Prehistory ends with the Romans and the introduction of the written word into our islands. We only know the names of a dozen or so 1st century Britons from the time of the Roman occupation of our islands, two of them are women, Boudicca and Cartimandua.
At the time of the Roman invasion Cartimandua was a ruler in her own right, she was the living symbol of Brigantia and ruled a tribal alliance that covered much of northern England. She is the first recorded British Queen and her royal palace is thought to have been at Stanwick, four miles south of the River Tees.
We do not know a great deal about Cartimandua but the Romans must have considered her a very important figure as they chose to maintain good relations with her. Her reign lasted twenty six years, a time of military occupation and massive social upheaval.
Tacitus’s account of Cartimandua is brief and not very complimentary but it does give us a glimpse into the life of an extraordinary northern British woman in 1st Century Britain. The fact that she managed to keep her throne, and maintain a relative peace for more than a quarter of a century during a time of war and rebellion, is a testament to a powerful leader in a society that was rapidly changing
Apart from an account in Tacitus’s Histories there is no archaeological evidence that Cartimandua ever existed. There is a possibility that her life passed into oral history as the legend of King Arthur and his wife Gwenhwyfar and was recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his work The History of the Kings of Britain.