It’s one of the most beautiful castles in all of England, and even though most of the current castle structure dates from the 19th century, it’s full of history.
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Leeds Castle, an incredible attraction in the country.
1. Leeds Castle is not located in the city of Leeds
Leeds is the largest city in the county of Yorkshire in northern England. But that’s not where Leeds Castle is actually located.
It’s located 5 miles (8 km) southeast of the town of Maidstone and just east of the village with the same name as the city, the village of Leeds in Kent, southeast England.
2. It’s built on islands in a lake
One of the most remarkable facts about Leeds Castle is that it was built on islands in a lake that is formed by the River Len.
The River Len isn’t really a huge river as it’s only about 9.9 miles long (16 km) before it joins the River Medway.
3. It dates back to the 10th century
It’s believed that the name “Leeds” is derived from “Ledian,” councilor to Ethelbert II, an Anglo-Saxon king in his kingdom which was then called “East Anglia.”
He was the first to build a wooden fortress on the location of Leeds Castle in the year 978.
4. The first stone structure was built in the year 1119
After the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century, the wooden structure came in the hands of Robert de Crevecoeur, who was the first to build a stone structure on the site.
The stone Norman stronghold was built in the year 1119. How it looked exactly is unknown since the castle has been continuously expanded over the centuries.
It’s assumed though that it was a “motte and bailey,” the most common type of castle in that period which was built on an elevated area, surrounded by a ditch and with an enclosed courtyard.
5. Leeds Castle became a royal residence
Leeds Castle was owned by the de Crevecoeur family until the 1260s, after which it was acquired by King Edward I’s Queen, Eleanor of Castile, in 1278.
It quickly became one of the favorite residences of King Edward I, who is known in the history books as “Edward Longshanks” because he was quite tall at 6’2″ in this period of time.
6. It was expanded considerably by Edward I
Before Edward I made Leeds Castle one of his residences, the castle was built on small islands on the River Len. It is believed that he is the one who created the big lake that surrounds the castle right now.
Apart from this addition, he also did the following:
- Improved the defenses of the castle.
- Built a barbican (fortified outpost) spanning 3 islands.
- Built a gloriette (building on elevated land in a garden) with royal apartments.
7. Leeds Castle was quite unique
Because of the royal households growing substantially, fewer and fewer castles became suited as royal residences.
Apart from the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, Leeds Castle was one of the few in southeast England that saw substantial expansions in the late Middle Ages.
This clearly shows that Edward I and his wife Eleanor definitely loved to spend a lot of time at Leeds Castle.
8. Edward II besieged Leeds Castle
In the year 1321, the castle’s constable, Bartholomew de Badlesmere, 1st Baron Badlesmere, was away and had left his wife Margaret de Clare in charge.
Edward II, however, had given the castle to his wife, Isabella of France. When Isabela tried to force her way in after being refused admittance, 6 people from Isabela’s party were killed by archers and all hell broke loose.
This eventually resulted in Edward II laying siege to Leeds Castle, and capturing it on October 31, 1321.
9. Isabella of France made it her primary residence
Margaret de Clare was captured after the successful siege of Leeds Castle and sent to prison in the Tower of London.
Isabella of France, however, known by her nickname “The She-Wolf of France” as she has been described as one of the original “femmes fatales,” really enjoyed her time at Leeds Castle.
So much that after the death of her husband King Edward II, she made it her primary residence for a brief period in 1327.
10. The castle has a suiting nickname
It wasn’t just Edward I who really enjoyed spending time at Leeds Castle, it was also the Queens of England in medieval times.
Leeds Castle is often referred to as “The Castle of Queens, Queens of Castles.” This is for the reason that 6 queens had their primary residence in the castle during the Middle Ages.
These were Eleanor, Isabella, Philippa of Hainault (the wife of Edward III), Joan of Navarre, Catherine de Valois, and Catherine of Aragon.
11. Leeds Castle houses a painting of its most famous owner
Catherine of Aragon was one of the Queens that made Leeds Castle her primary residence. Because of this, her husband, Henry III expanded and improved the castle further in the year 1519.
One of those interesting facts about Leeds Castle is that it houses a painting dating back to 1545 which depicts its famous owner Henry III.
The painting honors the meeting of Henry III with the French King Francis I in 1520 and is called “Field of the Cloth of Gold.”
12. The castle escaped destruction during the English Civil War
The English Civil War took place halfway through the 17th century (1642-1651) and because its owner at the time, Sir Cheney Culpeper, sided with the Parliamentarians, it was saved from being destroyed.
In fact, Leeds Castle was even being used during the Civil War as both a weapons arsenal and as a prison.
13. Leeds Castle has an American connection
What’s remarkable is that not all family members of the Culpeper family were siding with the parliamentarians.
In fact, John, 1st Lord Culpeper assisted the Prince of Wales (who would become King Edward II) during his exile to Europe in 1651.
As a reward, Lord Culpeper was awarded 5 million acres (20,000 sq km) of land in the State of Virginia in the United States.
14. This is how the American connection is commemorated
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, was born at Leeds Castle in 1689 and eventually moved to North America to manage the Culpeper estates.
To commemorate the ongoing connection the castle has with the United States, a sundial can be found just outside of the castle telling the time in Belvoir, Virginia, and a corresponding sundial in America.
