Leeds Castle, Kent. One of the most favourite castles of Henry VIII and the residence of many English queens.

A very long ago there was an old trading route near Leeds castle, subsequently the pilgrims, travelling to neighbouring Canterbury, were using it.
leeds castle kent
The hundreds of years have gone. The new roads were laid instead of the old ones, and in place of the pilgrims appeared the tourists, flooding not only Canterbury but also Leeds castle – one of the most visited castles in the United Kingdom.

The history of Leeds castle

Leeds castle was built in the beginning of the 12th century on the site of Anglo-Saxon stronghold, and for its almost 900-year-old existence it had been subjected to different changes from the numerous owners, everyone of which made an effort to do one’s bit to the appearance of the castle.

Since the 13th century Leeds castle had been in the hands of the Royal Family for about three hundred years, to be more precise, in the lovable little hands of its representatives of female gender.
eleanor of castileEleanor of Castile
Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile became the first royal possessors of Leeds castle. Their love story is so fairytale like “and they lived happily ever after and died on the same day…” According to the accounts of contemporaries for 36 years of the matrimony the king and the queen lived at one and hardly ever parted from each other. Eleanor was accompanying her husband even during the military campaigns, and there is a sentimental story that when Edward I was injured by a poisoned weapon, Eleanor sucked out the venom from his wound.
Edward I of EnglandEdward I of England
Well, though it seems that the royal couple lived happily for real, they didn’t manage to die on the same day. Eleanor of Castile predeceased Edward I for 17 years. The king, having had lost his head because of the grief, was following the mourning procession to Westminster Abbey from Nottinghamshire, where his queen died, that makes about 150 miles! After 9 years had expired, Edward I remarried, and Leeds castle passed into the hands of youthful Margaret of France. The king had never forgot his Eleanor but it seems that his second marriage was lucky as well. Notwithstanding a 40-year-old age difference Edward and Margaret appeared to have a mutual understanding, the young queen even called their daughter in honour of her husband’s first wife. After Eleanor and Margaret Leeds castle more than once became the favourite site of English queens and for that even was dubbed “Lady’s castle”.

Leeds castle walls saw plenty of joy and sorrow, rises and downfalls, intrigues and scandals.
leeds castle kent
One of the most famous scandals is connected with the name of Catherine of Valois and her courtier, which was the keeper of the queen’s wardrobe. Charming Catherine became widowed in the age of 20, her courtier Owen Tudor wasn’t much older than her and reportedly was a handsome devil. In a short time the young Welsh was not only in charge of the queen’s attires but also of her heart. It’s been a moot point whether Catherine of Valois and Owen Tudor got married or not, but it didn’t prevent them from the establishment of splendid dynasty of the Tudors. And one of their sons became the great grandfather of notorious Henry VIII.

Fond for women and desperate for male heir Henry VIII had six wives, but only in the days of Catherine of Aragon Leeds castle went through significant changes due to the king’s attention.
henry VIII of EnglandHenry VIII of England
Henry softened the castle’s austere features of the fortress and introduced the royal luxury to it. Thanks to him the sumptuous Banqueting Hall, the Tudor stained glass windows and modified fireplaces appeared. The king also ordered to build on a whole floor for the quarters of his beloved at that time Catherine of Aragon.

Only in the 1552, few years after the death of Henry VIII, his so longed-for son Edward VI granted Leeds castle to Sir Anthony St Leger for the successfully accomplished mission as the governor-general of the king in Ireland. Incidentally in the same year the 14-year-old king “got rid of” another royal property, nearby Penshurst Place, by having conferred it on his teacher.

During the subsequent centuries Leeds castle repeatedly changed its possessors. The unusual sundial clocks by the castle remind about one of them. In the 18th century Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax, owned not only Leeds castle but also a quite sizeable piece of ground in Virginia (by the way, he engaged his distant relation George Washington for surveying his lands, a bright teenager and the future 1st President of the United States). So the sundial clocks show not the local time but that in the state of Virginia. By rumours there are the twin clocks in Fairfax, but no one has ever seen it yet.

leeds castle kent
In 1926 Leeds castle became the “Lady’s castle” again as it was bought by wealthy heiress of the English aristocrat and the American socialite Olive Wilson Filmer, hereafter more well-known as Lady Baillie. She owned the castle longer than any other predecessors and during those 50 years she hadn’t been sparing means for the renovation of Leeds castle and the surrounding park. The way it looks now is only due to this remarkable woman that also bequeathed the castle to the nation and instituted the charitable fund for keeping it safe.

10 things to do in and around Leeds castle

1. To make a tour of Leeds castle with its exquisitely furnished rooms, little cosy courtyard hidden in the depth of the building and wine cellar of the 12th century. The fact that only few decades ago the castle was inhabited removes any traces of oblivion that so often can be felt in ancient buildings. And calmly crackling flame in some fireplaces only increases the feeling that the owners only absented themselves for a while.
wood garden leeds castle kentThe Wood Garden at Leeds Castle

2. To introduce oneself to the world of flora. Leeds castle is not only enclosed by the lake but also by 500 acres of the parklands that contain the fairy glen of Wood Garden, laid out in Mediterranean style Lady Baillie Garden and snug cottage Culpeper Garden.

3. To have a snack on the impeccable lawn in the company of amusing waterfowl. The graceful black swans impart a special charm to the park. These snake-like good lookers were delivered for Lady Baillie from Australia and in time became a symbol of Leeds castle.

4. To go astray in the Leeds castle maze for which there were planted about 2500 yews. Some people even claim that the maze in Leeds castle is more impressive than the one in Hampton Court.

5. To wander around the underground grotto in the centre of the maze. The walls, covered by curved figures of mythological creatures and outlandish display lighting, all together create a mysterious atmosphere.

6. To visit Dog Collar Museum at Leeds castle and to find out how during the last 500 years has been modifying the dog fashion.

white peacock leeds castle
7. To take a photograph of the local star – an entrancing white peacock, which seems to get used to overall admiration, quite easily posing in front of the cameras.

8. To step inside the world of vibrant colours of the exotic birds in the Leeds castle aviary. Lady Baillie, having been keen on birds, started to accumulate them in the 1950th. Now the collection consists of about 100 different species that include weird looking spoonbills, hilarious toucans, noisy parrots, macaws and lorikeets.

9. To have an unforgettable ride in the hot air balloon and to go deep into contemplation of Leeds castle and the county Kent from bird’s eye view.

10. To try something unusual by having a drive on segway, an electronic vehicle reminding of scooter, in the vicinity of Leeds castle.

Apart from the above-mentioned entertainments Leeds castle is also well known for its seasonal events, such as jousting festivals, autumn glory flower festivals, falconry shows as well as numerous concerts usually going along with multicoloured fireworks.

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Socialkik said...

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alian said...

Think for a long time I had the opportunity to read something so interesting and containing as effective.

Rus said...

Love this castle. So proud to be able to call this a Kent Castle near my home town.

Anna said...

Thanks for kind words, guys. It's really easy to write about something you really like.
What's you home town, Rus? Maidstone?

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