Hatshepsut was born into a privileged position in the royal household, and she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimise the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her improbable rule as a cross-dressing king.
Hatshepsut successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her monuments were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her unprecedented rule. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.
This book is fascinating but it is also extremely frustrating. The author concedes that we do not have much information about Hatshepust. We know very little about her personality, her political manoeuvring and her relationships with her father, Thutmose I, her brother and husband, Thutmose II, and her nephew and co-regent, Thutmose III. The author makes liberal use of words like “perhaps” and “maybe”, she poses numerous questions asking what Hatshepust might have thought or how she felt. But of course we can’t know the answers to these questions as the records simply do not exist. So the author makes assumptions of what the thoughts and feelings of Hatshepsut may have been.
I think it is important to learn about Hatshepsut. As the author puts it:
The challenges Hatshepsut faced and the sacrifices she made are familiar to powerful women of the twenty-first century: balancing the personal and the political, overcoming stereotypes of hysterical and unbalanced femininity, and making compromises never asked of powerful men. For Hatshepsut, her unprecedented success was rewarded with a short memory, while the failures of other female leaders from antiquity will be forever immortalised in our cultural consciousness.
However with all the speculation and guessing in this book I can’t help but feel there may be a better way of learning about Hatshepsut.
*I received a copy of this book from Crown Publishing in exchange for a honest review.