Few can doubt that Leeds Castle is one of the finest structures of its kind, sitting on an island in a lake and surrounded by glorious countryside. Situated south east of Maidstone in Kent, Leeds Castle is described by some as the most beautiful of all UK castles. It receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and it does not disappoint.
Although the castle is many hundreds of years old it has still played a role in modern history. It was the location for a number of important meetings including in 1978 when the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ibrahim Karmel, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dyan and Cyrus Vance of the United States State Department met in preparation for the Camp David accords. It also hosted Northern Ireland peace talks in 2004 led by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
NEARLY 900 YEARS
A castle has stood on the site since 1119AD when Robert de Crevecoeur, a descendant of one of William the Conqueror’s lords, built a Norman stronghold replacing the Saxon manor of Esledes, (later to be renamed Leeds).
The castle stayed in the de Crevecoeur family until the 1260s after which it passed into the ownership of King Edward I. Edward I was a temperamental and intimidating man, very tall for the time and thus earning him the nickname of ‘Longshanks.’
He often instilled fear into his contemporaries but he was also respected by his subjects for the way he embodied the medieval ideal of kingship and for his bravery as a soldier and being a man of faith.
Edward invested a lot of money in changing the castle as it was believed to have been one of his favourite homes. It is thought that it was Edward I that built the lake which surrounds the castle creating the island on which it stands and a barbican reaching across three islands. He added a ‘gloriette’ (an elevated building in the grounds) for the King and Queen to use.
The growth of the British royal household during the late Middle Ages meant that fewer of their residences could accommodate visits and those that lacked this potential saw their allowances cut. There were a few exceptions such as The Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Leeds Castle which all escaped this fate.
In 1519 Henry VIII created a home there for his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Sadly, for Catherine, her time spent at Leeds Castle was far from happy and by 1525 Henry was infatuated with Anne Boleyn. As no surviving sons had been born to Catherine her usefulness to the King was at an end. In 1533 their marriage was declared invalid and Henry married Anne. Catherine lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle and died in January 1536. It’s ironic that sometime later Henry and Anne’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, would be imprisoned for a time at Leeds Castle.
Visitors to Leeds Castle will see the magnificent painting of the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ which commemorates the meeting between Francis I of France and Henry VIII.
THE AMERICAN CONNECTION
The last person to own the castle was Lady Baillie, an Anglo-American heiress who bought it in 1926. Most of her life at the castle was dedicated to improving its appearance and maintaining its majestic beauty. She was responsible for setting up the ‘Leeds Castle Foundation.’ The castle was opened to the public in 1976.
During the Second World War it was used as a hospital where Lady Baillie and her daughters nursed Commonwealth servicemen.
The castle has been used as a location for film production including: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), James Bond – Moonraker (1958), Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), Lady Jane (1986) and Queen Elizabeth – The Golden Age (2007). TV shows include: The hit American TV Series Magnum PI (Deja Vu), The Apprentice and The Antiques Roadshow (BBC).
DON’T’ MISS …
• The exceptional gardens and a maze designed in the shape of a castle.
• The secret grotto of the maze.
• The ‘duckery’ which provides habitat for swans, ducks and geese.
• The National Collection of Bergamot.
• The vineyard of German vines
• The tree-top forest adventure area ‘Go Ape’.
Black Dogs & Witchcraft
Leeds Castle is heavily linked with paranormal activity. ‘The Black Dog’ appears signalling bad luck or death to occupants of the castle. It is said that Henry VI’s aunt, Eleanor of Gloucester, ‘summoned’ the evil beast through practising witchcraft. She was imprisoned for life at the castle having been found guilty of necromancy, witchcraft, heresy and treason in 1431.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Styants Bottom Road, Seal, Sevenoaks
Kent, England, TN15 0ET
+44 (0)1732 762 728
- Address: Penfold Hill Rd, Maidstone, Kent, England, United Kingdom, ME17 1PL
- GPS: 51.2474497,0.6306776999999784
- Phone: 0044 (0)1622 765 400
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: ME17 1PL
- Entrance Fees: Charges Apply
- Disabled Access: Good
- Visibility from Road: None
- Image Credits: Henk Vrieselaar