Our central pageant figure of these early years is Bishop Odo, half-brother of William the Conqueror and owner of the manor house that would become Leeds Castle. It was he who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry and was noted in the Domesday book for owning 1,000s of pigs. Look out for banners, colours, characters, music and plenty of horses representing the age.
The first of six medieval queens to live at Leeds Castle, Queen Eleanor went on Crusade with her husband Edward I and on her return bought Leeds Castle in 1278. Eleanor Crosses are held to symbolise King Edward’s grief on the death of his beloved wife. Look out for wild heraldic beasts rearing up, crusaders and symbols of undying love.
Our focus is on Queen Isabella – known as the She Wolf of France - rumoured to be behind the death of her husband Edward II. For many years she remained loyal to him but eventually she rounded up a mercenary army and forced Edward to abdicate. A piece especially commissioned for the She Wolf of France will be sung by RiverVoice as they process alongside horses and carnival costumes representing this brave queen.
We tell the tale of Joan of Navarre – who became Queen Joan when she married her second husband Henry IV and was given Leeds Castle. In 1419 she was charged with plotting the death of her stepson, King Henry V, by witchcraft - ‘the most high and horrible means’. The carnival parade takes a positively magical turn in this Century.
Our central figure is Henry VIII. Henry owned the Castle and transformed it from a fortified stronghold to a magnificent royal palace. In 1520 Henry stayed here with Queen Katherine of Aragon and a huge retinue of over 5000 people, on their way to the famous Field of the Cloth of Gold meeting in France. Look out for Tudor magnificence parading past and a fantastical beast!
Sir Thomas Culpeper, a Parliamentarian (or Roundhead), owned Castle around the time of the English Civil war and leased it to the Crown as a prison for Dutch Prisoners of war following an unsuccessful attempt to invade England. The diarist John Evelyn was charged with responsibility for the prisoners, who set fire to the Gloriette at the back of the Castle in an attempt to escape, but all perished. Listen out for drums and trumpets as Cavaliers and Roundheads troop past, alongside the heraldic Dutch ‘lion’ symbolising those who perished here.
By the 18th century the Castle passed into the hands of the Fairfax family who determined to improve its looks. The exterior of the old Jacobean house was embellished with then fashionable ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic’ features to the windows and door surrounds, transforming its appearance. In 1745, their son, the 6th Lord Fairfax, sailed for Virginia to manage his estates - the first English peer to settle in the US for life. Lord Fairfax joins the cavalcade along with the emblem of America and a bit of US razzle dazzle, plus visual expressions of the style of Leeds Castle at that time.
In 1822 the castle owner and MP Fiennes Wykeham Martin, MP, rebuilt the castle. This was the era across the country of the development of formal gardens at stately homes, and we use the imagery of the flowers and gardens, butterflies and white swans to portray the new beginnings of Leeds Castle. A beautiful floral feel takes over the procession with hints of quirky Victoriana.
The last private owner of the Castle was an Anglo-American heiress, Lady Baillie. During the Second World War the grounds were used as a military hospital, but at other times she entertained the jet set and kept exotic birds, introducing the black swan, peacocks and an aviary of brightly coloured species. Expect to see Lady Baillie come by with her menagerie, plus memories of WWII.