Manifold things in life amaze me. Many things in life amuse me. But quite why anyone would want to re-print an hundred year old undergraduate thesis is quite beyond my ken. However, those nice people at the Folio Society have produce a sneaky 240 page edition of T E Lawrence’s lesser known work; Crusader Castles. And it is is a thing of some beauty.
As an undergraduate at Jesus College in 1909, Lawrence travelled through Britain, France, Syria and Palestine to research his thesis on ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the End of the Twelfth Century’.
After visiting the major sites in England and Wales, Lawrence decided to cross 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.‘
It seem that many of the hallmarks of his later career were already stamped this precocious undergraduate. I have always wanted to go and see the crusader castles of Syria and the Holy Land, but for some reason Becky does not seem as keen. Who knows, she might be more excited by my idea of going on holiday to the salt marshes of Iraq? Maybe?
Oh, and by the way, his painting still hangs in the dining room at Jesus College (see below), and the Bod still has his original thesis and notes (MSS. Eng. c. 6743, e. 3301)… if you can’t afford the Folio Society’s nice reprint.