Leeds Castle: One of Britain's Greatest National Treasures

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Set in Kent's beautiful parkland, Leeds Castle is a brilliant blend of heritage and history that transports visitors into a whole new world.
    Leeds Castle, named after Led, the chief minister of King Etelbert IV of Kent, is located four miles southeast of Maidstone, Kent, England.  It was built in 1119 by Robert De Crevecoeur, a descendent of one of William the Conqueror's lords, on the site of the previous Saxon manor of Esledes.  To this day, Leeds Castle is known as one of Great Britain's greatest landmarks.

     In 1278, the castle became the royal palace for King Edward I of England.  It was during this period that many additions were made to the castle, including the outer fortifications, made up of three parts, the fortified mill, and the moat.  Each of these parts had its own drawbridge, gate-house, and portcullis.

     Once in royal hands, Leeds Castle became part of the dower of the Queen of England, which was the settlement that widowed queens received upon the death of their husbands. Leeds Castle was held by six medieval queens over the course of 150 years: Eleanor of Castile, Margaret of France, Isabella of France, Joan of Navarre, Anne of Bohemia, and lastly, Catherine de Valois.

The front of Leeds Castle (Image Source)

     Henry VIII entirely redecorated the castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, spending large sums of money on improvements.  It was said that they visited frequently.  Henry son's King Edward VI, who ruled briefly, gave the castle in 1552 to Sir Anthony St. Leger, one of Henry's courtiers and the Lord Deputy of Ireland.  In 1632, the Smyths, the successors of Sir Anthony St. Leger, sold the castle to the Culpeper family.  The castle escaped destruction during the English Civil War due to the fact that the Culpeper family sided with the Parliamentarians.  It was during this time that the castle became a military arsenal.

     Leeds Castle has been constantly inhabited and rebuilt since, most of the castle today resulting from various 19th century reconstructions and additions.  The last private owner of the castle was Lady Baillie, who bought the castle in 1926.  It was under her direction that many medieval paintings, tapestries, ceramics, and furnishings were added to the castle.  By her will, the Leeds Castle Foundation was created to maintain the castle, garden, and park for the benefit of the public.  Leeds Castle was opened up to the public in 1976.

     Leeds Castle and its 500 acre grounds are now a leisure destination in the heartland of Kent.  The most popular attractions of the grounds are the grotto and the hedge maze.  The maze was constructed in 1988, using 2,400 yew trees, while the grotto can only be accessed by completing the maze.  Another interesting aspect of the grounds is the fact there is a sundial, that because of Thomas Fairfax, the 6th Lord of Fairfax, that shows the time in Fairfax, Virginia, and a sundial in Fairfax, Virginia that tells the time in Leeds Castle.

     The castle itself is open to visitors year round, except on the 3rd of July, 6th and 7th of November, and Christmas Day.

    

An aerial view of Leeds Castle (Image Source)

View of Leeds Castle from the moat (Image Source)

Another view of Leeds Castle from the moat (Image Source)

The main dining hall at Leeds Castle (Image Source)

The famed reading room at Leeds Castle (Image Source)

The Leeds Castle maze (Image Source)

© 2010 Gregory Markov

This article is part of the series "Britain's Greatest National Treasures" and "Famous and Historic Palaces." Read More On:

Blenheim Palace: One of Britain's Greatest National Treasures

13 Remarkable and Historic Palaces in England

10 Famous and Historic Palaces in Russia

Sources and Additional References

Cover Photo

Leeds Castle Homepage

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About This Article

Gregory Tarleton-Markov
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