Leeds Castle gets its name from the ancient Saxon manor of Esledes recorded on this site in the Domesday Book of 1086. Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, many manors in Kent were fortified to remind the local people and any future invaders of the strength of the nobility. Construction of the first stone castle on this site began in 1119 by Robert de Crèvecoeur, a descendant of one of William II's (c.1066 - 1100) knights. Despite its heavily fortified appearance, the castle was not built primarily for defence. It was twice besieged when its residents offended the king, in 1139 and 1321, but otherwise saw little military action. Its great beauty is not accidental. The area surrounding the castle was carefully designed and included raised viewing points from which the building could be seen at its best. The convenient position between the strategically important cities of London and Dover, as well as its proximity to good hunting lands, may have led to the castle's continued popularity after it passed into Royal hands.
In 1278 the castle was bought by Queen Eleanor of Castile (1241 - 1290), wife of King Edward I (1237 - 1307), and the basic shape of the castle you see today emerged. You are standing on the site of the Barbican, a fortified tower, designed to be the main entrance to the castle and a
key defence to protect the water supply to the moat and the watermill. The Barbican had three entrances, each with its own drawbridge, gateway and portcullis.
The castle was owned by six medieval queens and remained in royal hands until Tudor times. It was then owned by related families: the Culpepers in the 17th century; the Fairfaxes in the 18th century; and the Wykeham Martins in the 19th century. In 1926 it was bought by an Anglo-American heiress, the Hon. Olive Wilson Filmer, later to become Lady Baillie (1899 - 1974). She undertook extensive renovations and used the castle as her country house, entertaining the rich and famous for nearly fifty years. She left the castle to a charitable trust that is now responsible for its preservation. It looks today mostly as it did in Lady Baillie's day.
( photo captions )
- The 13th century Mill, Barbican and Gatehouse
- Queen Eleanor of Castille
- The 2nd Lord Culpeper
- Catherine, Lady Fairfax
- Charles Wykeham Martin
- Lady Baillie