Leeds Castle

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Leeds Castle


Leeds castle.JPG
Leeds Castle, Kent
Town: Maidstone
Owned by: Leeds Castle Foundation
Website: http://www.leeds-castle.com

Leeds Castle in Kent is a splendid example of a castle and stately residence, though today it is held by a charitable trust not a lordly family. Leeds Castle stands 5 miles southeast of Maidstone and dates back to 1119. In 1278 the castle came into the hands of King Edward I, for whom it became a favourite residence. The castle seen today dates mostly from the 19th century and is built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len to the east of the village of Leeds.


Middle Ages

Leeds Castle at sunset

Built in 1119 by Robert de Crevecoeur as a Norman stronghold, Leeds Castle descended through the de Crevecoeur family until the 1260s.[1] What form this first castle took is uncertain because it was rebuilt and transformed in the following centuries. However, Adrian Pettifer speculates that it may have been a motte and bailey.[2]

In 1278, the castle became the property of King Edward I. As a favoured residence of Edward's, Leeds Castle saw considerable investment. The king enhanced its defences, and it was probably Edward who created the lake which surrounds the castle. A barbican spanning three islands was also built. Leeds Castle was also fitted with accommodation fit for royalty: a "gloriette" with apartments for the king and queen were added.[3] In the Late Middle Ages, the growth of the royal household meant fewer residences could accommodate the monarchy when they visited. As a result, the expenditure on royal residences in southeast England generally decreased except for the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. The activity at Leeds Castle during the reign of Edward I is a notable exception to this pattern.[4]

The castle was captured on 31 October 1321 by the forces of Edward II from Margaret de Clare, Baroness Badlesmere, wife of the castle's constable, Bartholomew de Badlesmere, 1st Baron Badlesmere who had left her in charge during his absence. The King had besieged Leeds after she had refused Edward's consort Isabella of France admittance in her husband's absence; when the latter had sought to force an entry, Lady Badlesmere had instructed her archers to fire upon the Queen and her party, six of whom were killed.[5] Lady Badlesmere was taken and kept prisoner in the Tower of London until November 1322.[6] After Edward II died in 1327, his widow took over Leeds Castle as her primary residence.[7]

Richard II's first wife, Anne of Bohemia, spent the winter of 1381 at the castle on her way to be married to the king. In 1395, Richard received the French chronicler Jean Froissart there, as described in Froissart's Chronicles.

Early modern period

Henry VIII transformed the castle in 1519 for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. A painting commemorating his meeting with Francis I of France still hangs there.

In 1552 Leeds Castle was granted to Anthony St Leger, Lord Deputy of Ireland.[1]

Doublet worn by Fairfax at the Battle of Maidstone
Civil War Cuirassier armour

The castle escaped destruction during the Civil War because its owner, Sir Cheney Culpeper, sided with the Parliamentarians]]. The castle was used as both an arsenal and a prison during the war. Other members of the Culpeper family had sided with the Royalists; John 1st Lord Culpeper having been granted more than 500,0000 acres of land in Virginia in reward for assisting the escape of Charles II.[8] In later years this legacy was to prove vital for the castle's fortunes.

Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron was born at Leeds Castle in 1693 and later settled permanently in America to oversee the Culpeper estates, cementing an ongoing connection between Leeds Castle and America. There is a commemorative sundial at Leeds Castle telling the time in Belvoir, Virginia and a corresponding sundial in America.[8] Fairfax was the great grandson of Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron who led the parliamentarian attack at the nearby Battle of Maidstone in 1648 and whose doublet worn during the battle is on display.

19th and 20th centuries

The new castle was completed in 1823 in the Tudor style

The castle was owned by Robert Fairfax for 46 years until 1793 when it eventually passed on to the Wykeham Martins. Sale of the family estates in Virginia released a large sum of money that allowed extensive repair and remodelling of the castle in a more appropriate Tudor style, completed in 1823, that resulted in the appearance seen today.[8]

The last private owner of the castle was the Hon Olive, Lady Baillie, a daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough, and his first wife, Pauline Payne Whitney, an American heiress. Lady Baillie bought the castle in 1926. She redecorated the interior, first working with the French architect and designer Armand-Albert Rateau (who also oversaw exterior alterations as well as adding interior features such as a 16th-century-style carved-oak staircase) and then, later, with the Paris decorator Stéphane Boudin. During the early part of Second World War Leeds was used as a hospital where Lady Baillie and her daughters hosted burned Commonwealth airmen as part of their recovery. Survivors remember the experience with fondness to this day. Upon her death in 1974, Lady Baillie left the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds for the benefit of the public. The castle was opened to the public in 1976.

On 17 July 1978, the castle was the site of a meeting between the Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Karmel and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Cyrus Vance of the USA in preparation for the Camp David Accords.[8] The castle also hosted the Northern Ireland peace talks held in September 2004 led by Tony Blair.

Leeds Castle from across the moat (north west side)
Leeds Castle and its moat (from the rear)


The maze at Leeds Castle

An aviary was added to the castle in 1980 and by 2011 it contained over 100 species. However, it was decided to close the aviary in October 2012 as it was felt the charity managing the castle could better use the £200,000 a year it cost to keep the aviary running.[9] This castle and its grounds are now a major leisure destination in the county of Kent and feature a maze, a grotto, a golf course and what may be the world's only museum of dog collars.

The maze was opened in 1988, planted with 2,400 yew trees.[10][11]

Leeds Castle today is a Grade I listed building[12] and recognised as an internationally important structure.

In 1998 Leeds Castle was one of 57 heritage sites in England to receive more than 200,000 visitors.[13] According to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, nearly 560,000 people visited Leeds Castle in 2010.[14]

Film location

Leeds Castle was a shooting location for the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets where it stands in for "Chalfont", the ancestral home of the aristocratic d'Ascoyne family.

Leeds Castle served also as the set for the Doctor Who-episode The Androids of Tara.

Castle interior

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Leeds Castle)



  • Costain, Thomas B. (1958), The Three Edwards, Doubleday and Company 
  • Emery, Anthony (2006), Greater Mediæval Houses of England and Wales: Volume III Southern England, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-58132-5 
  • Fisher, Adrian; Loxton, Howard (2007), Secrets of the maze: an interactive guide to the world's most amazing mazes, Barnes & Noble, ISBN 978-0-7607-9073-1 
  • McCann, Nick (2002), Leeds Castle, ISBN 0-85101-374-0 
  • McKisack, May (1959), The Fourteenth Century, Oxford History of England 
  • Pettifer, Adrian (1995), English Castles: A Guide by Counties, Woodbridge: Boydell, ISBN 0-85115-782-3 
  • Martin, Charles Wykeham (1869), The History and Description of Leeds Castle, Kent, Nichols and Sons