Interesting fact: Many place names are named after Thomas Fairfax, most notably Fairfax City and Fairfax County in Virginia.
15. Thomas Fairfax had an infamous great grandfather
Another remarkable fact is that Thomas Fairfax’s great grandfather, who shared the same name Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron, led the parliamentarian troops in the “Battle of Maidstone” in 1648.
The Parliamentarians won a victory over the Royalists and the doublet worn by Fairfax during this epic battle is on display at Leeds Castle.
16. Robert Fairfax spent a lot of money on the castle
Robert Fairfax, the brother of Thomas Fairfax in Virginia, lived in the castle for 46 years and made a lot of improvements.
Not because he was incredibly wealthy, but because he married two wealthy women, Martha Collins, a member of the Child banking dynasty, and Dorothy Best, who was born in a brewing family.
The result of the exterior renovations is pretty much what we can see today, a wonderful castle in the Tudor style.
17. The final restoration of a ruin
After passing on to multiple relatives of Richard Fairfax, Leeds Castle was eventually inherited by Charles Wykeham Martin in 1821 who commissioned a survey from architect William Baskett.
The report that Wykeham Martin received was pretty awful. It turned out that the castle pretty much became a ruin in the decades after the death of Robert Fairfax.
After a 2-year renovation period, the “New Castle” was completed.
18. The renovations resulted in financial difficulties
because the huge investment that was needed to turn a castle that lay in ruins into a completely “New Castle,” resulted in severe financial difficulties for the Wykeham Martins.
His only solution to solve his financial problems was to sell the contents of the castle in auctions.
Nevertheless, nearly 100 years after the renovations and rebuilding, the Wykeham Martin family had to sell Leeds Castle in 1925.
19. The Castle was sold for £180,000
The final blow for the Wykeham Martin’s financial problems was having to pay death duties, which literally forced them to sell their property.
The buyer, which would turn out to be the last private owner of the castle, was Olive Cecilia Paget, better known as Lady Baillie, after her third marriage.
It was sold for a price of £180,000, which is the equivalent of £11.5 million according to the inflation calculator.
20. The interior was completely changed
What Lady Baillie bought, was a medieval castle. What she did was completely recreating the interior of the castle to her wishes.
To do so, she hired two architects. The first was the renowned art-deco architect Armand-Albert Rateau, who was experienced with creating designs for the social elite.
The second architect was Stephane Boudin, equally renowned and best known for his work in redecorating the White House at the request of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
The castle was transformed into a 20th century, luxurious mansion!
21. There were exotic animals running around in the garden
The 500 acres compound surrounding Leeds Castle also received a serious make-over as Lady Baillie didn’t sit still one moment.
Apart from, landscaping the garden, the construction of tennis courts, a squash court, and a swimming pool (which even had its own wage machine), she also created a little zoo with llamas and zebras running around.
22. The Castle was the scene of lavish house parties
Obviously, Lady Baillie didn’t spend so much money just for her own pleasures. She actually used the castle to invite notable people, including politicians, film stars, and even royalty.
She became one of the most popular hostesses of her time, and Leeds Castle became one of the most popular country houses in all of England, welcoming the likes of the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, Princess Marina, Queen Maria of Romania, Alfonso XIII of Spain and the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia.
She also loved films and invited movie stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Lili Damita, Robert Taylor, James Stewart, and Gertrude Lawrence.
23. Leeds Castle served as a hospital during WWII
A World War wasn’t something new for Lady Baillie, as she had served as a wartime nurse in 1918 at the end of World War I.
When World War II erupted, the Baillie family moved into the Gloriette apartments and the castle was used as a hospital.
One of the most notable events during World War II was the Retreat from Dunkirk, and many of the wounded soldiers who managed to return to England were treated at the castle, as well as burned Commonwealth airmen.
24. The Castle was donated to charity
Apart from being extremely hospitable during his lifetime, for royalty, statesmen, and wounded soldiers alike, Lady Baillie was noble after her death in 1974 as well.
She left Leeds Castle to the “Leeds Castle Foundation,” a private charity which has the aim of preserving the Castle and its grounds for the benefit of the public. The gardens were subsequently opened the following year in 1975.
This way, Lady Baillie’s lifework and legacy, the Leeds Castle, will remain on public display for future generations to enjoy, forever.
25. It was the host of some important talks
Even though its illustrious hostess had passed away, Leeds Castle has still been the host of some important meetings.
One of those was a meeting between the Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Karmel and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, along with Cyrus Vance of the US in preparation for the Camp David Accords, during which an important Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty would be signed.
The other was the Northern Ireland peace talks, which were led by then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair in 2004.
26. It’s featured in 3 movies
The Castle has been featured in 3 movies:
- Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
- The Moonrakers (1958)
- Walts of the Toreadors (1962)
Unsurprisingly, these have all been shot at the time Lady Baillie was still alive and was frequently hosting parties for movie stars.
27. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in England
Leeds Castle is filled with history and its gardens are immensely beautiful. Apart from being a famous tourist spot, it’s also used to host conferences, weddings and there’s even a golf club as well, along with multiple other attractions.
According to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, Leeds Castle receives nearly half a million visitors every year.
Leeds Castle is a spot to put on your bucket list right away!