T. E. Lawrence

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T. E. Lawrence
16 August 1888 (1888-08-16)19 May 1935 (1935-05-20) (aged 46)
Te lawrence2.jpg
Nickname Lawrence of Arabia, El Aurens
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Hashemite Arabs
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force
Years of service 1914–18
Rank Lieutenant Colonel and Aircraftman
Battles/wars First World War
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath[1]
Distinguished Service Order[2]
Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur[3]
Croix de guerre[4]

Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888[5]19 May 1935), known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. The extraordinary breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title popularised by the 1962 film based on his First World War activities.

Lawrence was born illegitimately in Tremadog, Wales in August 1888 to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner, a governess, who was herself illegitimate. Chapman left his wife to live with Sarah Junner, and they called themselves Mr and Mrs Lawrence. In the summer of 1896 the Lawrences moved to Oxford, where from 1907 to 1910 young Lawrence studied history at Jesus College, graduating with First Class Honours. He became a practising archaeologist in the Middle East, working with David George Hogarth and Leonard Woolley on various excavations. In January 1914, following the outbreak of the First World War, Lawrence was co-opted by the British military to undertake a military survey of the Negev Desert while doing archaeological research.

Lawrence's public image was due in part to American journalist Lowell Thomas' sensationalised reportage of the revolt as well as to Lawrence's autobiographical account Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922).

Early life

Lawrence was born on 16 August 1888 in Tremadog, Caernarfonshire (now Gwynedd), Wales, in a house named Gorphwysfa, now known as Snowdon Lodge.[6] His Anglo-Irish father, Thomas Robert Tighe Chapman, who in 1914 inherited the title of seventh Baronet of Westmeath in Ireland, had left his wife Edith for his daughters' governess Sarah Junner. Junner's mother, Elizabeth Junner, had named as Sarah's father a "John Junner - shipwright journeyman", though she had been living as an unmarried servant in the household of a John Lawrence, ship's carpenter, just four months earlier.[7][8] The couple did not marry but were known as Mr and Mrs Lawrence.

Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner had five sons born out of wedlock, of whom Thomas Edward was the second eldest. From Wales the family moved to Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, then Dinard in Brittany, then to Jersey. From 1894–96 the family lived at Langley Lodge (now demolished), set in private woods between the eastern borders of the New Forest and Southampton Water in Hampshire. Mr Lawrence sailed and took the boys to watch yacht racing in the Solent off Lepe beach. By the time they left, the eight-year-old Ned (as Lawrence became known) had developed a taste for the countryside and outdoor activities.

In the summer of 1896 the Lawrences moved to 2 Polstead Road (now marked with a blue plaque) in Oxford, where, until 1921, they lived under the names of Mr and Mrs Lawrence. Lawrence attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys, where one of the four houses was later named "Lawrence" in his honour; the school closed in 1966.[9] As a schoolboy, one of his favourite pastimes was to cycle to country churches and make brass rubbings. Lawrence and one of his brothers became commissioned officers in the Church Lads' Brigade at St Aldate's Church.

Lawrence claimed that in about 1905, he ran away from home and served for a few weeks as a boy soldier with the Royal Garrison Artillery at St Mawes Castle in Cornwall, from which he was bought out. No evidence of this can be found in army records.[10]

Archaeology in the Middle East

From 1907 to 1910 Lawrence studied history at Jesus College, Oxford.[11] During the summers of 1907 and 1908, he toured France by bicycle, collecting photographs, drawings and measurements of castles dating from the mediaeval period. In the summer of 1909, he set out alone on a three-month walking tour of crusader castles in Ottoman Syria, during which he travelled 1000 mi on foot. Lawrence graduated with First Class Honours after submitting a thesis entitled The influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture – to the end of the 12th century based on his own field research in France, notably in Châlus, and the Middle East.[12]

On completing his degree in 1910, Lawrence commenced postgraduate research in mediaeval pottery with a Senior Demy, a form of scholarship, at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he abandoned after he was offered the opportunity to become a practising archaeologist in the Middle East. Lawrence was a polyglot whose published work demonstrates competence in French, Ancient Greek, and Arabic.

