The Double Crown: Secret Writings of the Female Pharaoh

Although this is a novel and as such a work of fiction, most of the characters who appear in the story were real people. Even though they lived and died about 3 500 years ago, we know a fair amount about them. The written evidence we possess about the ancient Egyptian civilisation derives in the main from two primary sources: from formal inscriptions on monuments, tombs and temples (the “living stone”), and from more informal writings on materials such as papyrus and ostraca (broken pieces of pottery or bits of limestone). The stone records comprise what one might term official propaganda, providing impressive but not necessarily accurate accounts of the lives and achievements of nobles and particularly of pharaohs. The ostraca record items such as songs, stories and administrative lists. Deductions about lifestyle and customs are also made from artefacts discovered in archaeological digs and from items stored in museums.

Some complete papyrus scrolls from ancient times have emerged from storage places in a legible condition, due to the extremely dry climate. One such is
The Egyptian Book of the Dead
, a vast body of religious writings, a version of which was translated and edited by E.A. Wallis Budge in 1895 and is known as
The Papyrus of Ani
. I have gleaned much from this work.

However, the primary sources of information all have to be translated and interpreted, and there is often considerable controversy about the correct interpretation of known facts. We should not find this surprising. It is difficult enough to know the character and motivation of people who have recently died – for that matter, of people who are still alive. How much more difficult it must surely be to discover exactly what people were like over a gap of 3 500 years?

Hatshepsut is a prime example of a historical person whose life and character have been interpreted in varying and contradictory ways over time. We know that she did reign over Egypt for approximately twenty years and that her stepson Thutmose followed her to become one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs. It is less clear whether he was her co-regent or whether she effectively kept him from the throne all her life.

Two views of her are cited by Joyce Tyldesley in her informative biography entitled
Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh
. Egyptologists in the Victorian era saw her as “a valid monarch, an experienced and well-meaning woman who ruled amicably alongside her young stepson, steering her country through twenty peaceful, prosperous years”. In contrast, by the 1960s, she had been “transformed into the archetypal wicked stepmother familiar from popular films … she was now an unnatural and scheming woman … who would deliberately abuse a position of trust to steal the throne from a defenceless child … her foreign policy was quite simply a disaster …” Current scholars tend to avoid either of these extremes.

In 2007, Egyptian authorities announced that the mummy of Hatshepsut had been identified. In 1903 Harold Carter, of Tutankhamen fame, discovered two mummies in an insignificant tomb designated as KV60. The smaller mummy, which was in a sarcophagus identifying it as that of Sitre, known as Inet, royal nurse, was brought to the Cairo museum. The larger one was uncoffined, and remained in situ until 2007. It was thought that the larger one might have been royal, because the position of its arm suggests the typical royal burial position. But since the two mummies came from such an undistinguished burial place, the larger one lay nameless for decades, until at last modern technology (DNA tests and CT scan) assisted in a definite identification. It has been declared to be the female pharaoh Hatshepsut.

This person was obese and had red-gold hair. She had damaged teeth and may have suffered from diabetes and cancer. Many questions about her reign still remain unanswered, though. Did she die a natural death? This is not yet clear. If not, who killed her? Why and by whom were her monuments and statues desecrated? The same questions apply to Senenmut, plus others that have never been answered: Was he her lover? Did he ever marry? Was he the mastermind behind her accession? The novelist has more freedom than the scholar to imagine plausible answers to these and other questions about these people who lived so long ago.

The following characters are recorded in history: Hatshepsut; the pharaohs Thutmose I, II and III; Queen Ahmose; the princes Wadjmose and Amenmose (although they may have been born to a different consort); Neferubity (also called Akhbetneferu); Neferure; Meryetre-Hatshepsut (although she may not have been Hatshepsut’s daughter); Hatshepsut’s still-born son (some scholars doubt that this event occurred); Satioh, Thutmose III’s first principal wife (who may however not have been a Mitannian princess); little Amenhotep (who became the Pharaoh Amenhotep II, one of the great pharaohs of Egypt); Sitre, royal nurse (known as Inet); Senenmut; Hapuseneb; Hapuseneb’s wife and children; the steward Amenhotep; the architect Ineni; the treasurer Thitui; General Nehsi; Mutnofert, mother of Thutmose II; Isis, mother of Thutmose III; the tutor Itruri; the King of Punt and his obese wife; the people of Punt who came to Egypt with the returning expedition; the Hyksos invaders; the Prince of Kadesh.

The following characters are my inventions: Khani (although instances are recorded of Nubian youths captured in battle being trained in the Kap and later holding prominent positions in the army); Mahu the scribe; Ahmose the scribe; Hapu, royal physician; Minhotep, physician; Bek and Yunit; Dhutmose (although there were two viziers during the New Empire period); Ibana the enforcer; Captain Aqhat; Seni, senior counsellor; Ahmeni, head of the Party of Legitimacy (such a party did exist); the five daughters of Satioh; Nefthys, wife to Senenmut; their twin boys.

