The six crusades, which ran from 1095 to 1291, were sanctioned by the Pope to regain the ‘Holy Land’ from the ‘infidels’. Ultimately, they failed to dislodge the Muslims from Jerusalem. In 1885, Oxford’s Charles Oman had published ‘The Art of War in the Middle Ages’. During the crusades, he wrote that warfare had begun to emphasise the defensive. Thus, castles were “as integral a part of feudal organisation as the mailed knight’. They were typically located on tops of hills. The prevailing wisdom in Europe was that the architecture of the crusader castles was derived from that of the castles of the Byzantine Greeks rather than from Western Europe. Oman was a proponent of this view. In 1910, a bold young undergraduate at Jesus College, Oxford challenged this view. He submitted a thesis entitled, ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the end of the Twelfth Century’ and was awarded a First Class BA in modern history, with a focus on military strategy and tactics. The thesis is based on the first three crusades, 1095-1193. Thomas Edward, or TE as he called himself, or Ned as his family called him, had always been drawn to history. According to his mother, he was not interested in cricket or football. By the time he turned eight, he had read Macaulay’s ‘Introduction to the History of England’ and was fascinated by medieval epics like Morte d’Arthur. In August 1906, he went on a cycling tour of Brittany in the north of France to check out the castles. He biked for some 600 miles and fell in love with the middle age castles of France. T.E.’s memoir of the campaign, ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, written entirely from memory, would become not only a defining treatise on guerilla warfare but more importantly a nuanced and affectionate meditation on Arab culture When he came to the Norman chateau at Tonquedec, he kept looking at it for four hours. He examined the castle from every angle, searching for insights “into the defence strategy plotted by the architect”. With his keen mind, he concluded, “The place would have been impossible to enter. An enemy would have had to make two bridges before he could reach the door. The drop to the ground was about 40 feet.” T.E. was drawn to antiquity and would often quote Shelley, “I love all waste and solitary places; where we taste the pleasure of believing what we see is boundless, as we wish our souls to be.” That love caused him to check-out the crusader castles in person. He wrote to Charles M. Doughty for advice. The author of the magisterial Travels in Arabia Deserta discouraged T.E. from traveling to the Levant but said if you must go, take along a guide and ride on a horse. But T.E. had just come of age. He ignored the advice. He took lessons in Arabic, learned how to draw, and bought a camera. In June 1909, he boarded a steamer for Beirut, bound for Levant. In the next three months, he would walk some 1,100 miles and visit all the major cities such as Damascus, Nazareth, and Antioch. He walked from one half-ruined Crusader castle to another, carrying only his camera, a water bottle, a German pistol and a dog-eared copy of Baedeker’s Handbook to Palestine and Syria. The most thrilling moment for him came when a native mistook him, dressed in an Arab habit, for a compatriot. Altogether, during the hottest three months of the summer, he visited 36 of the 50 castles. He came to conclude that the best crusader castles “were informed with the spirit of the architects of central and southern France.” Of these, he found the Hospitaller castle in the north, Crac des Chevaliers, to be the “best preserved and most admirable” castle. The more he saw the castles, the more his mind questioned the conventional view, which held that the Crusaders did not know how to build castles other than the earthen works. The Crusaders held the Byzantine fighters in contempt and thought the latter were prevented from being wiped out in battle only because their castles were redoubtable. So, this view held, they decided to copy the Byzantine castles and reproduced them in the Levant. Professor Oman had written that the outer wards and fore works of the castles of the Crusaders “with their numerous and strong curtain towers were borrowed from Byzantium.” He had suggested that Chateau Gaillard of Richard I, perhaps his finest castle was built by Syrian workmen and that Richard had only come to know of such architecture after he had studies the castles in Palestine. T.E. came to the opposite conclusion. In his thesis, he wrote, “There is no evidence that Richard borrowed anything…from any fortress which he saw in the holy land…he did not find anything there that was better than anything in the south of France which he knew so well. …there was no trace of anything Byzantine in any castle in England or France…all that was good in Crusading architecture came from France or Italy. The crusading architects were for many years copyists of the Western builders.” He came to a wholly different conclusion than Professor Oman, saying that on examination the crusading castles in Syria were found to be copies of contemporary castles in France. He said that France had produced the best in Gothic art during the Middle Ages. His thesis has not been challenged in the century that has elapsed since its publication. In 1936, the thesis was reissued as a book, ‘Crusader Castles’, amply illustrated with T.E.’s photographs and hand drawings. In the very beginning of the thesis, he apologised for the dullness of the manuscript, saying that any such inquiry must be minute and technical. And he noted that in the thesis, “Violently controversial points are usually settled by a plain assertion, for simplicity and peace. If they are of importance in my arguments they may be discussed.”This thesis is arguably the most famous in history. Years later, T.E. returned to the region on a different mission. This time he came with the British Expeditionary Force to help the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The Arabs loved him. They would call him ‘El Owrence’. His memoir of the campaign, ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, written entirely from memory, would become not only a defining treatise on guerilla warfare but more importantly a nuanced and affectionate meditation on Arab culture. It had earned high praise from William Bernard Shaw, among others. After finishing the book, Shaw recommended it to prime minister Stanley Baldwin, noting that “The work is a masterpiece, one of the few very best of its kind in the world.” The book provides the narrative for David Lean’s epic production, ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ starring Peter O’Toole. The film was nominated for ten Oscars and won seven. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films of all time. T.E. died in a motor cycle accident at the age of 47. Winston Churchill memorialised him in the following words: “He was indeed a dweller on mountain tops… where the view on clear days commands all the Kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.” The author is a history buff and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, March 29th 2018.