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Who was 'Lawrence of Arabia'

Introductory biography

T. E. Lawrence as writer

Chronology of Lawrence's life




Memorials to Lawrence

Some quotations

T. E. Lawrence manuscripts

Books dedicated to Lawrence

Research and discussion

The state of T.E. Lawrence scholarship

Rejected legend

David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia


About this site

Cookies policy

References used on the site


Jeremy Wilson


Page updated May 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

answered by Jeremy Wilson

Click on the button beside the question that interests you.

On this page there are responses to questions that can be answered briefly. Longer answers are on separate pages.

General questions
  Who was 'S.A.', to whom Seven Pillars of Wisdom is dedicated?
Where can I obtain prints of photographs of Lawrence?
What is the connection between T. E. Lawrence and 1962?
My family name is Lawrence, and it is rumoured that T. E. Lawrence was a relative. Could this be true?
What were Lawrence's religious beliefs?
Are there any surviving descendants or close relatives of Lawrence?
Was Lawrence gay?
Childhood and Youth, 1888-1914
  What were the principal influences on Lawrence during his childhood?
  Who was Dahoum?
The War, 1914-1918
  Was the Arab Revolt anything more than a "sideshow of a sideshow"?
What were the three books that Lawrence carried and read during the Arab Revolt?
  How accurate is Seven Pillars of Wisdom?
What was Lawrence's attitude to Zionism? <
  Did the male rape at Deraa, described in Seven Pillars, really happen?
Diplomacy, 1918-22
Did Lawrence play a significant role in drawing the political map of the Middle East after the First World War, and is he therefore in some way responsible for todays frontiers?
Service Years, 1922-35
  Why did Lawrence enlist in the ranks?
What words did Lawrence carve above the entrance door at Clouds Hill?
How many copies were there of the 1926 subscribers' edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom?
What is the origin of the title Seven Pillars of Wisdom?
What make of motor-cycle was Lawrence riding when he had his fatal accident, and what was the registration number?
Where is Lawrence buried?

Brief answers:

Where can I obtain photographs of Lawrence?

Numerous institutions and picture agencies hold photographs of Lawrence. If you are seeking a specific photograph, a good starting-point is to find a recent book where it is published, and then look up the picture sources or acknowledgements for reproduction rights. Two illustrated books are particularly useful for this kind of search:

  • Jeremy Wilson, T. E. Lawrence [catalogue of the Lawrence of Arabia centenary exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery] (London, National Portrait Gallery, 1988)

  • Stephen E. Tabachnick and Christopher Matheson, Images of Lawrence (London, Jonathan Cape, 1988)

In addition, the collection of reference thumbnails in the picture section of this site gives the source for many of the photographs listed. We plan to add to this information in the future.

Three institutions in Britain hold significant collections of photographs relating to Lawrence:

  • The Bodleian Library, Oxford (T. E. Lawrence Papers

  • The Photographic Library of the Imperial War Museum, London (photographs of the Arab Revolt)

  • The National Portrait Gallery, London (a small collection including the Howard Coster portraits)

What is the connection between T. E. Lawrence and 1962?

The Royal World Premiere of David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia took place on 10 December 1962 at the Odeon Theatre, Leicester Square, London.

My family name is Lawrence, and it is rumoured that T. E. Lawrence was a relative. Is this likely to be true?

It is unlikely to be true.

T. E. Lawrence was not legally entitled to the name Lawrence, since he was the illegitimate son of Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner. The name "Lawrence" had been assumed by his parents when they eloped together.

Prior to that, his mother Sarah Junner had used the name "Miss Lawrence", but she was not legally entitled to it either, since she also was illegitimate.

However, Sarah Junner's natural father (T. E. Lawrence's grandfather) is thought to have been John Lawrence, born at Chepstow in 1843. For more about this see Family History

The name Lawrence, which has Jewish origins, is fairly common.

What were Lawrence's religious beliefs?

He was brought up in an evangelical branch of the Church of England. His family held daily prayers, and as a child he attended services at St. Aldate's church in Oxford, as well as Bible classes given by Canon Christopher, the vicar of St. Aldate's and a noted evangelical preacher.

As an adult, however, Lawrence ceased to observe any formal religion and went out of his way to avoid religious ceremonies. In The Mint he wrote that, for him, "only the first four words" of the Anglican Creed remained ("I believe in God"). His thinking about the origins of Semitic religions is set out in Chapter III of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926 subscribers' text).

Are there any surviving close relatives of Lawrence?

No. Thomas Chapman, Lawrence's father, had seven children who survived to adulthood: four legitimate daughters and five illegitimate sons. Yet of these only A.W. Lawrence, the youngest, married (two of the other sons were killed in action during the First World War).

A. W. Lawrence and his wife had one daughter, who predeceased her parents. She and her husband had children but, for their generation, T. E. Lawrence being a grandparent's brother can hardly be considered a close relative.

Was Lawrence gay?

Lawrence did not marry or live at any time with a partner, of either sex. As far as we know he never voluntarily had an intimate relationship with anyone, man or woman.

No-one who knew him well suggested that he was homosexual. Very few of his friends were homosexual. When the accusation was made publicly by Richard Aldington, twenty years after Lawrence's death, not one of his friends or contemporaries in the ranks - the people who knew him well - supported it. As far as I know only two people made this suggestion (in private correspondence) during his lifetime. Neither of them was more than a slight acquaintance, and both had strong personal reasons to wish to discredit him. They made no secret of their general enmity.