In December 1910 he sailed for Beirut, and on arrival went to Jbail (Byblos), where he studied Arabic. He then went to work on the excavations at Carchemish, near Jerablus in northern Syria, where he worked under D. G. Hogarth and R. Campbell-Thompson of the British Museum. He would later state that everything that he had accomplished, he owed to Hogarth.[13] As the site lay near an important crossing on the Baghdad Railway, knowledge gathered there was of considerable importance to the military. While excavating ancient Mesopotamian sites, Lawrence met Gertrude Bell, who was to influence him during his time in the Middle East.

In late 1911, Lawrence returned to England for a brief sojourn. By November he was en route to Beirut for a second season at Carchemish, where he was to work with Leonard Woolley. Prior to resuming work there, however, he briefly worked with Flinders Petrie at Kafr Ammar in Egypt.

Lawrence continued making trips to the Middle East as a field archaeologist until the outbreak of the First World War. In January 1914, Woolley and Lawrence were co-opted by the British military as an archaeological smokescreen for a British military survey of the Negev Desert. They were funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund to search for an area referred to in the Bible as the "Wilderness of Zin"; along the way, they undertook an archaeological survey of the Negev Desert. The Negev was of strategic importance, as it would have to be crossed by any Ottoman army attacking Egypt in the event of war. Woolley and Lawrence subsequently published a report of the expedition's archaeological findings,[14] but a more important result was an updated mapping of the area, with special attention to features of military relevance such as water sources. Lawrence also visited Aqaba and Petra.

From March to May 1914, Lawrence worked again at Carchemish. Following the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, on the advice of S.F. Newcombe, Lawrence did not immediately enlist in the British Army; he held back until October, when he was commissioned on the General List.

Arab revolt

At the outbreak of the First World War Lawrence was a university post-graduate researcher who had for years travelled extensively within the Ottoman Empire provinces of the Levant (Transjordan and Palestine) and Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq) under his own name. As such he became known to the Turkish Interior Ministry authorities and their German technical advisors. Lawrence came into contact with the Ottoman–German technical advisers, travelling over the German-designed, -built, and -financed railways during the course of his researches.

Even if Lawrence had not volunteered, the British would probably have recruited him for his first-hand knowledge of Syria, the Levant, and Mesopotamia. He was eventually posted to Cairo on the Intelligence Staff of the GOC Middle East.[15]

Contrary to later myth, it was neither Lawrence nor the Army that conceived a campaign of internal insurgency against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, but rather the Arab Bureau of Britain's Foreign Office. The Arab Bureau had long felt it likely that a campaign instigated and financed by outside powers, supporting the breakaway-minded tribes and regional challengers to the Turkish government's centralised rule of their empire, would pay great dividends in the diversion of effort that would be needed to meet such a challenge. The Arab Bureau had recognised the strategic value of what is today called the "asymmetry" of such conflict. The Ottoman authorities would have to devote from a hundred to a thousand times the resources to contain the threat of such an internal rebellion compared to the Allies' cost of sponsoring it.[citation needed]

At that point in the Foreign Office's thinking they were not considering the region as candidate territories for incorporation in the British Empire, but only as an extension of the range of British Imperial influence, and the weakening and destruction of a German ally, the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed]

During the war, Lawrence fought with Arab irregular troops under the command of Emir Faisal, a son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, in extended guerrilla operations against the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire. He persuaded the Arabs not to make a frontal assault on the Ottoman stronghold in Medina but allowed the Turkish army to tie up troops in the city garrison. The Arabs were then free to direct most of their attention to the Turks' weak point, the Hejaz railway that supplied the garrison. This vastly expanded the battlefield and tied up even more Ottoman troops, who were then forced to protect the railway and repair the constant damage.

The capture of Aqaba

In 1917, Lawrence arranged a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces under Auda Abu Tayi (until then in the employ of the Ottomans) against the strategically located but lightly defended[16][17][18] town of Aqaba. On 6 July, after a surprise overland attack, Aqaba fell to Lawrence and the Arab forces. After Aqaba, Lawrence was promoted to major. Fortunately for Lawrence, the new commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Sir Edmund Allenby, agreed to his strategy for the revolt, stating after the war:

"I gave him a free hand. His cooperation was marked by the utmost loyalty, and I never had anything but praise for his work, which, indeed, was invaluable throughout the campaign."

Lawrence now held a powerful position, as an adviser to Faisal and a person who had Allenby's confidence.

