‘Everybody thinks I am mad to walk, and the escort offered me a mount on the average once a half-hour … in parts of my journey I seem to have been the first European visitor’
Before he became famous throughout the world as Lawrence of Arabia, T. E. Lawrence travelled through Britain, France, Syria and Palestine to research his undergraduate thesis on ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the End of the Twelfth Century’. Lawrence’s brilliant observations have since been confirmed by modern research. Moreover, the thesis and correspondence that make up Crusader Castles give us an insight into both Lawrence’s fascination with the Crusades and his origins as an adventurer.
After visiting the major sites in England and Wales, Lawrence crossed Ottoman-controlled Syria on foot and by bicycle. He wanted to prove that, contrary to the received wisdom of the time, the castles built by the Normans during their campaigns were not influenced by Byzantine architecture, but conformed to a purely Western model. In 1909, Syria and the Holy Land were remote and dangerous destinations, and few historians had actually seen a crusader castle. His 1,100-mile journey was arduous in the extreme, but Lawrence succeeded in seeing 36 of the 50 castles on his itinerary, and acquired a taste for adventure. Letters home express his thrill at travelling incognito and immersing himself in Arabic culture. ‘I will have such difficulty in becoming English again: here I am Arab in habits, and slip in talking from English to French and Arabic unnoticing.'
In 1936, the year after Lawrence’s death, Crusader Castles was published by the Golden Cockerel Press in a limited edition uniting Lawrence’s thesis with a selection of his letters. This Folio Society edition follows the text of this edition, and is illustrated throughout with the author’s sketches and photographs as well as a rare early portrait of Lawrence taken by James Elroy Flecker. A new introduction by historian and biographer Mark Bostridge considers Lawrence’s ‘formative passion for the medieval world’ alongside his thirst for exploring the East.
Read more about the life and work of T. E. Lawrence