Strong women…imagined and perhaps real. Guest post by Nancy Jardine

I’m delighted to welcome Nancy Jardine back to the blog today. Nancy is a fellow member of author co-operative, Ocelot Press. She’s hugely knowledgeable about Roman Britain and has written a gripping series set in northern Britain during the Roman occupation. Nancy’s book The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of the Celtic Fervour series, is our Book of the Month at Ocelot Press this May. She has some great offers to celebrate – see below.

Nancy has written a fascinating post for us about the status and place of women 2,000 years ago and their role as leaders.

We have no real idea of what women were like, and what they were capable of, almost 2000 years ago in Northern Britannia. Since it’s essentially a pre-historic era, we have no documented evidence for that time written by the local Late Iron-Age Britons. All we have to go on are a few comments by Ancient Roman writers who were writing for an audience who wanted to hear, or read, about Roman supremacy. Those Romans of the late first century AD were not inclined to have women officially in positions of power in Rome, and were pretty scathing of any across the empire.

In the early part of the first century, Roman women like Livia Drusilla – wife of Augustus Caesar and mother and grandmother of subsequent emperors – certainly do seem to have wielded a great deal of power, though it was unofficial and behind the doors of their own domicile, rather than from an official position directly in the Senate. As the century progressed, it was generally still the same – any influence Roman women had would have been concealed from the public eye.

The go-to sources for Roman Britain (Annals & Agricola) written by Cornelius Tacitus mention two prominent female leaders of Brittonic tribes. Queens Bouddica and Cartimandua are alluded to by Tacitus but his depiction imbues them with qualities that would have been considered demeaning for Roman matrons. It seems to have been a difficult concept for Roman writers to believe that female leaders in Late Iron-Age Britain could be as astute, capable and ruthless as any of their male counterparts. Tacitus highlights the infidelity of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, rather than praising the fact that she appears to have somehow managed to maintain negotiations with the Roman usurpers. The bribes, or whatever terms she came to, ensured relative peace across her Brigantian territories and kept the invading legions at bay, for probably more than two decades.

Cartimandua of the Brigantes. Wikimedia Commons.

It’s hard to know how much of Tacitus is truly believable but his mentioning the two queens means that imagining strong women in late first century northern Britannia is a credible possibility. A strong and highly-capable female protagonist is what I wanted to create in The Beltane Choice, yet I also wanted to show that Nara of the Selgovae has temporary vulnerabilities because of the circumstances she finds herself plunged into.

The Beltane Choice takes place in Brigantia in AD 71. Brigantia has recently emerged from a time of turmoil and civil war. King Venutius has triumphed in battle against his ex-wife Queen Cartimandua, Venutius now not wanting any colluding with Rome (which he may have been party to at first). Whatever deals Cartimandua had with Rome for around twenty years are now null and void and the new Roman Governor of Britannia is set to invade Brigantia with his Roman legions and officially extend the boundary of the empire. My Brigante warrior clan from the hillfort of Garrigill have been supporters of King Venutius during the civil war, but they now find themselves facing the prospect of battles with the mighty forces of Rome.

Nara is from the Selgovae tribe, who are normally at odds with the neighbouring Brigantes. As a daughter of a chief, Nara’s a princess and a high status member of her tribe. She has, however, spent her ‘teenage’ years believing her future would be as a member of the Druid priestesshood, and not as a political leader of the Selgovae, like her father. Being an acolyte, a priestess in training, has elevated her status even more since she’s been trained in many skills not learned by the ordinary females of the clan. As a priestess-warrior, a healer and a spiritual leader, she’s gained the respect of her fellow tribespeople and loves her ‘jobs’. Her path through life has been different from the other young women for many years, especially since puberty, but she’s gladly accepted that. Expectations of motherhood are not the way of the priestesshood: celibacy and total service to the goddess are a requirement.

Imagine what it might be like if, without warning, Nara is cast out of her nemeton priestess home and sent back to her father’s hillfort, expected to conduct herself as an ordinary woman of the tribe. Do you think the men and women can accept her change of circumstances? Since her contact with the tribe has never been casual, familiar, or normally inclusive would she be able to step right into that kind of role? Now that the goddess has forsaken her, will the superstitions of the tribespeople be appeased? (Celts were said to be very superstitious people and the gods and goddesses ruled their daily lives) Will Nara be shunned by everyone? Do you think if such a scenario happened that she would retain her former confidence in her abilities? Or, would she be literally out of her element?

At the beginning of the story, Nara is taken captive by her enemy Lorcan of the Brigantes. Is it any wonder that she is an enigma that he must unravel?

It takes some time but Lorcan finds that Nara really is the strong woman that she was trained to be!

I’ve posed some questions above about what happens to Nara, but can you think of other situations she might have to work her way through as an ordinary woman of the tribe?

Thank you for inviting me along today!

Don’t miss out on the bargains!

During the whole month of May, as the Ocelot Press Book of the Month, Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures will be on special prices.

The Beltane Choice will be 99p.

The other 4 novels in the series will be reduced to £1.99 (equivalent prices across the Amazon network).

Nancy has a couple of competitions on the Ocelot Press Readers page on Facebook during May 2021 where you can win 1) a beautiful Celtic Keyring 2) a signed copy of The Beltane Choice. Join us there and enter the competitions .

About Nancy Jardine

Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She creates her fictional characters for her historical; time travel historical; and contemporary mystery/ thriller novels at her usually messy desk. When not writing, researching (a total obsession), reading or gardening, her young grandchildren will probably be entertaining her, or she’ll be binge-watching historical series’ made for TV.

Signing/selling her novels at local events is great fun, as is giving author presentations – on her novels or on Ancient Roman Scotland – to groups large and small. Both are a fabulous excuse to get away from the keyboard and meet new readers. Zoom sessions have lately been an entertaining alternative to face-to-face events till Covid 19 pandemic rules permit local events to restart.

Current memberships are with the Historical Novel Society; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland, Romantic Novelists Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She’s self-published with the author co-operative Ocelot Press.

Connect with Nancy:

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman, Nancy Jardine 2021. All rights reserved.

Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

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