Great Royal Wife

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M23 N41
Great Royal Wife
in hieroglyphs
Hatshepsut was Great Royal Wife to Thutmose II, then regent for her stepson Thutmose III (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Great Royal Wife, or alternatively Chief King's Wife (Ancient Egyptian: ḥmt nswt wrt), is the term that was used to refer to the principal wife of the pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. The former is also, in the form of the simplification Great Wife, applied to more contemporary royal consorts in states all over modern Africa (e.g., Mantfombi Dlamini of Swaziland, chief consort of the Zulu King).


While most Ancient Egyptians were monogamous, the pharaoh would have had other, lesser wives and concubines in addition to the Great Royal Wife. This arrangement would allow the pharaoh to enter into diplomatic marriages with the daughters of allies, as was the custom of ancient kings.[1]

In the past the order of succession in Ancient Egypt was thought to pass through the royal women. This theory, referred to as the Heiress Theory, has been rejected ever since the 1980s and is now not accepted by Egyptologists.[2][3] The throne likely just passed to the eldest living son of the pharaoh. The mother of the heir to the throne was not always the Great Royal Wife, but once a pharaoh was crowned, it was possible to grant the mother of the king the title of Great Royal Wife, along with other titles. Examples include Iset, the mother of Thutmose III,[4] Tiaa, the mother of Thutmose IV[2] and Mutemwia, the mother of Amenhotep III.[5]

Meretseger, the chief wife of Senusret III, is the earliest queen whose name appears with this title; she also was the first consort known to write her name in a cartouche.[6] However, she is only attested in the New Kingdom[7] so the title might be an anachronism. Perhaps the first holder of its title was Nubkhaes of the Second Intermediate Period.

A special place in the history of great royal wives was taken by Hatshepsut. She was Great Royal Wife to her half-brother Thutmose II. During this time Hatshepsut also became a God's Wife of Amun (the highest ranking priestess in the temple of Amun in Karnak). After the death of her husband, she became regent because of the minority of her stepson, the only male heir (born to Iset), who eventually would become Thutmose III. While he was still very young, however, Hatshepsut was crowned as pharaoh and ruled very successfully in her own right for many years. Although other women before her had ruled Egypt, Hatshepsut was the first woman to take the title, pharaoh, as it was a new term being used for the rulers, not having been used before the eighteenth dynasty. When she became pharaoh, she designated her daughter, Neferure, as God's Wife of Amun to perform the duties of a priestess. Her daughter may have been the great royal wife of Thutmose III but there is no clear evidence for this proposed marriage.[8]

Elsewhere, in Kush and other major states of ancient Africa, the rulers often structured their households in much the same way as has just been described. This practice has continued to the present day, with the most senior polygamous spouses of contemporary African royals often being referred to by the honorific Great Wife.

Great Royal Wives

Middle Kingdom

Dynasty Name Husband Comments
12th dynasty Meretseger Senusret III Apparently the first holder of the title; though not definitively attested to in contemporary sources

Second Intermediate Period

Dynasty Name Husband Comments
13th dynasty Nubhotepti Hor
13th dynasty Nubkhaes Sobekhotep V, Sobekhotep VI or Wahibre Ibiau
13th dynasty Ineni Merneferre Ai
13th dynasty Nehyt  ? Only known from two scarab seals
13th dynasty Satsobek  ? Only known from one scarab seal
13th dynasty Sathathor  ? Only known from one scarab seal, reading of name not fully certain
16th dynasty Mentuhotep Djehuti
16th dynasty Sitmut Mentuhotep VI (?)
17th dynasty Nubemhat Sobekemsaf I
17th dynasty Sobekemsaf Nubkheperre Intef Sister of an unknown king. Buried in Edfu.
17th dynasty Nubkhaes Sobekemsaf II
17th dynasty Tetisheri Tao I the Elder Mother of Tao II the Brave
17th dynasty Ahhotep I Tao II the Brave Mother of Ahmose I and Ahmose-Nefertari