The fall of Damascus

The following year, Lawrence was involved in the capture of Damascus in the final weeks of the war and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1918. In newly liberated Damascus—which he had envisaged as the capital of an Arab state—Lawrence was instrumental in establishing a provisional Arab government under Faisal. Faisal's rule as king, however, came to an abrupt end in 1920, after the battle of Maysaloun, when the French Forces of General Gouraud under the command of General Mariano Goybet, entered Damascus, breaking Lawrence's dream of an independent Arabia.

As was his habit when travelling before the war, Lawrence adopted many local customs and traditions (many photographs show him in the desert wearing white Arab dishdasha and riding camels).

During the closing years of the war he sought, with mixed success, to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain contradicted the promises of independence he had made to the Arabs and frustrated his work.[19]

In 1918 he co-operated with war correspondent Lowell Thomas for a short period. During this time Thomas and his cameraman Harry Chase shot a great deal of film and many photographs, which Thomas used in a highly lucrative film that toured the world after the war.

Lawrence against Great Britain

Below information is from this source[20].

At the time of his death, Lawrence was reportedly writing a book which may well have revealed the fact that Britain had secretly promised the Arabs sole sovereignty over an independent state in Palestine (then part of Ottoman Empire) if they revolted against their Ottoman Turk masters, who were allied with Germany against Britain and its wartime allies

In one telegram to the Arab leader for whom Lawrence had become a defacto political adviser, the British Foreign Office solemnly promised: "His Majesty's Government reaffirm their former pledges to His Highness in regard to the freeing of the Arab peoples. Liberation is the policy H.M.G. have pursued and intend to pursue with unswerving determination."

The Arabs were convinced the British would live up to their word and grant them sole possession of Palestine once it had been wrestled from Turkish control. As one Arab leader confidently assured another:

"A British promise is like gold. No matter how hard you rub it, it still shines."

In response to such promises, Arab guerilla forces under Lawrence's leadership made a major contribution to the Allied victory in Middle East. But at the peace conference at war's end, they were shocked to learn that Britain and France carved out what became Iraq and Syria for themselves. Even more upsetting to the Arabs was Britain's decision to subdivide Palestine in order to provide land for a Jewish state (which later became the present nation of Israel).

Lawrence saw this as a betrayal of his Arab comrades in arms, and returned his military campaign medals to the British government in disgust. He even made a very public show of his feelings by refusing a decoration King George V was about to bestow on him during an awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace. He also lobbied the government officials, testified before committees and wrote letters to the editor to protest Britain's duplicity toward its former Arab allies.

Post-war years

Immediately after the war, Lawrence worked for the Foreign Office, attending the Paris Peace Conference between January and May as a member of Faisal's delegation. He served for much of 1921 as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office.

In August 1919, the American journalist Lowell Thomas launched a colorful photo show in London entitled With Allenby in Palestine which included a lecture, dancing, and music[21]. Initially, Lawrence played only a supporting role in the show, but when Thomas realized that it was the photos of Lawrence dressed as a Bedouin that had captured the public's imagination, he shot some more photos in London of him in Arab dress[22]. With the new photos, Thomas re-launched his show as With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia in early 1920; it was extremely popular[23]. Thomas' shows made Lawrence, who until then been rather obscure, into a household name[24].

In August 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman under the name John Hume Ross. He was soon exposed and, in February 1923, was forced out of the RAF. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925. A fresh burst of publicity after the publication of Revolt in the Desert (see below) resulted in his assignment to a remote base in British India in late 1926, where he remained until the end of 1928. At that time he was forced to return to Britain after rumours began to circulate that he was involved in espionage activities.

He purchased several small plots of land in Chingford, built a hut and swimming pool there, and visited frequently. This was removed in 1930 when the Chingford Urban District Council acquired the land and passed it to the City of London Corporation, but re-erected the hut in the grounds of The Warren, Loughton, where it remains, neglected, today. Lawrence's tenure of the Chingford land has now been commemorated by a plaque fixed on the sighting obelisk on Pole Hill.

He continued serving in the RAF based at Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, specialising in high-speed boats and professing happiness, and it was with considerable regret that he left the service at the end of his enlistment in March 1935.

