A ROYAL CASTLE
13th to 15th Centuries
When Eleanor of Castile bought Leeds Castle in 1278 it began both the long royal ownership of the Castle and its association with six Queens of England. Many alterations and improvements were made during this period.
Queen Eleanor of Castile
The revetment wall surrounding the larger island dates from Eleanor’s time. It originally rose some 10 metres straight up from the water and was reinforced by D-shaped bastion towers. These towers can still be seen, although only one on the north-east corner retains its original height, whilst the others have since been lowered to the height of the adjoining walls.
The building on the smaller island was developed during this period into the structure that can be seen today.
It begins to be referred to in records as the Gloriette, from the Spanish term for a pavilion at the intersection of pathways in a garden – the influence of the Spanish-born Eleanor at work.
Although the original interior layout of the Gloriette has been lost, it is very likely that a Chapel was in the approximate location of where the current one sits.
1290 - 1299
King Edward I
Following his wife’s death, Edward inherited the castle and continued improving the defences and more domestic aspects of the buildings. The bath house that sits underneath the walls of the bailey and adjacent to the Maidens’ Tower dates from this period and was reputedly created for him as he had greatly enjoyed the practice of regular bathing whilst on Crusade in the Holy Land.
Queen Margaret of France
In 1299 in order to improve his fraught relationship with France, Edward married the French princess Margaret, sister of Philip IV. He granted Leeds Castle to his new wife, beginning the tradition of the Castle forming part of the ‘dower’ or personal property of the Queen, to be retained even after the King’s death.
King Edward II and Bartholomew de Badlesmere
After his mother’s death, Edward II did not immediately grant the Castle to his Queen, instead he granted it to a nobleman named Badlesmere, who sealed his unfortunate fate by refusing Queen Isabella access when she requested it. Edward laid siege and captured the Castle and had Badlesmere beheaded.
Following Edward’s deposition and murder in 1327, Isabella ensured that the Castle passed into her control and she held it until her death in 1358.
King Edward III
Like his father before him, Edward did not grant the Castle to his Queen, Philippa of Hainault. He retained ownership and made improvements to the buildings such as new outer gates with two portcullises, a new drawbridge and also refurbished the royal apartments in the Gloriette.
King Richard II and Queen Anne of Bohemia
Richard followed tradition and granted Leeds Castle to his Queen in 1382. Anne spent the Christmas before her wedding at Leeds Castle and she and Richard were regular visitors. After her untimely death of plague in 1394, Richard came back to the Castle several times, using it for state business as well as leisure. In 1395 the French historian Jean Froissart visited the English court, then in residence at Leeds, and wrote a description in his Chronicles of the ‘beautiful Palace in Kent called Leeds Castle.
Lady Joan de Mohun and Sir John Norbury
After Anne’s death, the Castle was granted to private individuals for a short period of time, until King Henry IV came to the throne and once again upheld tradition by giving Leeds Castle to his Queen.
Queen Joan of Navarre
Joan married Henry in 1403 and was immediately given the Castle. With the King’s permission, she in turn gave it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, in 1412. The inventory of all his holdings made at the archbishop’s death in 1414 gives us a fairly clear account of how the Castle was organised. At the north end of the larger island stood the great hall, with a chapel and other domestic buildings; at the other end was an inner gatehouse holding the buttery, bake-house, pantry and kitchens. Between the outer wall and the inner wall was a deep ditch, and the Castle was surrounded by a wide moat. Beyond the south-eastern entrance causeway, the valley of the Len could be flooded to create yet another barrier if danger threatened – although in fact Leeds Castle was never again besieged.
King Henry V was the step son of Queen Joan, and initially he treated her well, but in time he turned against her. In 1419 she was charged with plotting the King’s death by witchcraft by ‘the most high and horrible means’. She was deprived of all her revenues and imprisoned, first at Leeds Castle, and then in solitary confinement at Pevensey Castle. Shortly before Henry’s death however, it seems that the King had had a change of heart; Joan returned to Leeds Castle in March 1422 under much milder conditions, and in July she was freed and all her property restored to her. Her wardrobe book, detailing her expenditure during the four months she spent at Leeds Castle, survives as part of the castle archive and gives an account of the day-to-day activities of Joanne and her small entourage.
Queen Catherine de Valois
Henry V died in 1422 and bequeathed Leeds Castle to his young Queen as part of a much larger inheritance. Catherine was the youngest daughter of Charles VI of France and mother to the infant Henry VI, and she held the Castle until her death in 1437. Her grandson by her second marriage was Henry Tudor, who in 1485 became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor dynasty.