This splendid looking stone castle conjures up the romantic ideals of a chivalrous medieval past.
Back in the year 856 ‘The Manor of Leeds’ was the possession of the Saxon King, Ethelbert IV and it is thought a local Thane Esldes or Leeds built a timber fort here on a rocky outcrop in the valley of the River Len. Another version of the origin of the castle’s name is from the Saxon manor of Esledes,
which later passed to the house of Godwin.
In 1090 King William II (Rufus) granted Leeds castle to his cousin, Hamon de Crevecour but it was not until 1119 that Robert de Crevecour began to rebuild in stone.The early building records are rather vague but Robert, at this time, does seem to have initiated the construction of the stone keep where the Gloriette now stands, as well as two stone towers along the perimeter which have since vanished. The castle mill, which pre-dates the Doomsday survey, was probably incorporate into the defences, by the outer gate at this time, and it is here that a drawbridge was built.
By 1278, it became the property of King Edward I who thought of it as a favoured residence which was probably the reason for rebuilding much of the castle, constructing an outer curtain wall around the edge of the island, with cylindrical, open backed flanking towers and a water gate to the south east. The gatehouse at the south west was also improved and this gatehouse led out, via a drawbridge, to a smaller island on which the Gloriette was built. At this time Mathew the mason was in charge of works. Over the next twenty years only minor works were carried out.
In 1321, while the castle’s constable was away, his wife Margaret de Clare had an altercation with King Edward II’s consort, Isabella of France. Margaret had refused to admit her into the castle after Isabella had tried to force an entry, killing 6 of the consort’s party. Margaret was later arrested
by the king and taken to the Tower of London.
When the castle came into the possession of Edward III in 1354, a new building programme was initiated, in which the royal master mason Henry Yevele was involved. This work was to carry on
until the end of Edward’s reign, costing over £1,500.
King Richard II’s first wife Anne of Bohemia spent the winter of 1381 here on her way to be married to him and in 1519 King Henry VIII transformed the castle for his first wife Catherine of Aragon.
The castle escaped the usual slighting during the Civil War because the then owner, Sir Cheney Culpeper sided with the Parliamentarians.
Today it is privately owned and is open to the public.
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