Lawrence was a keen motorcyclist, and, at different times, had owned seven Brough Superior motorcycles.[25] His seventh motorcycle is on display at the Imperial War Museum. Among the books Lawrence is known to have carried with him on his military campaigns is Thomas Malory's Morte D'Arthur. Accounts of the 1934 discovery of the Winchester Manuscript of the Morte include a report that Lawrence followed Eugene Vinaver—a Malory scholar—by motorcycle from Manchester to Winchester upon reading of the discovery in The Times.[26]


At the age of 46, two months after leaving the service,[27] Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935. The spot is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road.

But many people believe that T.E Lawrence was murdered. On 13 May 1935, he wheeled out his massive Brough Superior motorcycle for the last time and rode down to Bovington camp to send a telegram in reply to a letter received that morning from Henry Williamson, proposing the vital meeting with Adolf Hitler. The telegram of agreement was dispatched and then on the way back the accident happened. He was just 200 yards from the cottage. At least four witnesses saw it: two delivery boys on bicycles, an army corporal walking in the field by the road and the occupants of a black van heading toward Lawrence. After the crash the black van raced off down the road and the corporal ran over to the injured man who lay on the road with his face covered in blood. Almost immediately an army truck came along and Lawrence was put inside and taken to the camp hospital where a top security guard was imposed. Special "D" notices were put on all newspapers and the War Office took charge of all communications. Police from Special Branch sat by the bedside and guarded the door. No visitors were allowed. The cottage was raided and "turned over," many books and private papers were confiscated. Army intelligence interrogated the two boys for several hours. The corporal was instructed not to mention the van as being involved in the accident. Six days later Lawrence died and two days later an inquest was held under top security which lasted only two hours. The boys denied ever seeing a black van which contradicted the statement by the army corporal who was the principal witness. But no attempts were made to trace the vehicle and the jury gave a verdict of "accidental death." He was buried that same afternoon [28]. The name of the corporal who witnessed the accident was Catchpole. Another suspicious incident was Catchpole conveniently, killed himself shortly thereafter. Right before his death, Lawrence had been planning to see his friend Henry Williamson, who was facilitating a meeting between Lawrence and Adolph Hitler. Lawrence, like other veterans of World War I, abhorred the idea of yet another war in Europe, and, like Moseley (leader of British Union of Fascists) and Williamson, saw dialogue with Hitler as a necessary first step to preventing it [29].

The circumstances of Lawrence's death had far-reaching consequences. One of the doctors attending him was the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns. He was profoundly affected by the incident, and consequently began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.[30]

Moreton Estate, which borders Bovington Camp, was owned by family cousins, the Frampton family. Lawrence had rented and later bought Clouds Hill from the Framptons. He had been a frequent visitor to their home, Okers Wood House, and had for years corresponded with Louisa Frampton. On Lawrence's death, his mother arranged with the Framptons for him to be buried in their family plot at Moreton Church.[31] His coffin was transported on the Frampton estate's bier. Mourners included Winston and Clementine Churchill and Lawrence's youngest brother, Arnold.

A bust of Lawrence was placed in the crypt at St Paul's Cathedral and a stone effigy by Eric Kennington remains in the Anglo-Saxon church of St Martin, Wareham.


Throughout his life, Lawrence was a prolific writer. A large portion of his output was epistolary; he often sent several letters a day. Several collections of his letters have been published. He corresponded with many notable figures, including George Bernard Shaw, Edward Elgar, Winston Churchill, Robert Graves, Noël Coward, E. M. Forster, Siegfried Sassoon, John Buchan, Augustus John and Henry Williamson. He met Joseph Conrad and commented perceptively on his works. The many letters that he sent to Shaw's wife, Charlotte, offer a revealing side of his character.[32]

In his lifetime, Lawrence published four major texts. Two were translations: Homer's Odyssey, and The Forest Giant — the latter an otherwise forgotten work of French fiction. He received a flat fee for the second translation, and negotiated a generous fee plus royalties for the first.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Lawrence's major work is Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an account of his war experiences. In 1919 he had been elected to a seven-year research fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, providing him with support while he worked on the book. In addition to being a memoir of his experiences during the war, certain parts also serve as essays on military strategy, Arabian culture and geography, and other topics. Lawrence re-wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times; once "blind" after he lost the manuscript while changing trains at Reading railway station.

