Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) was a British archaeologist, army officer, diplomat, and writer. He was renowned for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The 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 used for the 1962 film based on his wartime activities.
He was born out of wedlock in Tremadog, Wales, in August 1888 to Thomas Chapman (who became, in 1914, Sir Thomas Chapman, 7th Baronet), an Anglo-Irish nobleman from County Westmeath, and Sarah Junner, a Scottish governess, whom Chapman had left his wife and first family in Ireland to cohabit with; they called themselves Mr and Mrs Lawrence. The name "Lawrence" was probably adopted from that of Sarah's likely father, member of a family of that name where her mother was employed as a servant when she became pregnant. In 1889 the family moved to Kirkcudbright in Scotland where his brother William George was born before moving to Dinard in France. In 1896, the Lawrences moved to Oxford, where their son attended the High School and then from 1907 to 1910 studied History at Jesus College. Between 1910 and 1914 he worked as an archaeologist for the British Museum, chiefly at Carchemish, in Ottoman Syria.
Soon after the outbreak of war he volunteered for the British Army and was stationed in Egypt. In 1916, he was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission and quickly became involved with the Arab Revolt, providing, along with other British officers, liaison to the Arab forces. Working closely with Emir Faisal, a leader of the revolt, he participated in and sometimes led military activities against the Ottoman armed forces, culminating in the capture of Damascus in October 1918.
After the war, Lawrence joined the Foreign Office, working with both the British government and with Faisal. In 1922, he retreated from public life and spent the years until 1935 serving as an enlisted man, mostly in the Royal Air Force, with a brief stint in the Army. During this time, he wrote and published his best-known work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an autobiographical account of his participation in the Arab Revolt. He also translated books into English and wrote The Mint, which was published posthumously and detailed his time in the Royal Air Force working as an ordinary aircraftman. He corresponded extensively and was friendly with well-known artists, writers, and politicians. For the Royal Air Force, he participated in the development of rescue motorboats.
Lawrence's public image resulted in part from the sensationalised reporting of the Arab revolt by American journalist Lowell Thomas, as well as from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In 1935, Lawrence was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident in Dorset.
Lawrence's birthplace, Gorphwysfa, Tremadog, Carnarvonshire, Wales
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born on 16 August 1888 in Tremadog, Carnarvonshire (now Gwynedd), Wales in a house named Gorphwysfa, now known as Snowdon Lodge. His Anglo-Irish father Thomas Chapman had left his wife Edith after he fell in love and had a son with Sarah Junner, a young Scotswoman who had been engaged as governess to his daughters. Sarah was the daughter of Elizabeth Junner and John Lawrence, who worked as a ship's carpenter and was a son of the household in which Elizabeth had been a servant. She was dismissed four months before Sarah was born. (Elizabeth identified Sarah's father as "John Junner – Shipwright journeyman".)
Sarah and Thomas did not marry, but lived together under the name Lawrence. In 1914, Sir Thomas inherited the Chapman baronetcy based at Killua Castle, the ancestral family home in County Westmeath, Ireland; but he and Sarah continued to live in England. They had five sons; Thomas Edward was the second eldest. From Wales the family moved to Kirkcudbright, Galloway in southwestern Scotland, then Dinard in Brittany, then to Jersey. In 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. The residence was isolated, and young "Ned" Lawrence had many opportunities for outdoor activities and waterfront visits. Victorian-Edwardian Britain was a very conservative society where the majority of people were God-fearing Christians with the corollary that premarital and extramarital sex were considered deeply shameful and those born illegitimate were born disgraced. Despite having in many ways a happy childhood and youth, Lawrence was always something of an outsider, a bastard who could never hope to achieve the same level of social acceptance and success that those born legitimate could expect, and who was virtually unmarriageable as no girl from a respectable family would ever marry a bastard.
Lawrence claimed that he ran away from home circa 1905 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 appears in army records.