Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (August 16, 1888 – May 19, 1935), known professionally as T.E. Lawrence and, later, T.E. Shaw, but most famously as "Lawrence of Arabia," gained international renown for his role as a British liaison officer during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18. His public image was due in part to U.S. traveler and journalist Lowell Thomas' sensationalised reportage of the Revolt, as well as to Lawrence's autobiographical account, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
T. E. Lawrence was the second of five illegitimate sons of Sir Thomas Robert Tighe Chapman, Bt., an Anglo-Irish landowner. Lawrence's mother had originally been hired to care for Chapman's four daughters by his ex-wife, whom he left because she had a "religious madness" and made his life impossible. T.E.Lawrence was born in 1888 at his parents' modest home in Tremadog, North Wales.
Lawrence was born in Tremadog, Caernarfonshire, North Wales, of mixed English and Scottish ancestry. His father, Sir Thomas Chapman, seventh Baronet of Westmeath in Ireland, had escaped a reportedly tyrannical wife to live with his daughters' governess, Sarah Junner, with whom he had five sons. The couple lived at 2 Polstead Road (now with a blue plaque) in Oxford, under the names of Mr and Mrs Lawrence. Their son Thomas Edward attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys, where one of the four houses is now named "Lawrence" in his honour. In about 1905, Lawrence 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; he was bought out.
From 1907, Lawrence was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, graduating with First Class Honours after submitting a highly-acclaimed thesis entitled The influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture – to the end of the 12th century, for which he did his own field research in France and the Middle East. During the summers of 1907 and 1908 he toured France by bicycle, collecting photographs, drawings and measurements of castles dating from the crusader period. Subsequently, in the summer of 1909, he set out alone on a three month walking tour of crusader castles in Syria during which he travelled 1,000 miles on foot. The knowledge he gained of the local peoples, their language, and customs was to serve him well when he returned to this area later as an archeologist, and then as a soldier.
On completing his degree in 1910, he commenced postgraduate research in medieval pottery with a Senior Demy at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he abandoned after he was offered the opportunity to become a practising archaeologist in the Middle East. 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 D.G. Hogarth. And it was while Lawrence was excavating ancient Mesopotamian sites that he met Gertrude Bell, who was to influence him for much of his time in the Middle East.
In late summer 1911, Lawrence returned for a brief sojourn to England. By November, he was back 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 William Flinders Petrie at Kafr Ammar, in Egypt.
Lawrence continued making trips to the Middle East as a field archaeologist until the outbreak of World War I. His extensive travels through Arabia, his excursions, often on foot, living with the Arabs, wearing their clothes, learning their culture, language and local dialects, were to prove invaluable during the coming war.
In January 1914, Woolley and Lawrence were coopted 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 would undertake an archeological survey of the Negev Desert. The Negev was of strategic importance, as it would have to be crossed by any Turkish army attacking Egypt when war broke out. Woolley and Lawrence subsequently published a report of the expedition's archaeological findings , but the more important result was an updated mapping of the area, with special attention to features of military relevance such as water sources. It was at this time that Lawrence visited Aqaba and Petra.
From March to May, 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 but held back until October.
Once enlisted he was posted to Cairo, where he worked for British Military Intelligence. Lawrence's intimate knowledge of the Arab people made him the ideal liaison between British and Arab forces and in October 1916 he was sent into the desert to report on the Arab nationalist movements. During the war, he 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. Lawrence's major contribution to World War I was convincing Arab leaders to co-ordinate their revolt to aid British interests. He persuaded the Arabs not to drive the Ottomans out of Medina, thus forcing the Turks to tie up troops in the city garrison. The Arabs were then able to direct most of their attention to the Hejaz railway that supplied the garrison. This tied up more Ottoman troops, who were forced to protect the railway and repair the constant damage. 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 port city of Aqaba. He was promoted to major in the same year. On July 6, after a daring overland attack, Aqaba fell to Arab forces. Some 12 months later, Lawrence was involved in the capture of Damascus in the final weeks of the war, and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1918.
As he did before the war, during the time he spent with the Arab irregulars, Lawrence adopted many local customs and traditions as his own, and soon became a close friend of Prince Faisal. He became especially known for wearing white Arabian garb (given to him by Prince Faisal, originally wedding robes given to Faisal as a hint) and riding camels in the desert. Lawrence gained extraordinary respect from the Arab populace.
During the closing years of the war he sought to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests, with mixed success.
In 1918 he co-operated with war-correspondent Lowell Thomas for a short period. During this time Thomas and his cameraman Harry Chase shot much film and many photographs, which Thomas used in a highly lucrative show that toured the world after the war.
Lawrence was made a Commander in the Order of the Bath and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the French Legion of Honour, though in October 1918 he refused to be made a Knight Commander. In the words of King George V, "He left me there with the box in my hand."
Lawrence worked for the Foreign Office immediately after the war, attending the Paris Peace Conference between January and May as a member of Faisal's delegation.
Lowell Thomas' show was seen by four million people in the post-war years, giving Lawrence great publicity. Until then, Lawrence had little influence, but soon newspapers began to report his opinions. Consequently he served for much of 1921 as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office.