The list of his alleged "embellishments" in Seven Pillars is long, though many such allegations have been disproved with time, most definitively in Jeremy Wilson's authorised biography. However Lawrence's own notebooks refute his claim to have crossed the Sinai Peninsula from Aqaba to the Suez Canal in just 49 hours without any sleep. In reality this famous camel ride lasted for more than 70 hours and was interrupted by two long breaks for sleeping which Lawrence omitted when he wrote his book.[33]

Lawrence acknowledged having been helped in the editing of the book by George Bernard Shaw. In the preface to Seven Pillars, Lawrence offered his "thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Shaw for countless suggestions of great value and diversity: and for all the present semicolons."

The first public edition was published in 1926 as a high-priced private subscription edition, printed in London by Roy Manning Pike and Herbert John Hodgson, with illustrations by Eric Kennington, Augustus John, Paul Nash, Blair Hughes-Stanton and his wife Gertrude Hermes. Lawrence was afraid that the public would think that he would make a substantial income from the book, and he stated that it was written as a result of his war service. He vowed not to take any money from it, and indeed he did not, as the sale price was one third of the production costs.[34] This left Lawrence in substantial debt.

Revolt in the Desert

Revolt in the Desert was an abridged version of Seven Pillars, which he began in 1926 and was published in March 1927 in both limited and trade editions. He undertook a needed but reluctant publicity exercise, which resulted in a best-seller. Again he vowed not to take any fees from the publication, partly to appease the subscribers to Seven Pillars who had paid dearly for their editions. By the fourth reprint in 1927, the debt from Seven Pillars was paid off. As Lawrence left for military service in India at the end of 1926, he set up the "Seven Pillars Trust" with his friend D. G. Hogarth as a trustee, in which he made over the copyright and any surplus income of Revolt in the Desert. He later told Hogarth that he had "made the Trust final, to save myself the temptation of reviewing it, if Revolt turned out a best seller."

The resultant trust paid off the debt, and Lawrence then invoked a clause in his publishing contract to halt publication of the abridgment in the UK. However, he allowed both American editions and translations, which resulted in a substantial flow of income. The trust paid income either into an educational fund for children of RAF officers who lost their lives or were invalided as a result of service, or more substantially into the RAF Benevolent Fund.


Lawrence left unpublished The Mint,[35] a memoir of his experiences as an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force. For this, he worked from a notebook that he kept while enlisted, writing of the daily lives of enlisted men and his desire to be a part of something larger than himself: the Royal Air Force. The book is stylistically very different from Seven Pillars of Wisdom, using sparse prose as opposed to the complicated syntax found in Seven Pillars. It was published posthumously, edited by his brother, Professor A. W. Lawrence.

After Lawrence's death, A. W. Lawrence inherited all Lawrence's estate and his copyrights as the sole beneficiary. To pay the inheritance tax, he sold the U.S. copyright of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (subscribers' text) outright to Doubleday Doran in 1935. Doubleday still controls publication rights of this version of the text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the USA. In 1936 Prof. Lawrence split the remaining assets of the estate, giving Clouds Hill and many copies of less substantial or historical letters to the nation via the National Trust, and then set up two trusts to control interests in T. E. Lawrence's residual copyrights. To the original Seven Pillars Trust, Prof. Lawrence assigned the copyright in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, as a result of which it was given its first general publication. To the Letters and Symposium Trust, he assigned the copyright in The Mint and all Lawrence's letters, which were subsequently edited and published in the book T. E. Lawrence by his Friends (edited by A. W. Lawrence, London, Jonathan Cape, 1937).

A substantial amount of income went directly to the RAF Benevolent Fund or for archaeological, environmental, or academic projects. The two trusts were amalgamated in 1986 and, on the death of Prof. A. W. Lawrence, the unified trust also acquired all the remaining rights to Lawrence's works that it had not owned, plus rights to all of Prof. Lawrence's works.


  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an account of Lawrence's part in the Arab Revolt. (ISBN 0-8488-0562-3)
  • Revolt in the Desert, an abridged version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. (ISBN 1-56619-275-7)
  • The Mint, an account of Lawrence's service in the Royal Air Force. (ISBN 0-393-00196-2)
  • Crusader Castles, Lawrence's Oxford thesis. London: Michael Haag 1986 (ISBN 0-902743-53-8). The first edition was published in London in 1936 by the Golden Cockerel Press, in 2 volumes, limited to 1000 editions.
  • The Odyssey of Homer, Lawrence's translation from the Greek. (ISBN 0-19-506818-1)
  • The Forest Giant, by Adrien Le Corbeau, novel, Lawrence's translation from the French, 1924.
  • The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, selected and edited by Malcolm Brown. London, J. M Dent. 1988 (ISBN 0-460-04733-7)
  • The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, edited by David Garnett. (ISBN 0-88355-856-4)
  • Jeremy Wilson, T. E. Lawrence. Letters. (See Prospectus [2])

Vision of Middle East

A map of the Middle East that belonged to Lawrence has been put on exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. It was drafted by him and presented to Britain's War Cabinet in November 1918.

