You can’t talk about the history of the English royal family in medieval times without taking a moment to acknowledge Leeds Castle. First a Norman stronghold, Leeds Castle has been the royal residence of six queens of Medieval Britain and if walls could talk I’m sure it would have some secrets to tell. Now a 19th century gothic castle built amongst 12th century ruins, Leeds Castle is known as the ‘loveliest castle in the world’.
Brief Facts about the House
- Leeds Castle is located five miles south east of Maidstone in Kent, England.
- The castle was first built on this site in 1119 by Robert de Crevecour.
- The castle today dates mostly from the 19th
- Leeds Castle has belonged to private charitable trust, Leeds Castle Foundation, since 1976.
- Not located anywhere near Leeds the city.
A Brief History of Leeds Castle
Built as a Norman stronghold in the years following the Norman Conquest, the first stone castle to be built on the site of Leeds Castle was owned by the de Crevecour family until around the year 1260. From 1276 and throughout most of the Middle Ages the castle was owned by the crown. Leeds Castle was first owned by King Edward 1st who made a gift of it to his Queen, Eleanor of Castile. Edward enhanced and improved the castle adding a Barbican on the outermost island accessible by three causeways, each defended by its own drawbridge, gateway and portcullis and a Gloriette on the smallest island with apartments for the King and Queen. It is thought that the artificial lake surrounding the three islands castle was also added at this time.
Many famous historic events happened within and just outside the walls of this castle. In 1321, Edward II besieged Leeds Castle after Baroness Badlesmere wife of the constable of the castle refused entry to the King’s consort Isabella of France and ordered her archers to fire upon her party. Six people were killed and Baroness Badlesmere was imprisoned in the Tower of London for one year as punishment. The castle moved through the hands of Edward II’s widow Isabella of France, her son Edward III and his grandson Richard II before being granted to Richard’s wife Anne of Bohemia in 1382. Richard’s successor gave Leeds Castle to his wife Joan of Naverre who passed it down to Henry V who then bequeathed it to his wife Catherine de Valois.
Perhaps the most famous of Leeds Castle’s owners was King Henry VIII who transformed Leeds Castle into a palace for his first wife Catherine of Aragon in 1519, adding amongst other things a maiden tower to house the Queen’s Maids of Honour. Amongst these maids was Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of Elizabeth I who was herself imprisoned in Leeds Castle prior to her coronation. The castle was a Parliamentarian arsenal and prison during the Civil War and escaped destruction. The castle fell into ruin in succeeding years until in 1820 it was repaired and remodelled by current owners the Wykeham-Martin family.
The Wykeham-Martin’s built a gothic style house on the main island of the castle and re-built the Gloriette which had been damaged in a fire. Various medieval outbuildings have survived as has Catherine of Aragon’s maiden tower. Past the mock medieval New Castle is the Gloriette complete with an internal timbered Fountain Court, thought to have been rebuilt by the Wykeham-Martins. The corridors of the Gloriette lead to the banqueting hall, chapel, state rooms and Queen’s gallery.
In the 1920s Leeds castle was bought by Lady Baillie, an Anglo-American and beneficiary of the Whitney millions who completely redecorated the interior, restoring many of the rooms to their previous medieval splendour. Working with French architect Armand-Albert Rateau, Lady Baillie completely rebuilt the interior of the New Castle adding a 16th century style wooden staircase, a drawing room removed in full from Thorpe Hall and a 17th century French styled library and dining room, the latter of which was designed to display 18th century Aubusson tapestries. Both the Queen’s bedroom and Gallery were restored to look as they did in the fifteenth century during the reign of Henry V and Queen Catherine and are fully furnished with antiques.
Following Lady Baillie’s death in 1974 Leeds Castle was bequeathed to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a charitable trust who opened the castle to the public in 1976 and have looked after it ever since. To encourage tourism an Aviary was added to Leeds Castle in 1980 but closed due to financial reasons in 2012 and in 1988 a maze was added to the gardens of the castle. Leeds Castle is a Grade 1 listed historical building and one of the most visited heritage attractions in the UK.
What Makes Leeds Castle Very Famous
With foundations reaching back to the year 857AD, Leeds Castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book and was once a Norman Stronghold. A Royal residence for many years, the sheer number of Kings and Queens to have resided in Leeds Castle over the years guarantees its fame. Once known as the ‘ladies castle’, Leeds was the Royal residence of six Queens of Medieval Britain bearing witness to all of the trials and tribulations of each of their time on the throne. Thanks to its spectacular setting on three islands surrounded by a beautiful artificial lake, Leeds Castle has become known today as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’.
Leeds Castle in Film
Leeds Castle has featured as a location in the following films and TV shows
- Elizabeth – The Golden Age (2007) Film
- Elizabeth (1998) Film
- Lady Jane (1986) Film
- Dr Who (1963) TV Series
- Waltz of the Toreadors (1962) Film
- Moonraker (1958) Film
- Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Film
- If Winter comes (1923) Film
- Nick McCann (2000) ‘Leeds Castle – Great Houses of Britain’
- Scala Publishing (2010) ‘Leeds Castle: Queen of Castles, Castle of Queens’
- Anthony Russel (2013) ‘Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up in Leeds Castle’
Leeds Castle is run by the charitable trust ‘Leeds Castle Foundation’ and is open to the public all year round. The castle offers an annual ticket scheme where the purchase of one ticket at a cost of £24 for adults, £21 for concessions and £16 for children over four gains entry as many times as you wish during the following year. Day tickets are also available. Opening times are from 10.30am to 6.00pm during the summer and 10.30am to 5.00pm during the winter. For more information visit the website www.leeds-castle.com.
Getting there – by road
Located 7 miles east of Maidstone, Junction 8 of the M20 motorway just 1 hour from London, 30 minutes from the Channel Tunnel and Channel Ports. Dartford River Crossing 30 minutes. Clearly sign posted from all routes – following the brown and white tourist signs.
Getting there – by rail
They recommend travelling to Bearsted Station. Southeastern runs frequent services to and from Bearsted and a coach shuttle service run by Spot Travel is available from the station from April to September. A private service is also available from October to March.