There is independent evidence that in Oxford as a young man Lawrence was attracted to at least one girl, Janet Laurie.

In 1910, soon after graduating from university, he left England to join an archaeological excavation in a remote part of Syria where there were no European women. As he spent most of his time there until the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, he had almost no opportunity to mix with the kind of girl that an Englishman of his generation might have thought suitable. Nevertheless, he seems to have had very cordial relationships with English and American women he met in the Middle East and with his Arabic teacher Fareedeh el Akle.

At the beginning of World War One Lawrence was almost certainly sexually inexperienced, as were the great majority of young officers in the British army. The sexual morality of the period was very different from morality today.

Despite many attempts by controversial biographers to claim otherwise, there are no sound reasons to disbelieve his statements in Seven Pillars of Wisdom and elsewhere that during the war, at Deraa in November 1917, he was subjected to flogging and violent male rape. Thereafter he seems to have had a profound horror of sexuality and physical contact with other human beings.

The experience at Deraa left deep psychological scars which are evident throughout his later writings. In the mid-1920s he developed a flagellation disorder. We have little reliable information about this, but it appears that on about eleven occasions during the subsequent decade he arranged secretly to have himself beaten in a ritual related to the events at Deraa. He also appears also to have suffered during these years from less extreme forms of masochistic disorder.

A number of controversial biographers, notably Richard Aldington, Desmond Stewart (himself openly homosexual), Lawrence James, and Michael Asher, have written biographies of Lawrence in which they claimed that he was gay. Neither of Lawrence's major scholarly biographers, myself and John E. Mack (a Harvard professor of psychiatry) reached that conclusion. Elsewhere on this site there is detailed analysis of the case made by Michael Asher (itself largely derived from the books by James and Stewart). There is also discussion in the archive of the T.E. Lawrence Studies List.

Whatever Lawrence's personal difficulties in this area, he was not homophobic. His personal philosophy, throughout his adult life, was that people should be allowed to lead their own lives. In this and many other matters he was not judgmental. For some biographers,  this tolerance (exactly the attitude we encourage today) implied personal orientation. Thus, the fact that he did not condemn homosexual practices by others in Seven Pillars of Wisdom has been cited as evidence that he was homosexual himself.

Conclusion: I know of no evidence that would confirm his sexual orientation, whether it was straight, gay or (as he himself implied) asexual. Without conclusive evidence the question cannot be answered. 

What were the three books that Lawrence carried and read during the Arab Revolt?

In a letter to D. G. Hogarth of 7 April 1927, Lawrence wrote: "My books in Arabia were the Morte: Aristophanes (I read all the Peace, very gratefully, and without much technical trouble) and The Oxford Book of English Verse." (DG p. 512), The books were:

  • Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur. This was probably not the copy that was in the Clouds Hill library when Lawrence died.

  • Aristophanes, Comoediae accedunt perditarum fabularum fragmenta ex rec. G. Dindorfii, Vol. I (Oxford, Typ. Academ, 1835). The Clouds Hill copy was inscribed: 'T.E.L. Oxford 1914. This copy went with me through the Arab war. T.E.L.'

  • The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900, ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1915). The Clouds Hill copy was inscribed "Bought in Cairo 1916. Carried through Hejaz and Syria 1917-1918. T. E. Lawrence, Damascus, 1.10 [1918].' 

  • What words did Lawrence carve above the entrance door at Clouds Hill?

    The words, carved in Greek characters, are normally transcribed Ou Phrontis. They come from Herodotus, VI, 129. In a letter to Celandine Kennington of 18.10.1932 Lawrence explained: "In Athens was a gentleman called Hippoclides who became engaged to a rich merchant's daughter: and they arranged him a slap-up and splendid marriage. The feast preceding it was too much for his poor head, though. He stood on his head on the table and did a leg-dance, which was objectionable in Greek dress. 'Hippocleides, Hippocleides' protested the shocked merchant 'You dance your marriage off.' 'Wyworri?' said Hippocleides: and Herodotus tells the tale so beautifully that I put the jape ['Why worry'] on the architrave. It means that nothing in Clouds Hill is to be a care upon its inhabitant." [DG p. 746]

    How many copies were there of the 1926 subscribers' edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom?

    According to Lawrence's records:

    • 128 complete copies were sold to subscribers

    • 36 complete copies were given away

    • 6 incomplete copies, which lacked about half the plates, were given away

    • There were also 9 proof copies.

    is the origin of the title Seven Pillars of Wisdom?

    The title is a deliberate echo of a biblical text: Proverbs IX.i: 

    Wisdom hath builded her house,
    She hath hewn out her seven pillars'

    Lawrence originally intended Seven Pillars of Wisdom to be the title of a book that he began writing before the First World War, about seven great cities of the Middle East. The draft seems to have been incomplete when war broke out, and he later said that he had destroyed it (it has never been found). After the war, he transferred the title to his book about the Arab Revolt.<

    What make of motor-cycle was Lawrence riding when he had his fatal accident, and what was its registration number?

    A Brough Superior, Model SS100. Lawrence purchased this machine in March 1932. It was not (as has often been alleged) a gift from Bernard Shaw.
    The registration number was GW 2275

    Where is T. E. Lawrence buried?

    Lawrence's funeral service took place on 21 May 1935 at St. Nicholas' Church, Moreton, Dorset. He was buried a short distance away in the new cemetery.






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