Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born on August 16, 1888 in Tremadog, Carnarvonshire, Wales, to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner. Sarah was the governess of Sir Thomas’s daughters.
Sir Thomas had left his wife, Edith, to be with Sarah. Sarah was the daughter of Elizabeth Junner and John Lawrence. Although Sir Thomas and Sarah did not marry, they lived together and used the surname “Lawrence.”
The couple had five sons, Edward being the second-eldest. Two of his brothers, Frank and Will, were killed in France in 1915 during World War I.
The family moved around a lot but finally settled down in Polstead Road, Oxford, in 1896. Lawrence attended the ‘City of Oxford High School for Boys’ and graduated in 1907.
His love for archaeology was such that he, along with his friend Cyril Beeson, cycled around the streets of Britain and studied the monuments and antiquities. Thereafter, they presented their discoveries to the ‘Ashmolean Museum.’ The museum stated in its annual report (1906) that Lawrence and his friend "by incessant watchfulness secured everything of antiquarian value which has been found.”
Lawrence attended ‘Jesus College’ in Oxford from 1907 to 1910 and earned a ‘First Class Honours’ degree in history.
In 1909, he visited Syria to study its historical settings. He also visited France to study its castles before submitting his final thesis, ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture—to the End of the 12th Century,’ which was published by the ‘Golden Cockerel Press’ as ‘Crusader Castles’ in 1936, after his death.
Continue Reading Below
From 1911 to 1914, he practiced being an archeologist in the Middle East. He acquired a travel fellowship to Carchemish, under DG Hogarth, who arranged it on behalf of the ‘British Museum.’
He became fascinated with the Middle East and its culture. In his free time, he often traveled to nearby villages to learn about the language of the people.
During this time, he also studied Arabic as he continued his work of excavation in different cities of the Middle East. He also moved to Syria for sometime, where he worked with Hogarth, R Campbell Thompson, and Leonard Woolley.
He once stated that he owed his career to Hogarth.
When the war was declared, Lawrence was enlisted in the ‘British Army,’ but not immediately. He was initially part of the ‘General List,’ and it was only after he was summoned by historian and well-know archeologist Lt. Cmdr. David Hogarth to the ‘Arab Bureau’ intelligence unit in Cairo that he really got involved in the war.
His job in the bureau was to prepare maps, interview prisoners, and update the British generals via bulletins.
The ‘Arab Revolt’ began in June 1916. On October 16, 1916, Lawrence was sent to the Hejaz, as part of the British intelligence forces, to interview three of Sharif Hussein’s sons: Ali, Abdullah, and Faisal.
He stated that Faisal was the best-suited candidate to be the leader of the revolt. He started working closely with Faisal to map out ways in strengthening the position of the Arab forces and to prevent the Ottoman forces from weakening them.
He kept working with Faisal until the fall of Damascus in 1918. Around this time, Lawrence met the Arab people and convinced them to suspend the revolt until Faisal reached the outskirts of Damascus.
Continue Reading Below
He also brought certain findings to his forces that were deemed to be valuable by the British intelligence agencies. He was also considered for a ‘Victoria Cross.’
He was simultaneously working with Faisal and the British intelligence forces. He divided his time between the British headquarters and Faisal’s forces, to keep up with their military actions.
Soon, it was about time that he permanently joined Faisal’s revolt against the Turks as a liaison officer. His hit-and-run-guerrilla operation was getting on the nerves of the Turks, who named a £5,000 reward for anyone who would capture him.
The prize was later extended to £20,000, but people’s loyalty was still with him. No Arab tried to turn him in. His first victory came when the Arab guerrilla forces seized the northernmost tip of the Red Sea, Aqaba.
Lawrence wrote in his account that he was captured by the Ottoman military and sexually abused by their guardsmen on November 20, 1917. However, scholars such as the author of ‘Setting the Desert on Fire: T E Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia 1916-1918,’ James Barr, claimed that the episode had never happened and was completely made up by Lawrence.
According to Lawrence, the incident took place in Dera'a. Damascus finally fell on October 1, 1918.
After the war ended, Lawrence was physically and emotionally exhausted and had various wounds all over his body. Although he wanted Arabia to be a full-fledged nation, the ‘Sykes-Picot Agreement’ between France and Britain removed all expectations of Arabia’s freedom.
Thereafter, he returned to London. After reaching London, Lawrence started to work for the ‘Foreign Office’ and also attended the ‘Paris Conference’ as a member of Faisal’s delegation.
Lowell Thomas’s photo show titled ‘With Allenby in Palestine’ was re-launched as ‘With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia,’ when he noticed that Lawrence’s photos, which showed him dressed as a Bedouin, had caught the public’s attention. The show became a hit in Arabia.
Continue Reading Below
In 1921, Winston Churchill appointed him as an advisor, but Lawrence wished to join the ‘RAF.’ In 1922, Lawrence left his job and enlisted in the ‘RAF’ under the name “John Hume Ross.’
He left the ‘RAF’ in 1923 after his true identity was exposed. He changed his name again, and this time, it was “TE Shaw,” similar to his literary friend George Barnard Shaw’s name.
He desperately wanted to work for the ‘RAF’ again. He was eventually admitted again, in 1925. He finally bought a cottage at ‘Bovington Camp’ in Dorset and stayed there for the rest of his life.
Lawrence was also a great writer and had written a number of books during his career. His most famous book, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ is the account of his personal experience of the ‘Great Arab Revolt.’
He wrote the book during his seven-year research fellowship at ‘All Souls College’ in Oxford. The book was first published in 1926, and according to his promise, Lawrence did not take accept any money from the sales proceeds of the book.
Some of his other noteworthy books are ‘Revolt in the Desert’ (an abridged version of ‘Seven Pillars’), ‘The Mint’ (published posthumously), ‘The Odyssey of Homer’ (1932), and ‘The Wilderness of Zin’ (1914).
Personal Life & Legacy
Lawrence continued serving the military for the rest of his life. However, he left his beloved job two months before his fatal accident.
Lawrence loved riding motorcycles. He owned eight ‘Brough Superior’ motorcycles at different times in his life.
Unfortunately, he died in an accident while riding his ‘Brough Superior SS100’ motorcycle in Dorset. In order to save two boys on their bicycles, he swerved his motorcycle and was thrown over the handlebars.
After spending six days in hospital, Lawrence finally died on May 19, 1935.
There is no official record of Lawrence’s relationships. It is not known whether he was ever married or not.