‘The influence of the Crusades on European military architecture to the end of the XIIth century’ (Jesus College MS. 181)
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadog in North Wales in 1888 and moved to North Oxford with his family in 1896. His birthplace in Wales qualified him for a Meyricke Exhibition (scholarship) at Jesus, and he came up to read Modern History in October 1907.
Lawrence spent the summers of 1906, 1907, and 1908 crossing France on his Oxford-made Morris bicycle, recording medieval castles and fortifications. New regulations gave history students the option of submitting a thesis on one of their special subjects and so Lawrence discussed his survey with C.F. Bell, Assistant Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, who suggested a comparison with the castles built by Crusaders in the Middle East.
In the summer vacation of 1909, Lawrence arrived in Beirut, intending to walk through Syria and Palestine. After heading south through Galilee, he visited Aleppo, Urfa (Edessa), and Damascus. He reached Crac des Chevaliers, which he called ‘the finest castle in the world, certainly the most picturesque’, on 16 August, his 21st birthday.
Lawrence completed his thesis in the winter of 1909–10. Despite the theft of his camera in Syria, it incorporates numerous original photographs as well as plans, sketches, and postcards. Submitted for the Final Honour School of Modern History in July 1910, the thesis was marked ‘most excellent’, and in the words of one of the examiners, it made ‘safe but slight’ what was ‘otherwise a not very exciting First’. Moreover, Lawrence’s achievement undoubtedly earned him the patronage of D.G. Hogarth, Keeper of the Ashmolean.
Lawrence continued his archaeological work in Syria until, on the outbreak of the First World War, he was recruited by military intelligence. He earned the sobriquet ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ through his encouragement of the Arab insurgency against the Ottoman Turks, described vividly in his memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It is ironic, in the light of Lawrence’s own guerrilla activities, to read his complaint in the thesis about the Bedouin destruction of the Hejaz railway. After the war, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force under an assumed name. He died in May 1935, losing control of his motorcycle on a country road.
The following year, Lawrence’s youngest brother Arnold, acting as his literary executor, arranged for his thesis to be published by the Golden Cockerel Press in a limited edition of 1,000 copies under the title Crusader Castles. Then, in 1939, this typescript was presented to Jesus by Lawrence’s mother and elder brother. It is the examiners’ copy of the thesis, returned to Lawrence ‘for the sake of the illustrations’, and with his subsequent annotations: for instance, excusing his limited inspection at Saône (Sahyun) with the comment ‘I had malaria rather heavy those days’.
The first mass-market edition was published by Michael Haag in 1986 (reprinted 1992), followed by the Oxford University Press edition in 1988, and most recently the Folio Society in 2010. The Golden Cockerel and Haag editions go so far as to reproduce Lawrence's marginal notes in the Jesus copy of his thesis; the OUP edition reproduces only some of those notes, but is more readily available.
Two facsimile copies were produced in 2017, printed by Scriptura, bound by Victoria Stevens, and housed in a custom archival box made by Arca Preservation, and one is kept on display for visitors to the Fellows’ Library. Researchers who need to see the original typescript may apply to the College Librarian for an appointment.