The map provides an alternative to present-day borders in the region, apparently partly designed with the intention to marginalise the post-war role of France in the region by limiting its direct colonial control to today's Lebanon. It includes a separate state for the Armenians, a separate state of Palestine, and groups the people of present-day Syria, Jordan and parts of Saudi Arabia in another state, based on tribal patterns and commercial routes.


Lawrence's biographers have discussed his sexuality at considerable length and this discussion has spilled into the popular press.[36]

There is no reliable evidence for consensual sexual intimacy between Lawrence and any person. His friends have expressed the opinion that he was asexual,[37][38] and Lawrence himself specifically denied, on multiple occasions in private correspondence, any personal experience of sex.[39] While there were suggestions that Lawrence had been intimate with Dahoum, who worked with Lawrence at a pre-war archaeological dig in Carchemish,[40] and fellow-serviceman R.A.M. Guy,[41] his biographers and contemporaries have found them unconvincing.[40][41][42]

The dedication to his book Seven Pillars is a poem entitled "To S.A." which opens as follows:

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
                    and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
                    that your eyes might be shining for me
                              When we came.

Lawrence was never specific about the identity of "S.A." There are many theories which argue in favour of candidates including individual men, women, and the Arab nation.[43] The most popular is that S.A. represents (at least in part) his companion Selim Ahmed, "Dahoum", who apparently died of typhus prior to 1918.

Although Lawrence lived in a period during which official opposition to homosexuality was strong, his writing on the subject was tolerant. In Seven Pillars, when discussing relationships between young male fighters in the war, he refers on one occasion to "the openness and honesty of perfect love"[44] and on another to "friends quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace".[45] In a letter to Charlotte Shaw he wrote "I've seen lots of man-and-man loves: very lovely and fortunate some of them were."[46]

In both Seven Pillars and a 1919 letter to a military colleague,[47] Lawrence describes an episode in November 1917 in which, while reconnoitring Dera'a in disguise, he was captured by the Turkish military, heavily beaten, and sexually abused by the local Bey and his guardsmen. The precise nature of the sexual contact is not specified. Although there is no independent evidence, the multiple consistent reports, and the absence of evidence for outright invention in Lawrence's works, make the account believable to his biographers.[48] At least three of Lawrence's biographers (Malcolm Brown, John Mack, and Jeremy Wilson) have argued this episode had strong psychological effects on Lawrence which may explain some of his unconventional behaviour in later life.

There is considerable evidence that Lawrence was a masochist. In his description of the Dera'a beating, Lawrence both wrote "a delicious warmth, probably sexual, was swelling through me", and included a hyper-detailed description of the guards' whip in a style typical of masochists' writing.[49] In later life, Lawrence arranged to pay a military colleague to administer beatings to him,[36] and to be subjected to severe formal tests of fitness and stamina.[50] While John Bruce, who first brought forward this narrative, included some other claims which were not credible, Lawrence's biographers regard the beatings as established fact.[51]


John E. Mack, in A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence, writes:

Part of his creativity and originality lies in his "irregularity," in his capacity to remain outside conventional ways of thinking, a tendency which I believe derives, at least in part, from his illegitimacy. Lawrence's capacity for invention and his ability to see unusual or humorous relationships in familiar situations come also, I believe, from his illegitimacy. He was not limited to established or "legitimate" solutions or ways of doing things, and thus his mind was open to a wider range of possibilities and opportunities.

[At the same time] Lawrence's illegitimacy had important social consequences and placed limitations upon him, which rankled him deeply and preyed on his mind. Certain schools and social opportunities were not available; he was excluded from some social groups and may have been considered a liability for a number of professional posts, especially in government circles. At times he felt socially isolated when erstwhile friends shunned him upon learning of his background. Lawrence's delight in making fun of regular officers and other segments of "regular" society... derived, one suspects, at least in part from his inner view of his own irregular situation. His fickleness about names for himself is directly related, of course, to his view of his parents and to his identification with them.[52]


Lawrence was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the French Légion d'Honneur, though in October 1918 he refused to be made a Knight Commander of the British Empire.



