Leeds, near Maidstone, Kent, UK
date 1119 onwards
era Medieval |
category Castle |
Leeds Castle was begun by Robert de Crevecoeur, on the site of the Saxon manor of Esledes. It has Norman foundations, with Medieval, Tudor and Victorian additions. The castle sits on three islands in an artificial lake on the River Len.
The original stone castle, little of which remains today, was built as a dungeon fortress and had two towers along its perimeter.
Leeds Castle became a royal residence in 1278, and was later used as a dower (settlement) for widowed queens of England. At various times it has been used as a garrison, prison, convalescent home and private residence.
Edward I is responsible for much of the castle’s present appearance and form, consisting of concentric buildings. The complex has a gatehouse and four forts, each capable of being defended individually.
There are three causeways from the 'mainland', each with a drawbridge and portcullis leading to the inner barbican on the first island. The barbican was protected by a revetment wall and had an aqueduct in its basement so that the Len Valley could be flooded as a defensive measure.
A stone bridge links the first island to the main island, which is surrounded by a 4.6m high stone wall that encloses the more modern buildings and Constable’s Tower, Maiden’s Tower, the gatehouse and the water tower.
A two-storey building resting on arches connects the main island with the Gloriette — a two-storey ‘D’ shaped shell keep on the smallest island. The Gloriette has a Great Hall and was built in around 1278 as a summerhouse.
Later, Henry VIII employed Sir Henry Guildford to convert the castle from a fortress to a royal palace for his first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon. Henry also stayed at the castle in 1520, on his way to meet King Francis I of France at the famous site known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
In 1552, Leeds castle was granted to Sir Anthony St Leger, the Lord Deputy of Ireland. In 1559, Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned here briefly before her coronation. The castle was sold to the Culpeper family in 1632, who used it as a Parliamentarian arsenal during the English Civil War. In the C17th, the castle was used to hold French and Dutch prisoners. Then in 1778, it was sold to Lord Fairfax, who remodelled the main house in the Gothic style.
The last private owner, Lady Olive Baillie, bought the castle in 1926 and spent 30 years on restoration work. She also set up the Leeds Castle Foundation, which now maintains it.
The surrounding parkland was landscaped in the early C18th, and many of the original trees remain. There is a yew maze, designed by Vernon Gibberd and planted in 1988, trimmed into the shape of a castle. The castle has been open daily to the public since 1976.
In 1978, Leeds Castle was used to host peace negotiations between the then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the then Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.