Lawrence was ambivalent about Thomas' publicity, calling him a "vulgar man," though he saw Thomas' show several times. Starting in 1922, Lawrence attempted to join the Royal Air Force under the name "Ross." His cover was soon blown, however, and he was forced out of the RAF. He changed his name to Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally admitted 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 the UK 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 demolished in 1930 when the Corporation of London acquired the land.
He continued serving in the RAF, 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.
A few weeks later, aged 46, he was mortally injured in a Brough Superior motorcycle accident in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham (now run by the National Trust and open to the public). The accident occurred because of a dip in the road that obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars of his motorcycle. He died six days later. 
Some sources mistakenly claim that Lawrence was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral; in reality, only a bust of him was placed in the crypt. His actual final resting place is the Dorset village of Moreton. Moreton Estate, which borders Bovington Camp, was owned by family cousins, the Frampton family. Lawrence had rented and subsequently purchased Clouds Hill from the Framptons. He had been a frequent visitor to their home, Okers Wood House, and had for many years corresponded with Louisa Frampton.
On Lawrence's death, his mother wrote the Framptons; due to time constraints, she asked whether there was space for him in their family plot at Moreton Church. At his subsequent funeral there, attendees included Winston and Clementine Churchill and Lawrence's youngest brother, Arnold (who demonstrated the Lawrencian dry humor in speaking with reporters), and T.E. Lawrence's coffin was transported on the Frampton estate bier.
Throughout his life, Lawrence was a prolific writer. A large proportion of his output was epistolary; he often sent several letters a day. Several collections of his letters have been published, the editors' expurgations in places obtrusive. He corresponded with many notable figures, including George Bernard Shaw, Edward Elgar, Winston Churchill, Robert Graves and E.M. Forster. He met, and commented perceptively on the works of, Joseph Conrad. The many letters that he sent to Shaw's wife, Charlotte, offer a revealing side of his character.
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.
Lawrence's masterpiece is The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, subtitled, ironically, "A Triumph." 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. It is a memoir of his experiences during the war, but parts also serve as essays on military strategy, Arabian culture and geography, and other topics. Seven Pillars is an immense work, extremely dense, with complicated syntax, but Lawrence communicates clearly through his prose and the book is stunningly beautiful, poignant, at times comic.
Lawrence re-wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times; once "blind," after he lost the manuscript while changing trains. As to the truth of the book's narrative, with Lawrence it is always difficult to untangle reality from mythology; the man himself seemed to enjoy mingling fact and fiction. His complex relation with himself results in passages which alternately belittle his accomplishments and influence, and expand on his role in the revolt. Seven Pillars is a fascinating work as autobiography, as study of history, as psychology.
The accusation that Lawrence repeatedly exaggerated his feats has been a persistent theme among Lawrence biographers and other researchers. The list of his rumoured "embellishments" in Seven Pillars is long, though many such allegations have been disproved with time. However, some exaggerations by him are certain: for example, his alleged crossing of the Sinai in two days, which actually took him three days, and his alleged number of battle wounds, which in reality were few. Other exaggerations by him are therefore likely.
It is not disputed that Lawrence was present during the Arab Revolt. However, the claim that he was one of the leading lights, and indeed the inspiration, has been questioned -- particularly as the main basis for this belief is a book that he wrote. The Germans commissioned a 12-volume report covering all aspects of the Arab Revolt. Lawrence is not mentioned at all. Still, the Arabs themselves evidently believe that he was influential.
Lawrence acknowledged having been helped in the editing of the book by George Bernard Shaw. In the preface to Seven Pillars, Lawrence (evidently with tongue in cheek) offered his "thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Shaw for countless suggestions of great value and diversity: and for all the present semicolons." (Lawrence himself favored colons, as in the foregoing quotation.)
The first edition was to be published in 1926 as a high-priced private subscription edition. But 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! This left a substantial debt, which Lawrence needed to address immediately.
Revolt in the Desert was an abridged version of Seven Pillars, also published in 1926. 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 DG 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 abridgement 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 a quietly-run 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 set up by Air-Marshal Trenchard, founder of the RAF, in 1919.
He also authored The Mint, a memoir of his experiences as an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force. Lawrence 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, with its sparse and sharp prose, is stylistically very different from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It was published posthumously, edited by his brother, Prof. A.W. Lawrence.
After Lawrence's death, his brother inherited all Lawrence's estate and his copyrights as his sole beneficiary. To pay death duties, he sold the US 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. He then in 1936 split the remaining assets of the estate, giving "Clouds Hill" house 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 Lawrence's residual copyrights. To the original Seven Pillars Trust he assigned the copyright in the 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 (ed. A.W. Lawrence, London, 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, also acquired all the remaining rights to Lawrence's works that it had not owned, plus rights to all of Prof A.W. Lawrence's works.
T.E. Lawrence's ability to fascinate the world, decades after his death in 1935, must be ascribed at least as much to the power of his personality as to his scholarly and military accomplishments. (He has been described as a rare combination of the man of thought and the man of action.)
