It was once written of her: “To look upon her was more beautiful than anything.”

Hatshepsut, Egypt, pharaohs

photo: Rob Koopman

But these days Hapshetsut is not the beauty she once was. Her eyes are black resin, her nostrils plugged with linen. She is bald.

But still – not bad for a woman who has been dead for three and a half thousand years.

The queen of Thutmose II, she became one of the greatest of the New Kingdom kings.

She was the oldest daughter of Thutmose but could not assume the throne on his death because of her gender. So when he died she was required to marry her half brother – the Egyptians had no qualms about incest if it strengthened the royal lineage – and when Thutmose II died as well she became regent because the next in line, her stepson Thutmose III, was still a child.

But then she stopped behaving as regent and acted instead like a king.

Why? Perhaps pride; she was part of the royal bloodline – while her husband-brother had merely married into it.

But she could not be king because she was a woman. It was against

Hatshepsut, Egypt, pharaohs

Hatshepsut – the bearded lady

Egyptian laws and religion. 

 So temple reliefs showed her dressed as a man, in a pharaoh’s headdress, shendyt kilt, and false beard. (Though she may not have worn this costume, as it is unlikely that most make pahaohs did.) But it formed part of a media blitz spinning a tale of the great god Amun telling Khnum, the ram-headed god of creation: 

 “Go, to fashion her better than all gods; shape for me, this my daughter, whom I have begotten.” On Khnum’s potter’s wheel little daughter Hatshepsut is shown as a boy.

 But her legitimacy must have troubled her. She became obsessed with history and how she would be remembered. She commissioned hundreds of statues of herself, as well as obelisks and temples all over Egypt, each enshrining her lineage, her titles and her history.

 Hatshepsut, Egypt, pharaohs“Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done.”

She died of natural causes around 1458 B.C. Her stepson Thutmose III went on to become one of the great pharaohs, the Napoleon of ancient Egypt. He then tried to wipe his stepmother’s reign off the face of history.

 At Karnak her image and cartouche, or name symbol, were chiselled off the walls, the texts on her obelisks covered with stone. Her statues were smashed and tossed into a pit.

 It was long assumed that this was an act of a spiteful stepson taking vengeance on an unscrupulous stepmother.

In fact it was done near the end of his reign to legitimize his son Amenhotep II’s succession. 

Hatshepsut, Egypt, pharaohs

photo: Christophe95

It is more likely that it was ordered by by Amenhotep himself, who was co-regent at the end of Thutmose III’s reign, when Thutmose was old and almost retired.

Hatshepsut, Egypt, pharaohs

photo: Andrea Piroddi

And so the queen who dreaded anonymity lay in the dark in a dank limestone cave for almost three and a half thousand years in a mess of rags. For at least the last hundred years she was just KV60a, an insignificant mummy discovered in a minor tomb in the Valley of the Kings. She did not even have a sarcophagus.

 But recently Egyptologists identified her discarded mummy and it now has pride of place in one of the two Royal Mummy rooms at the  Egyptian museum in Cairo.

 At last she has what she always wanted – she has endured.

Thousands of people wander past her mummified body every year, to gaze in mystified awe at the last remains of Hatsheput – the queen who would be king. 


To read about another great Egyptian – the queen who would be king of the entire world – GO HERE. 

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About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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  1. corajramos says:

    I always find Hapshetsut’s story sad; the fact that her reign was diminished like that. But, it is not so much different than politics today when politicians feel the need to demonize each other, thinking somehow that makes them look better. Not.

  2. Julia Robb says:

    Creative as always, Colin. Hope you’re enjoying Spain and are settling in.

  3. Emma says:

    The book cover for Cleopatra is gorgeous.

    • Thanks Emma, appreciate that, that was my concept and the wonderful Jen Talty’s execution. Better than every print cover I ever had, which always followed the same tired old theme. It was great to have the chance to finally put the cover on the book that I wanted.

  4. William Bostock says:

    I’m the author of I, Cleopatra, published in 1977, and I think your take on this fabled queen
    that I read about 10 years ago is wonderful. I’m glad that it’s being published again with “Cleopatra” in the title. I’m going to read your Anastasia book next and the one on the Ramanov’s in Ekertarinburg. In 1965 while studying at the Sorboone, I was taken to Prince Feix Yousopov’s house on Rue Guterberg to meet the old geyser, he was about 75 then but looked ninety. He served tea from a samovar and showed me his 3 published books, one Le Mort de Raspoutine. The imposter Anna did pass the ear test, you know. What are you doing in Spain?

    • You met him Yousopov! Fantastic. Apparently he made a lot of money out of MGM’s movie, not because they said he murdered him, but because they said he slept with his wife. I’ve moved to Spain to be closer to my daughters, who live and work in London. Also closer to work. And I’ve always wanted to live in Europe again, but I couldn’t stand London’s weather.

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