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Hidden Queens of Africa: "King" Hatshepsut of Egypt's 18th Dynasty

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

A young girl who was able to obtain the title “King of Egypt”, through her faith and belief.

Famous for her construction projects in Egypt including the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir El-Bahri.

The second recorded female Pharoah of Egypt (18th Dynasty), Hatshepsut was born into royalty as the daughter of King Thutmose I and the King’s Great Wife (most important) Ahmes. She was the first child of the pair and also had a younger sister who passed quite early on. During the 18th dynasty, children were at risk of death, so much so, that any royal children who died were not declared at all. Thutmose I had a harem of wives including Mutnofret who gave birth to his son Thutmose II, successor to his throne and Hatshepsut’s predicted husband. It was custom for the eldest daughter of the king to marry whoever was next in line, in this case her younger half-brother Thutmose II.

It is important to point out here that Hatshepsut, Thutmose II, and any other children bore for the King did not have regular childhoods, playing and spending time with their families. Rather, each child was given to a “wet nurse” after birth who took care of them and even breast fed them, whilst their mothers prepared to have more children, or carried on with their duties.

Girls in Egypt weren’t generally taught to read and write; however, Hatshepsut was afforded this opportunity, in which she used to study material which trained her in leadership, ethics, religion, rituals, economics, morality and history. Her Father granted her permission to witness planning campaigns, ceremonies and in essence the way he ruled. It’s assumed in Hatshepsut’s mind she had dedicated herself to learning the ways of her father’s kingship to be of better use to her husband, as marrying the next king was inevitable.

When Hatshepsut was approximately 9 or 10 years old, her mother officially passed down the title “Wife to the God Amen” who was believed to be keeper of the land. This role put her in a position of importance and power at such a young age, as it was now her responsibility to keep Amen happy, in order for Egypt to continue to prosper. Hatshepsut took this position very seriously and had been trained in rituals. It is said, the God revealed himself to her at a festival in front of all of the crowd, thus solidifying their support in her time to come.

Hatshepsut x Thutmose III

Hatshepsut explained her relationship with the God Amen: “I acted under his command; it was he who led me. I did not plan a work without his doing. It was he who gave directions”. Throughout the rest of her time, she is shown on temple walls consulting the God Amen in many of situations, including when her husband Thutmose II died early, leaving behind Neferure, the daughter of the king and Hatshepsut, and Thutmose III, the son of the king and Isis.

At the time of her husband’s passing, Hatshepsut would’ve been no more than 16 years old, and the King’s successor (both her nephew and stepson) was merely a child, too young to take on the throne. Rather than putting her foot forward to take over as King, Hatshepsut turned to Amen to guide her on what was best for Egypt. Thutmose III was crowned king; however, she handled the affairs of state.

Hatshepsut ruled with the God’s favour to make sure Egypt was safe, prosperous, and righteous. By the time a coregency was formed, the Queen was 24 and King Thutmose III was in his 7th year of ruling, although he was still too young. They were both named Kings of Egypt, as there was no word for Queen. Only “hemet neswt” which translated to wife of a king. They hadn’t deemed it possible for a woman to be crowned ruler. When Hatshepsut joined Thutmose III in kingship, she changed her name to “Khenemetenamen Hatshepsut” which translated to “Hatshepsut, united with Amen”. She was always clear in the fact that she was fulfilling God’s will, rather than out for personal gain. She had already been titled wife to the God Amen, King’s daughter, King’s sister, and King’s great wife. There were no further political or economic gains by becoming co-king of Egypt, despite Egyptologists describing her as “avaricious”.

Hatshepsut’s rule lasted 22 years, however it is unclear whether this began when she started handling Egypt’s affairs, or after her coronation. She ruled without bloodshed or social trauma, however, some time after her death her legacy was removed. Her face was carved out of temples and obelisks, her statues hidden, and her mummified body nowhere to be found. Evidence that did remain depicted the Queen as King due to her title and her dress. Hatshepsut often wore long linen to show off her figure, however male headgear including crowns and apparently even a fake beard to gain the respect a man would.

There are 4 main theories as to why her kingship and legacy was erased for thousands of years, until recent centuries when her body was found alongside other evidence pieced together to retell the story of Hatshepsut.

  1. Her gender

Although the military, priests, and bureaucracy of her time were all in support of Hatshepsut’s rule, it is possible her work was erased to prevent woman trying to rise to power. It was said she was aware of her limitations as a woman and thus made herself flexible in all areas of kingship rather than deceitful to rightfully keep her place on the throne. However, despite all this effort her kingship was still disrespected. Kara Cooney discusses in “The woman who would become King” – a book about Hatshepsut, that men find something oppressive and distrustful about women who rule over them, claiming that women’s agenda on behalf of their children will endanger any broader political aspects… I’ll just leave that there.

  1. Her personal affairs

After the death of her husband, Thutmose II, the Queen did not marry again, as it goes against the royal and holy union. However, the closeness between Hatshepsut and one of her appointed men “Senenmut” urged some to believe their relationship was more than platonic. This apparently would’ve been a justification for her erase as it didn’t uphold standards of the Egyptian monarch, as he came from a lesser family. However, the closeness of the two individuals was determined by the roles appointed to Senenmut including the Kings architect, tutor to her daughter Neferure, and he was in charge of the Queen’s estate (finances). However, any rumours of romance were pure speculation, and they nicely failed to mention that another individual named “Ahmose Pennekhbet”, had also been appointed to many of the same roles, sharing them with Senenmut. Even if the Queen had been romantically involved with anyone, was this really a reason to wipe out her legacy?

  1. Thutmose III

When Hatshepsut appointed herself as co-king, her stepson and nephew would’ve been between 5 and 10 years old, still too young to take the throne or understand how this affected his rule and power. Some Egyptologists suppose he grew to resent his stepmother for “stealing” some of his power away and thus removed her from the temples and obelisks. However, it’s important to note that it wasn’t until the end of Thutmose III’s rule that he supposedly erased Hatshepsut. Another theory suggests that in order for Thutmose III to legitimise his own heir, the Queen had to be erased because his son had no connection to her or the line of royalty that came before her.

  1. Mythology

As mentioned before, Hatshepsut always credited the God Amen for her allocated powers, however, some literature passes this off as mere mythology and a “tactic” used by the Queen to manipulate her way into power. She believed she deserved the formal recognition of her power as she had been fulfilling the role of the King way before her coronation, but it’s been said that this explanation was “too easy”, and it was “too dependent on the demands of one woman and her entitled character”. Throughout researching Hatshepsut her character never came across to me as selfish, or implied she worked for self-gain. From the very beginning she done more than was asked of her to ensure the prosperity of Egypt, which tells me she was a selfless King. Despite what I think, some Egyptologists credit her success to ambition, rather than God, but describe it as “problematic determination of a woman attempting to take something that did not, by right, belong to her” … again, I have no words.

Hatshepsut's Mummified body was found at the Cairo Museum - it was unidentified

The lesson:

If there’s anything I’ve learnt from studying Hatshepsut, it’s that the impossible is possible. A female king (although she was not the first), was unheard of, but she still gained the title, not by being deceitful and manipulative, but by staying faithful to her beliefs, trusting in the God Amen, and fulfilling what we might call “her purpose”. A great King she was, and her reign shall continue to motivate and encourage us. How important is it for young women to know that even if the world says what you want to achieve “doesn’t belong to you”, it’s still more than achievable? Anything is possible.

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