Leeds Castle, Kent

(Originally published on our sister site: British-Castles.com)

Claiming to be the “loveliest castle in the world”, Leeds Castle in Kent (and, confusingly, nowhere near the city of Leeds in Yorkshire) is one of the most famous castles in England.

Appearing in the Domesday Book, Leeds Castle has been a stronghold for the Norman armies, a royal residence, and a royal palace occupied by kings and queens.

The location of the castle is nothing short of stunning, with it being situated on two islands in a beautiful lake. Here’s our guide:

Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle

History of Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle began life as a Royal Manor. Built in 857 AD, the manor was owned and lived in by a Saxon royal family. After the Normans invaded and conquered England they began construction on the original stone castle at the site of the manor.

The Castle became the royal palace of Edward I and Queen Eleanor in 1278. Edward made several improvements to the castle during his reign.

One notable thing from this time is the Barbican, which stands out because it is made up of three different parts. Each part of the Barbican has its own entrance, gateway, drawbridge, and portcullis. The Medieval Keep, which houses the Great Hall, is named the Gloriette in honor of Queen Eleanor.

King Edward II awarded the castle to his Royal Steward in 1321. When his wife Queen Isabella sought shelter at the castle she was turned away by the people. She was actually fired upon by the archers stationed at the castle.

Leeds Castle, Kent 1
Edward II

Needless to say, Edward was not happy about the situation. He laid siege to the castle and reclaimed it for himself and Isabella. Edward was murdered six years later, but Queen Isabela kept the castle until her own death in 1358.

Leeds Castle has housed six medieval queens in all during its history. It housed Queens Eleanor, Isabella, Philippa of Hainhault (and wife of Edward III), Joan of Navarre, Catherine de Valois, and Catherine of Aragon.

It also technically housed Elizabeth I. She was imprisoned in the castle for a time before her coronation and ascension to the throne. It’s thanks to this history of housing queens that the castle is also called the “Castle of Queens, Queen of Castles”.

Of all the kings and queens to have lived in the castle, perhaps none are more famous than Henry VIII.

Henry VIII transformed the castle for Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. While touring the castle be sure to keep a lookout for the Field of the Cloth of Gold; a painting that commemorates when King Henry VIII met King Francis I of France in 1520.

Leeds Castle, Kent 2
Catherine Of Aragon

The castle was later purchased and owned by the Culpeper family. This meant that the castle was not destroyed during the English Civil War because the Culpeper family sided with the Parliamentarians. It would later be used to house Dutch and French prisoners of war.

The last person to privately own the castle as a residence was Lady Baillie. She purchased the castle in 1926 and employed the services of French interior designers so that they might improve her new home and make it even better.

She dedicated much of her life to the restoration and improvement of the castle. It was her that set up the Leeds Castle Foundation too, to conserve the castle for years to come. Leeds Castle would be opened up to the public in 1976.

Visitors to the castle are welcome to enjoy the stunning architecture and landscaping of the grounds, which is set into a 500 acre landscape of parkland complete with a maze, grotto, vineyard, and aviary.

Leeds Castle Maze
Leeds Castle Maze

The maze is one of the most popular tourist attractions at the site, with a secret grotto tucked away at the center for anyone who can safely navigate their way through.


Staying at Leeds Castle

If you want to get the most out of your stay to the castle then you should consider staying for a night or two. This gives you a lot more time to enjoy the castle grounds and also allows access to the gardens when the castle isn’t open to the general public. Stay in the State Courtyard Bedroom and enjoy a full English breakfast served at the 17th century Fairfax Hall Restaurant.

Don’t feel like being treated like royalty? Want to try something different? The castle lets you experience the life of a knight with Knight’s Glamping. Stay under the stars in a luxurious four poster bed with cotton bedding and wake up ready to do battle on the morrow.

If you’re looking to stay at the castle for an extended period of time then try out one of the holiday cottages. These cottages house between 2 and 10 people. There are five of them in all across the property and they are all self-catering. Be sure to book yours ahead of time. Staying in the cottages means you are able to explore the grounds freely long after other guests leave.

One of the best things about visiting Leeds Castle is that tickets are valid for up to a year. You’re welcome to visit the grounds as many times as you want in that time. Think of it like every ticket is a season ticket.

During your stay be sure to have a hot air balloon flight, a ferry boat ride, a round of golf, and many of the other exciting activities that are fun for the whole family.


How to Get to Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle's Location
Leeds Castle’s Location

Leeds Castle is around 4 miles east of Maidstone.

It’s off Junction 8 of the M20 motorway and around an hour and a half from London – or half an hour from the Channel Ports and Channel Tunnel.


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