Leeds Castle

 Leeds Castle

Location: 4 miles (6.5 km) Southeast of Maidstone, Kent  Map

Constructed: 1119
Tel. 01622 765400
Open: 10am- 5pm daily
Closed: for concerts, 25 December


Description of Leeds Castle

The moated Leeds Castle is located about six kilometers south-east of Maidstone and thus in the heart of the English county of Kent. The castle and its grounds are named after the small village of Leeds to which they adjoin. This village should not be confused with the large city of Leeds, some 300 kilometers to the north.

Leeds Castle was mentioned in the Domesday Book of King William the Conqueror. It has been successively used over the centuries as a Norman fortress, the residence of six medieval queens, the palace of Henry VIII and a haven for the rich and powerful. In the more than 1000 years of its existence, the castle has survived many battles, accommodated powerful statesmen and inspired numerous artists. Today it is managed by the Leeds Castle Foundation and is the destination of many thousands of people seeking relaxation every year.



857: The history of Leeds Castle begins in 857 with the building of a royal mansion called Esledes. It was owned by the Anglo-Saxon royal family during the reign of King Ethelbert of Wessex.
1278: Under Edward I, who greatly enlarged and modernized the building, Leeds Castle began its long tenure as a royal palace in 1278.
1321: When King Edward II's wife, Isabella of France, took refuge in Leeds Castle one night in 1321, she was refused entry. The royal tour company was even shot at by archers from inside the castle. However, the king immediately took revenge for the hostile reception of his queen and besieged the castle with catapult-like throwing devices, so-called ballistas. A few years after Edward's death, Queen Isabella was granted the castle until her death in 1358.
In 1395 King Richard II received the French poet and historian Jean Froissart at Leeds Castle, an encounter which Froissart described in his chronicles.
In 1403 Leeds Castle became the residence of Queen Joan of Navarre (c. 1370-1437), the second wife of King Henry IV, who was not particularly popular with the English people. Joan was later accused of plotting to murder her stepson, King Henry V , but acquitted after four years in prison. Since that time, Leeds Castle has had the reputation of being a women's castle.
In 1520 Leeds Castle fell to what is arguably its most famous royal owner, King Henry VIII. He spent enormous sums remodeling the castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536).
1660: The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 marked the beginning of the American chapter in Leeds Castle's history that continues to this day. King Charles II granted Lord Culpeper over 5 million acres of land in what was then the British colony of Virginia for helping the exiled royal family. Lord Culpeper's son bought the castle and leased it to the government as a prison for French and Dutch prisoners of war. The prisoners set fire to the Gloriette, causing damage that was not repaired until 1822.
In 1690 the castle and grounds passed into the possession of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. Leeds Castle remained in the family for over 100 years until the death of Robert Fairfax, 7th Lord Fairfax of Cameron in 1793.
1793 Leeds Castle passed to various distant relatives of the Fairfaxes but was little maintained for the next 30 years. Architect William Baskett wrote a devastating account of the condition of the buildings in 1821: the mill and barbican were in ruins, the gatehouse and inner gatehouse were in a state of disrepair, the Maiden's Tower was in imminent danger of collapse, the Jacobean The main house fell into disrepair and the Gloriette was more or less a ruin.
1821 The current owner, Fiennes Wykeham Martin, decided to undertake various renovations and alterations. The resulting new castle, which has not changed much from the outside to this day, was completed in 1823
1926: Leeds Castle was in a state of disrepair after several changes of ownership and had been completely empty for two years when it was bought by wealthy American couple Arthur Wilsen Filmer and his wife Olive Cecilia Paget. Olive Cecilia Paget became known as Lady Baillie after divorcing Arthur Wilsen Filmer and marrying Sir Adrian William Maxwell Baillie. For the rest of her life, Lady Baillie spent much of her inheritance restoring the castle and associated buildings, as well as the park and grounds.
1930s: Lady Baillie was known as a hostess. The Baillies lived in London during the week and held lavish house parties at Leeds Castle at the weekends.
1939: After the start of the Second World War, parts of the castle were used as a hospital. Many of the wounded of the expeditionary forces who were repatriated after the Dunkirk withdrawal were treated at Leeds Castle. Additional premises were used for the rehabilitation of severely burned pilots who were treated by well-known surgeons and plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe at East Grinstead Hospital. At the same time, however, secret weapon research with incendiary weapons was also carried out on the palace grounds. The Minister in charge of this work, Geoffrey Lloyd, was a regular visitor during Lady Baillie's lifetime and later became the first Chairman of the Leeds Castle Foundation.
In 1949, the castle was used as a backdrop for the British film Nobility Obliged, in which Alec Guinness played eight different roles.
1976: On her death in 1974, Lady Baillie bequeathed the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds for the public. The castle was opened to the public in 1976.


Leeds Castle today

Leeds Castle and the grounds and gardens surrounding it are now a major leisure center in the county of Kent. On the grounds there are various bird houses, a golf course, a maze and the only dog collar museum in the world. It is also a regular venue for outdoor concerts featuring notable artists and an annual hot air balloon spectacle. In 2019, Leeds Castle was visited by around 540,000 people.

It belongs to the Treasure Houses of England consortium.