Thomas Edward Lawrence

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Thomas Edward Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia (August 16, 1888 in Tremadoc, Wales - May 19, 1935 in Bovington, Dorset), was educated as an archaeologist and historian. After the outbreak of the Great War, he became an intelligence officer and a liaison officer with the Arab Revolt from 1916-1918. From 1921 to 1922 he was a member of the Colonial Office and instrumental in the founding of the Arab states in the Middle East. Though ending the War as a Colonel, he served from 1922 to 1935 as a soldier in the Tank Corps and the Royal Air Force. Despite his awareness of his extraordinary personality and his self-confidence, he ardently wished to be considered not as a war hero, or even an adventurer, but as an author.

His masterwork is Seven Pillars of Wisdom,[1] an immense book that he summarized in Revolt in the Desert. While an excellent film, Lawrence of Arabia (film), starring Peter O'Toole, does not have much historical accuracy. Increasing amounts of data, now that copyrights are expiring, are available online, through his official biographer, Jeremy Wilson.[2]

John E. Mack, author of a biography of Lawrence[3] that won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize in biography, spoke of Lawrence's view of the Middle East and how it applies to today's politics.[4] In response to Steven Tabachnick's observation that "Lawrence (unlike the pro-Arab Gertrude Bell or the pro-Zionist Richard Meinertzhagen) was one of the few and one of the last people in his own time and ours to achieve true sympathy for both national movements. His references to both movements in Seven Pillars are positive", Mack said

Neither Lawrence, nor Weizmann when he wrote of Lawrence, foresaw World War II or the European Holocaust and the overwhelming pressure of immigration and for creation of a Jewish state. Nor did either predict the subsequent seemingly irreconcilable clash of nationalities between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine...Lawrence did not anticipate the degree to which the region would be caught in the geo-political maelstrom of superpower rivalries, or the coming together of U. S. strategic interests, American Jewish support for Israel and the political power of the American Jewish community to tilt U. S. policy in the direction of Israel in the Arab Israeli conflict.

Early life and education

One of five illegitimate sons of his father and his governess, all of whom attended Oxford High School.[5]

With increasing tension at home, he briefly enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery at St Mawes Castle, in Cornwall, with the British Army. His father bought him out, a permissible action. [6]


He received a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford University, under the guidance of David Hogarth.

In World War I

While the public perception of Lawrence is as a guerrilla combat leader, his role was much more as an intelligence officer and political adviser. His mission was to support an Arab rebellion against the Ottoman Turks, a position supported by Lord Kitchener, and his first task was to find an effective Arab leader ally, who might be one of the sons of the Sherif of Mecca, Abdul Hamid, of the Hashemite family.


  1. T.E. Lawrence (1935), Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a triumph, Doubleday, Doran & Co.
  2. "Jeremy Wilson", T.E. Lawrence Studies
  3. John E. Mack (1976), A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E Lawrence, Little, Brown
  4. John E. Mack (20 May 1988), T. E. Lawrence's Vision for the Middle East: How Does It Look Now?, T. E. Lawrence Symposium, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA
  5. Phillip Knightley and Colin Simpson (1971), The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, Bantam, pp. 5-10
  6. "Outline chronology: 1888-August 1914", T.E. Lawrence Studies