiliary troops from other legions) under the command of Petilius Cerialis, were waiting. A fierce battle followed before the gates of the city, but the Romans, perhaps underestimating their opponents, were totally defeated. Even the Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio say Boudicca's forces killed more than twice the number that they lost, and that not a single Roman foot-soldier escaped the slaughter. The cavalry, along with Petilius, fled the scene to fight another day. Meanwhile, the pro-Roman citizens of Verulam were put to unspeakable tortures and eventually all killed, regardless of age or gender.

One person Boudicca really wanted to capture, though, fled the battle. Catus, who'd ordered the rape of her daughters, was wounded in the battle. He fled to Gaul (France) and never came back, escaping her revenge.

This defeat obliged Suetonius, the governor, to come back to Britain in a hurry. He was able to raise a force of 10,000 legionnaires from various other legions in Germany and Gaul. He marched his force toward the relatively new commercial center of Londonium (London), which was full of Romans and Romanized Britons. Suetonius then got word from his scouts and spies that Boudicca was marching on the city with a force of about 100,000 (another source says 250,000).

Now Suetonius was no idiot, and as far as Roman governors go, he wasn't even that bad a guy. But he was going to follow orders. Irritated with Catus for instigating all of this with unnecessary cruelty and greed, he demoted him and ensured that Catus would have no career in Roman politics. Suetonius was pretty sure his 10,000 Romans couldn't take 100,000+ Britons, especially ones full of righteous indignation. He decided to pull out of the city, regroup elsewhere, and look for a better battle site to face Boudicca. This he did, despite the wailing and begging of the people of Londonium - who by now knew exactly what fate they, their wives, and children would face at Boudicca's hands.

And face it they did. Boudicca's army fell on Londonium and after only a token resistance, the town fell. True to form, Boudicca ordered every single inhabitant of the city killed in imaginative ways. By now, I think it's safe to say Boudicca may have lost a bit of the moral high ground.

Suetonius was no coward but he was understandably reluctant to face Boudicca's much-larger force in the open. He was also reluctant because he saw the entire war as resulting from mismanagement and mistakes on the part of the Romans. But eventually, he found a good place to draw Boudicca into battle. No one knows exactly where it was, but it was a long, narrow field bordered on two sides by hills and one by a dense forest. Suetonius lined up his legionnaires with their backs to the forest, let it be known where he was, and awaited Boudicca's attack.

He chose his ground wisely. The narrowness of the battlefield ensured that the British war-chariots didn't have much room to maneuver, and Boudicca couldn't even fit her entire fighting force into the field. They could only attack in waves, which was to the Romans' advantage.

It's worth pausing here to recount an eyewitness Roman description (through Dio, writing later) of Boudicca, who they could plainly see riding in the chariot, exhorting her troops to figh:

"She was a woman of lofty stature, with a noble, severe expression, and a dazzlingly fair complexion, remarkable even among the British women, who are famous for the whiteness of their skin. Her long yellow hair, floating in the wind, reached almost to the ground. She wore a tunic of various colors, hanging in folds, and over this was a shorter one, confined at the waist by a chain of gold. Round her alabaster neck was a magnificent torque of twisted gold-wire. Her hands and arms were uncovered, save for the rings and bracelets which adorned them. A large British mantle surmounted, but did not conceal the rest of her attire."

As bold as they were, the British fought in an undisciplined manner. They relied on overwhelming numbers and tactics designed to inspire fear, donning war-paint and screaming like banshees throughout the battle. This worked well when they had a lot of room to run around in. But again, the battlefield was narrow. Suetonius also had more experienced troops than any the British had faced before. They were all 10 to 20 year veterans who'd seen battle in Germany and Gaul. Their iron discipline, superior weapons and armor, and phalanx-style tactics were simply better for fighting in this environment, even against greater numbers. After dispatching the first few waves of British with heavy javelins, they formed a wedge and moved forward. The British fell back under the weight of the phalanx, and, fleeing, found their route blocked by a line of carts they'd set up as a last line of defense (where their families were waiting). Trapped, only a few managed to escape. The rest were slaughtered. Suetonius ordered a pursuit.

Boudicca knew that if she was taken alive, she'd be lucky to be killed. Most likely she'd be raped, tortured, and sent to Rome in chains to march in a triumphal parade before being strangled in the Temple of Mars. She was also distraught because her daughters had been lost in the fighting - she assumed they were slain. Boudicca took poison - suicide being an honorable way out in most ancient cultures - and died. Some say she fell ill and died. Either way, she was buried as a queen with full honors.

But the story doesn't end here! Boudicca's daughters hadn't been killed in the battle - they'd been captured. They were brought before Suetonius, who complimented them on their bravery in battle. He apologized for the way Catus had treated them, and expressed sympathy for them. It was too little too late, but for a Roman, it was an admirable bit of damage control.

The oldest daughter was named Heanua (or Lannosea). Suetonius arranged for her to be married to Westmer (called Marius by the Romans). He was the son of Arviragus and Claudius's daughter Gwenissa (so he was both half-Roman and his new bride's half-brother). The Romans then made Westmer King of the Iceni, and he ruled them quietly for a long time.

But the youngest daughter, also named Boudicca, inherited more than just her mother's name. She was sent to live with her sister and Westmer in his court. But there, her hatred of the Romans and her ambitions for revenge made Westmer nervous. He was afraid she'd stir up trouble, so he banished her from his court.

True to her namesake, this younger Boudicca raised an army of Brigantes (another British tribe) and Picts from Scotland, and sailed to Galloway. This was a Roman-controlled region of southwest Scotland. In the dead of night, she launched a surprise attack, and killed several hundred men before the Roman commander, our old friend Petilius, re-grouped the startled Romans. The British were defeated, and the Romans chased them back to their camp, slaughtering many. But young Boudicca escaped. The next day she marched her remaining forces to the Roman headquarters in Galloway, attacked it and set it on fire. But soon afterward, she was captured in an ambush. Some say she killed herself with poison. Others say she was captured and interrogated, and, giving a disrespectful answer, was killed by guards. Who knows?

What we do know is that Boudicca has become a symbol for fighting against oppression. If her revenge tactics were a little heavy-handed, perhaps she can be forgiven. Frankly, I think Suetonius comes off pretty well in this story. But the truth is, the Emperor Nero was so discomfited by this rebellion that he considered pulling out of Britain forever. He launched an investigation and decided the Romans had acted inappropriately (seriously? Nero thought someone acted inappropriately?). He blamed Suetonius and installed another governor.

I think it's safe to say that Boudicca had every reason to be outraged. I also think she over-reacted a bit. But one thing I can't deny: Boudicca is certainly a Badass Chick of History.