'Had Hatchepsut been born a man, her lengthy rule would almost certainly be remembered for its achievements: its stable government, successful trade missions, and the impressive architectural advances which include the construction of the Deir el-Bahri temple on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, a building which is still widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. Instead, Hatchepsut's gender has become her most important characteristic, and almost all references to her reign have concentrated not on her policies but on the person relationship and power struggles which many historians have felt able to detect within the claustrophobic early 18th Dynasty Theban royal family.'
Egypt was of course a male-dominated society, but for being so, it produced many strong women, including Hatchepsut, Cleopatra, and Nefertiti. The latter two are far more famous, having been renowned as well more for their gender and gender-attributes (the beauty of their physical form) than for any political or social achievements they might have made (although Cleopatra's foray into Roman politics most likely would have assured her fame).
Hatchepsut took on the outward aspects of male dress and iconography when assuming the power of Pharoah -- while Cleopatra has always been described as 'Queen' Cleopatra, it is perhaps more correct to refer to Hatchepsut as a 'King', a Pharoah, which is a male term with no real feminine equivalent in the language. She even wore a false beard in the manner of Pharoahs of the time to play the role of ruler. She was an eldest daughter of Tuthmosis I, married to her half-brother Tuthmosis II (a regular custom in Egyptian royal families from earliest times to the final dynasty of Cleopatra, whose generation also had such intermarriages), and guardian of her stepson Tuthmosis III. Much of the history of her reign was suppressed by later generations of Egyptians who wanted to prevent another female from assuming royal/divine power.
Joyce Tyldesley (who also wrote the book on 'Nefertiti', which I have reviewed recently) has produced a well-researched work exploring the political, social and family climate into which Hatchepsut was thrown. Using historical research and archaeological discoveries, she has produced a marvelous biography, restoring this long-forgotten ruler to the ranks of the Pharoahs.
Hatchepsut was short-tempered and made many mistakes during her twenty-year-long reign. However, she was also a capable and able ruler in many respects. The Tuthmosidian Theban royal family which uneasily straddled the divide between the 17th and 18th Dynasties was a tight-knit but feuding lot. To give themselves stability and legitimacy, they strove to replicate glories of the past, in particular those of the 12th Dynasty. This was an era of unease, due to the quickening pace of technological advance occurring simultaneously with a resurgence of interest in 'traditional' values (much like our own time today, in many respects).
Tyldesley begins with an examination of the general society: the role of pharoah, a divine/absolute ruler upon which almost all society turned; the role of the royal family, the priest and military classes, and the interaction with foreign cultures. From here she proceeds to examine the specifics of the Tuthmoside family, with their warring factions and cooperative ventures designed to shore up a tenuous grasp on the authority of power. Examining Hatchepsut's rise to power, she divides it into two chapters - 'Queen of Egypt' and 'King of Egypt'. The precise sequence of reigns between the three Tuthmosis rulers and Hatchepsut is still unclear (given the degradation and recasting of monumental and inscription engravings to eliminate Hatchepsut's name) -- it is likely that the authority shifted back and forth, with periods of co-regency during multiple years.
What became of Hatchepsut is a bit of a mystery. She may have been killed by Tuthmosis III who was tired of sharing the reigns of power or waiting for his inheritance. However, this is unlikely given Hatchepsut's advanced age -- nature would take its course in any event. Hatchepsut's mummy has never been definitively identified, nor has any particular tomb been found that might have been hers and hers alone. Multiple sites have been discovered that are possible candidates, but this mystery awaits future discoveries.
This is an interesting, accessible biography which brings to light many recent discoveries and shares contrasting theories of the history of this interesting figure.