New Kingdom

Dynasty Name Husband Comments
18th dynasty Ahmose-Nefertari Ahmose I Mother of Amenhotep I and Ahmose-Meritamon
18th dynasty Sitkamose Ahmose I (?)
18th dynasty Ahmose-Henuttamehu Ahmose I (?) Daughter of Queen Inhapi.
18th dynasty Ahmose-Meritamon Amenhotep I
18th dynasty Ahmose Thutmose I Mother of Hatshepsut
18th dynasty Hatshepsut Thutmose II second great royal wife to her father, Thutmose I,[citation needed] and later, ruling pharaoh with her daughter, Neferure, as great royal wife
18th dynasty Iset Thutmose II Received the title from her son Thutmose III
18th dynasty Neferure (?) Thutmose III No evidence documents their marriage
18th dynasty Satiah Thutmose III
18th dynasty Merytre-Hatshepsut Thutmose III Mother of Amenhotep II
18th dynasty Tiaa Amenhotep II Received the title from her son Thutmose IV after her husband's death - Amenhotep II tried to break the royal lineage by not recording any of his wives, who may not have been royal, and Tiaa was identified only later, by her son
18th dynasty Nefertari Thutmose IV
18th dynasty Iaret Thutmose IV
18th dynasty Tenettepihu Thutmose IV? Known from a shabti and funerary statue. Thought to date to the time of Tuthmosis IV?
18th dynasty Mutemwia Thutmose IV Received the title from her son, Amenhotep III, after her husband's death to make his own birth seem royal
18th dynasty Tiye Amenhotep III Mother of Akhenaten
18th dynasty Sitamun Amenhotep III Eldest daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye
18th dynasty Iset Amenhotep III Daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye
18th dynasty Nebetnehat Unidentified Known from cartouche found on canopic fragments. She lived during the mid to late 18th dynasty
18th dynasty Nefertiti Akhenaten Mother of Meritaten and Ankhesenamun. Possible daughter of Ay
18th dynasty Meritaten Smenkhkare Daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
18th dynasty Ankhesenamen Tutankhamen Daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
18th dynasty Tey Ay
18th dynasty Mutnedjmet Horemheb Probable daughter of Ay and Tey
19th dynasty Sitre Ramesses I Mother of Seti I
19th dynasty Tuya Seti I Mother of Ramesses II
19th dynasty Nefertari Ramesses II
19th dynasty Isetnofret Ramesses II Mother of Merenptah
19th dynasty Bintanath Ramesses II Eldest daughter of Ramesses II and Isetnofret
19th dynasty Meritamen Ramesses II Daughter of Ramesses II and Nefertari
19th dynasty Nebettawy Ramesses II Daughter of Ramesses II and Nefertari
19th dynasty Henutmire Ramesses II Sister or daughter of Ramesses II
19th dynasty Maathorneferure Ramesses II Hittite princess
19th dynasty Isetnofret II Merenptah Sister or niece of her husband
19th dynasty Tawosret Seti II Later pharaoh
19th dynasty Takhat Seti II? Depicted as the wife of Sety II on a (usurped) statue. May have been the mother of Amenmesse?
20th dynasty Tiye-Mereniset Setnakhte Mother of Ramesses III
20th dynasty Iset Ta-Hemdjert Ramesses III Mother of Ramesses IV and Ramesses VI
20th dynasty Henutwati Ramesses V Queen mentioned in the Wilbour Papyrus.
20th dynasty Nubkhesbed Ramesses V Mother of Princess Isis, who would later be the God’s Wife of Amun.
20th dynasty Baketwernel Ramesses IX
20th dynasty Tyti Ramesses X Possibly a wife of Ramesses X. Buried in QV52.
20th dynasty Anuketemheb unknown Original owner of sarcophagus and canopic jars later used for Queen Takhat in KV10. Dates to the 19th or 20th dynasty.

Third Intermediate Period

Dynasty Name Husband Comments
21st dynasty Nodjmet Herihor Probable mother of Pinedjem I
21st dynasty Mutnedjmet Psusennes I
23rd dynasty Karomama Takelot II Mother of Osorkon III
25th dynasty Khensa Piye
25th dynasty Peksater Piye
25th dynasty Takahatenamun Taharqa
25th dynasty Isetemkheb Tanutamon

Late Period

Dynasty Name Husband Comments
26th dynasty Mehytenweskhet Psamtik I Mother of Necho II
26th dynasty Takhuit Psamtik II Mother of Wahibre

See also

Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Ramasses II, from the temple he built to honour her at Abu Simbel, she holds a sistrum and a sacred lotus


  1. Shaw, Garry J. The Pharaoh, Life at Court and on Campaign, Thames and Hudson, 2012, p. 48, 91-94.
  2. 2.0 2.1 O'Connor and Cline (Editors), Amenhotep III: Perspectives on his reign, pg 6
  3. G. Robins, A Critical examination of the Theory that the Right to the Throne in Ancient Egypt Passed through the Female Line in the Eighteenth Dynasty. GM 62: pg 67-77
  4. O'Conner and Cline, Thutmose III: A new biography,2006
  5. Joann Fletcher: Egypt's Sun King – Amenhotep III (Duncan Baird Publishers, London, 2000) ISBN 1-900131-09-9, p.167
  6. Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton: The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson, 2004, ISBN 0-500-05128-3, pp.25-26
  7. L. Holden, in: Egypt’s Golden Age: The Art of Living in the New Kingdom, 1558-1085 B.C., Boston 1982, S. 302f.
  8. Tyldesley, Chronicle of the Queens of Ancient Egypt, pg 110