Hatshepsut’s statues, monuments and inscriptions were indeed desecrated, as were those of Senenmut. Her name was omitted from King lists from the time of Thutmose III, so she was completely forgotten until Egyptologists deciphered hieroglyphs in 1820. Archaeologists from the Metropolitan Museum in New York were instrumental in retrieving and restoring many items from Hatshepsut’s legacy. The temple at Djeser-Djeseru still stands (complete with images of Senenmut, of Hathor suckling Hatshepsut and of the voyage to Punt); having been carefully renovated, the site is now known as Deir el-Bahri. The caricatures exist, except that I have moved them from an unfinished tomb in a cliff above the temple to the temple wall itself.

Marié Heese

Stilbaai 2008

In memory of Andries Johannes Heese

1 February 1972 – 14 March 1999

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the following people: my son Fritz for giving me the book by Fletcher that made me complete what was one-third of a manuscript; Melanie and Fanie Celliers for their support and suggestions; Willie Burger for a thoughtful report on an early version that prompted a major rewrite; my outstanding literary agent, Daniel Lazar, for his coaching (via email from New York) that helped me to write a substantially better novel than the one he first set eyes on; Mignon van Coller for coming to the rescue when technology baffled me; Mart and Koos Meij for bringing the manuscript to the attention of the publishers; Marietjie Coetzee and Charles Malan for their recommendations; Alida Potgieter, my publisher at Human & Rousseau, for further helpful suggestions; Louise Steyn for meticulous editing; Michiel Botha for the cover design; Chérie Collins for the page design, and above all, Chris, my husband, for insightful criticism, for taking me to Egypt to see Hatshepsut’s temple and to New York for the Hatshepsut exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and for putting up with my obsessions.

List of characters

Ahmeni, head of the Party of Legitimacy

Ahmose, a scribe

Ahmose, Queen, mother of Hatshepsut

Amenhotep, a steward

Amenhotep, son of Meryetre-Hatshepsut by Thutmose III and grandson to Hatshepsut

Amenmose, Prince, elder brother of Hatshepsut

Aqhat, a captain

Bek, a slave and a dwarf

Dhutmose, Vizier of the North

Hapu, the royal physician

Hapuseneb, Vizier of the South, Prophet and later Chief Priest of Amen, and Overseer of the Royal Tomb

Hatshepsut, Princess, Queen, King and Pharaoh

Ibana, an enforcer

Ineni, an architect

Itruri, tutor to the royal children of Thutmose I

Khani, from the Land of Kush (Southern Nubia), now a member of the Egyptian army

King of Punt

Mahu, a scribe

Meryetre-Hatshepsut, second daughter to Hatshepsut by Thutmose II

Minhotep, a physician

Neferubity, younger sister of Hatshepsut

Neferure, first daughter to Hatshepsut by Thutmose II

Nefthys and her twin boys

Nehsi, a general

Prince of Kadesh

Satioh, a Mitannian princess, Thutmose III’s first principal wife

Senenmut, scribe, tutor to the royal children, later Chief Steward of Amen and Overseer of all Royal Works

Seni, a senior counsellor

Sitre, royal nurse (known as Inet)

Thitui, treasurer

Thutmose I, Pharaoh, Hatshepsut’s father

Thutmose II, Pharaoh, son of Thutmose I and the Lady Mutnofert, and thus Hatshepsut’s half-brother; also her husband

Thutmose III, Pharaoh, son of Thutmose II and a concubine, Isis; thus Hatshepsut’s step-nephew and stepson

Wadjmose, Prince, elder brother of Hatshepsut

Yunit, a slave and a dwarf

Prologue

I
am the chosen of the gods. I have always known that. This knowledge has been the source of my strength and my power, and it is the reason why I know that those who now seek my death and desire to usurp my throne shall not succeed.

Yet I have decided that I must make a secret record with details about those whom I do not trust. I shall give the scrolls that I produce into the keeping of my scribe, the faithful Mahu. If I die a wrongful death, he must hand them to someone in power who will avenge me. Mahu will have to decide who the right person might be. I shall ensure that there will be sufficient evidence to see to it that the guilty, if such there are, suffer the just punishment of the gods and do not reap great benefits from treason.

Also I intend to write down the truth regarding my time as Pharaoh, ruler over the Two Lands. It is so that the main events of my reign are engraved upon the walls of the funerary temple at Djeser-Djeseru that my devoted Senenmut built for me, and upon the steles I have had erected. The living stone will bear witness to my deeds. But I fear that those who seek my death, should they succeed, might even attempt to destroy that proud record. Although I am certain that I can prevail, I shall nonetheless ensure that another record exists on the humble material created from papyrus, a record that Mahu could hide if needs be and that would survive. For those who would take my life would also steal my name, and so they would deprive my spirit of its home in the Afterlife. I will not let them take either my life or my immortality. I will not.