Prominent in Lawrence's personality were a keen introspective and analytical intelligence, a dry self-deprecating sense of humor, and — especially with his post-World War I re-entry into the British armed forces — an apparent existential contempt for the trappings of power and station.
After World War I, some contemporaries felt that Lawrence was not altogether mentally balanced, or at least that he was erratic in his personal decisions, an observation often linked to his brief captivity by the Turks (during which, most biographers agree, he was in fact tortured). Lawrence was one of the "walking wounded" of the world conflict.
Additionally, as is clear from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, he carried a deep sense of guilt for having to some extent misled the Arabs about British and French postwar intentions, particularly after the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Lawrence, while helping to lead the Arab revolt against Turkey, was after all a British officer acting on behalf of British interests. This inescapable conflict of interest must have weighed in his decision to decline a high military decoration from the King.
All this seems to have influenced Lawrence's postwar decision, having during the war reached the senior British Army rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, to join the RAF under a false identity as an aircraftman.
A factor that may have affected Lawrence's personality development and decision-making was the fact of his illegitimacy — a heavy burden to bear in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Lawrence was one of those individuals who — driven partly by a sense of the injustice of the existing order — venture much, risk much, and pay a heavy price.
Lawrence's works include one notably homoerotic passage, but the details of his sexual orientation and experience are contested. The field is divided between writers working to elucidate the history of same-sex erotic relationships, who identify a strong homoerotic element in Lawrence's life, and scholars, including his official biographer, who have been accused of "attempt[ing] to defend Lawrence against 'charges' of homosexuality." 
Seven Pillars of Wisdom is dedicated to "S.A.", with a poem that begins:
On the subject of the war, Lawrence said: "I liked a particular Arab, and thought that freedom for the race would be an acceptable present."
It has been argued that these initials identify a man, a woman, a nation, or some combination of the above. Lawrence himself maintained that "S.A." was a composite character. Nevertheless, the explanation that has now gained currency is that S.A. was "Selim Ahmed," nicknamed "Dahoum" ("Dark One"), a 14-year-old Arab with whom Lawrence is known to have been close. The two met while working at a prewar archaeological dig at Carchemish. Lawrence allowed the boy to move in with him, carved a nude sculpture of him which he placed on the roof of the house in Greco-Roman style (Lawrence being a scholar of classical literature), and brought Ahmed on holiday to England. The two parted in 1914, never to see each other again as Dahoum died of typhus in 1918. Boston University Professor Matthew Parfitt (who never met Lawrence) maintains that "in 'Seven Pillars,' and more explicitly in his correspondence, Lawrence suggests that his distaste for the entire exploit in its last triumphant days was largely owing to news of his friend's death."
Others maintain that Dahoum was merely a close friend of the type common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which often involved non-sexual physical contact.
In Seven Pillars, Lawrence claims that, while reconnoitering Deraa in Arab disguise, he was captured and tortured. Many critics have read this account as describing homosexual rape, and have used this to suggest that Lawrence was homosexual. However, Lawrence displayed an evident disgust at the whole affair, and likely (if it be true) the act of buggery. The facts of the event, beyond reported accounts that Lawrence did bear the scars of whippings from some period, are unrecoverable. Lawrence's own statements and actions concerning the incident were ambiguous, contributing to the confusion. For example, he removed from his war diary the page containing the daily entries for the November 1917 week in question, so that no one ever saw that page and whatever words it may have contained about Deraa.
Reports from a man whom Lawrence hired to give him beatings make it clear that he had unconventional tastes, notably masochism. Years after the Deraa incident, Lawrence embarked on a rigid programme of physical rehabilitation, including diet, exercise, and swimming in the North Sea. He recruited men from the service and told them an elaborate story about a fictitious uncle who, because Lawrence had stolen money from him, demanded that he enlist in the service and that he be beaten. Lawrence wrote letters purporting to be from the uncle ("R." or "The Old Man") instructing the men in how he was to be beaten, yet also asking them to persuade him to stop this. This treatment continued until his death (Mack, 1976). The authenticity of some of these claims and reports is disputed, but others are certain.
It should be noted that those who attest that T.E. Lawrence was possibly a homosexual are primarily biographers and researchers writing after his death. In a letter to a homosexual, Lawrence wrote that he did not find homosexuality morally wrong, yet he did find it distasteful (The Letters of T.E. Lawrence). In the book T.E. Lawrence by His Friends, many of Lawrence's friends are adamant that he was not homosexual but simply had little interest in the topic of sex. Not one of them suspected him of homosexual inclinations. Like many of the time, T.E. Lawrence had little pressure to pursue women, and most of his time was devoted to other activities. E.H.R. Altounyan, a close friend of Lawrence, wrote the following in T.E. Lawrence by His Friends:
A long-lost map of the Middle East belonging to Lawrence has been put on exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. It was drafted by Lawrence and presented to the British Cabinet in 1918.
The map provides an alternative to present-day borders in the region, based on sensibilities shown by the local populations. It includes a separate state for the Armenians and groups the people of present-day Syria, Jordan and parts of Saudi Arabia in another state, based on tribal patterns and commercial routes.