Lawrence was portrayed by Peter O'Toole in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.

  • Lawrence was the subject of Terence Rattigan's controversial play Ross, which explored Lawrence's alleged homosexuality. Ross ran in London in 1960–61, starring Alec Guinness, who was an admirer of Lawrence and Gerald Harper as his blackmailer, Dickinson. The play had originally been written as a screenplay, but the planned film was never made, although large sections of the play's script can be identified in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia,[54] in which Alec Guinness plays Prince Faisal. In January 1986 at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth on the opening night of the revival of Ross, Marc Sinden, who was playing Dickinson (the man who recognised and blackmailed Lawrence, played by Simon Ward), was introduced to the man that the character of 'Dickinson' was based on. Sinden asked him why he had blackmailed Ross, and he replied, "Oh, for the money. I was financially embarrassed at the time and needed to get up to London to see a girlfriend. It was never meant to be a big thing, but a good friend of mine was very close to Terence Rattigan and years later, the silly devil told him the story".[55]
  • Alan Bennett's Forty Years On (1968) includes a satire on Lawrence; known as "Tee Hee Lawrence" because of his high-pitched, girlish giggle. "Clad in the magnificent white silk robes of an Arab prince ... he hoped to pass unnoticed through London. Alas he was mistaken." The section concludes with the headmaster confusing him with D. H. Lawrence.
  • The character of Private Napoleon Meek in George Bernard Shaw's 1931 play Too True to Be Good was inspired by Lawrence. Meek is depicted as thoroughly conversant with the language and lifestyle of tribals. He repeatedly enlists with the army, quitting whenever offered a promotion.
  • T. E. Lawrence's first year back at Oxford after the Great War to write his Seven Pillars of Wisdom was portrayed by Tom Rooney in a play, The Oxford Roof Climbers Rebellion, written by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte (premiered Toronto 2006). The play explores Lawrence's political, physical and psychological reactions to war, and his friendship with poet Robert Graves. Urban Stages presented the American premiere in New York City in October 2007; Lawrence was portrayed by actor Dylan Chalfy.
  • Lawrence's final years are portrayed in a one-man show by Raymond Sargent, The Warrior and the Poet.

