Following the release of a documentary on her life and writings, I was desperate to write a piece on Gertrude Bell – archaeologist, linguist, traveller and politician. Despite her deeply problematic role within British colonial rule, I find it difficult not to be impressed by her strength of character, her style, her relentless intellect, and her fearless personal ambition.
In July 1926, the funeral of an Englishwoman was held in Baghdad. Attendees included Faisal I, the king of Iraq, who was said to have observed the carriage of her coffin from his private balcony, to the cemetery that now lies unkempt and overgrown in a city scarred by a century of conflict.
Variously described as Queen of the Desert, Kingmaker, Nation Builder, and by one drastically misinformed man as “a little wisp of a human being, said to be a woman” (a remark made circa 1916 by General Sir George MacMunn, the inspector general of communications in Mesopotamia) Gertrude Bell is most regularly associated with the establishment of the nation of Iraq, known previously as Mesopotamia.
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