External links


  1. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30222, p. 8103, 7 August 1917. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  2. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30681, p. 5694, 10 May 1918. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  3. London Gazette: no. 29600, p. 5321, 30 May 1916.
  4. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30638, p. 4716, 16 April 1918. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  5. His official birth record, according to his father's statement, lists 15 August 1888, as birth date (no time of birth). However, his mother stated he was born in the early hours of 16 August, and according to extant documents it was on this date his birthday was celebrated.
  6. Alan Axelrod. Little-Known Wars of Great and Lasting Impact. Fair Winds, 2009, 237. Retrieved on 1 May 2011. 
  7. Jeremy Wilson. [http://www.telawrence.info/telawrenceinfo/life/biog_family.shtml Lawrence of Arabia: the authorized biography of T.E. Lawrence]. Collier Books, 1992, Appendix 1. Retrieved on 1 May 2011. 
  8. John E. Mack. A prince of our disorder: the life of T. E. Lawrence. Harvard University Press, 1998, 9. Retrieved on 1 May 2011. 
  9. "Brief history of the City of Oxford High School for Boys, George Street", 'University of Oxford Faculty of History website
  10. http://www.telawrence.info/telawrenceinfo/legacy3/analysis/asher022.htm
  11. T. E. Lawrence. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Wordsworth Editions, 1997, xii. Retrieved on 1 May 2011. 
  12. Malcolm Dennis Allen. The Medievalism of Lawrence of Arabia. Penn State Press, 1991, 29. Retrieved on 1 May 2011. 
  13. T. E. Lawrence letters, 1927
  14. http://web.archive.org/web/20061018191000/http://www.pef.org.uk/Pages/WildZin.htm
  15. http://telawrence.info/telawrenceinfo/life/chron_1914.shtml Outline Chronology: 1914
  16. 'The bombardment of Akaba.' The Naval Review. Volume IV. 1916. p.101-103
  17. 'Egyptian Expeditionary Force. HMS Raven II Operations in the Gulf of Akaba. Red Sea. July–August 1916. National Archives, Kew London. File: AIR 1 /2284/ 209/75/8.
  18. 'Naval Operation in the Red Sea 1916–1917'. The Naval Review Volume XIII no.4 1925. p.648-666.
  19. Rory Stewart (presenter). (23 January 2010). The Legacy of Lawrence of Arabia. BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00qgtjk/The_Legacy_of_Lawrence_of_Arabia_Episode_2/. 
  20. Book "Was it Murder?" by Philip Rife (Page 23 to 25)
  21. Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916-18, London: Osprey, 2008, page 86
  22. Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916-18, London: Osprey, 2008, page 86
  23. Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916-18, London: Osprey, 2008, page 86
  24. Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916-18, London: Osprey, 2008, page 86
  25. Title: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles, Editor: Erwin Tragatsch, Publisher: New Burlington Books, Copyright: 1979 Quarto Publishing, Edition: 1988 Revised, Page 95, ISBN 0-906286-07-7
  26. Jonathan Evans, "The Winchester Manuscript"; Walter F. Oakeshott, "The Finding of the Manuscript," Essays on Malory, J. A. W. Bennett, ed. [Oxford: Clarendon, 1963]: 1–6)
  27. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRQlawrence.htm
  28. Article 'The Enigma of [Thomas Edward] Lawrence' by Desmond Hansen published in 'The Journal for Historical Review', Fall 1981, Volume 2 number 3, page 283
  29. http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/04/the-murder-of-lawrence-of-arabia-tony-hays
  30. Lawrence of Arabia, Sir Hugh Cairns, and the Origin of Motorcycle Helmets (accessed 2008-05-09)
  31. Kerrigan, Michael (1998). Who Lies Where – A guide to famous graves. London: Fourth Estate Limited, 51. ISBN 1-85702-258-0. 
  32. T. E. Lawrence (2000). in Jeremy and Nicole Wilson: Correspondence with Bernard and Charlotte Shaw, 1922–1926. Castle Hill Press.  Foreword by Jeremy Wilson.
  33. Asher, M (1998)' Lawrence :The Uncrowned King of Arabia.' Page 259.
  34. Graves, Robert, Lawrence and the Arabs, ch. 30. Jonathan Cape: London, 1927
  35. Doubleday,Doran &Co, New York,1936; rprnt Penguin,Harmondsworth,1984 ISBN 0140045058
  36. 36.0 36.1 Simpson, Colin; Knightley, Phillip (June 1968). Sunday Times.  The pieces appeared on the 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th of June, and were based mostly on the narrative of John Bruce.
  37. (1937) T.E. Lawrence by his Friends.  essay by E.H.R. Altounyan
  38. Knightley, Phillip (1969). The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, 29. 
  39. Brown, Malcolm (1988). The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.  Letters to E.M. Forster, 21 Dec. 1927; to Robert Graves, 6 Nov. 1928; to F.L. Lucas, 26 March 1929.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Lawrence, A.W. (1937). T.E. Lawrence by his Friends, 89.  Section by C. Leonard Woolley.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Wilson, Jeremy (1989). The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence.  Chapter 32.
  42. Wilson, Jeremy (1989). The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence.  Chapter 27.
  43. Yagitani, Ryoko. An 'S.A.' Mystery.
  44. Lawrence, T.E. (1935). Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 508–509.  Book VIII, Chapter XCII. The passage, in the front-matter, is referred to with the single-word tag "Sex".
  45. Seven Pillars (1935), featured prominently on Page 2 of Chapter I.
  46. Mack, John E. (1976). A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence, 425.  Letter to Charlotte Shaw
  47. Brown, Malcolm (1988). The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.  Letter to W.F. Stirling, Deputy Chief Political Officer, Cairo, June 28, 1919
  48. Wilson, Jeremy (1989). The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence, 1084.  In Note 49 to Chapter 21.
  49. Knightley, Phillip (1969). The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, 221. 
  50. Knightley and Simpson, p. 29
  51. Wilson, Jeremy (1989). The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence.  Chapter 34.
  52. John E. Mack, A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence, pp. 28–29.
  53. [1] Online at Istikana.com]
  54. Brownlow, Kevin (1996). David Lean. A Biography. Richard Cohen Books. ISBN 1-86066-042-8. 
  55. Western Morning News 1986