Leeds Castle from medieval times through the Roaring Twenties and beyond, what often has been called the most beautiful castle in England was home to some of the country’s most important and influential kings, queens, lords, and ladies.
If the storied stone walls of Leeds Castle could speak, they would tell a tale rich with the fascinating history of the royalty and notable families who have called this regal residence home. Built nearly nine hundred years ago in a valley of the River Len, near Kent, England, the beautifully restored castle is a trove of antiques, art, and history. It was home to six queens, a palace of Henry VIII, and an escape for the glamorous and powerful.
The majestic structure first belonged to one of William the Conqueror’s lords, Robert de Crevecoeur. In 1278, the castle became the palace of Edward I, and it remained a royal dwelling for the next three hundred years. One of Leeds’s most infamous residents, Henry VIII, used the castle as a staging post en route to Paris. Although it was not their permanent home, Henry and his queen, Catherine of Aragon, transformed the residential tower—called the Gloriette—into a magnificent castle rivaling the opulent estates of France.
By 1552, the power of English royalty had diminished, and the Crown had no further need for Leeds. Several notable English families successively owned the estate until 1926, when Hon. Olive, Lady Baillie, an American heiress, bought the sprawling residence. Leeds Castle was a great source of passion for her—in the mid-1920s, she commissioned a complete internal reconstruction of the Gloriette. Each room was painstakingly restored and decorated by two preeminent French designers.
In the Queen’s Room, ruby-colored damask bed linens and emerald-hued wall hangings are adorned with the monogram “HC,” symbolizing onetime residents King Henry V and his wife, Catherine de Valois. In the next room is a canopied and linen-lined bathtub—the height of the canopy denoted the elevated rank of the queen.
Lady Baillie’s bedroom, paneled in vivid cornflower blue, is the creation of French designer Stéphane Boudin. He conceived it as a French bedroom in the Régence style of the early eighteenth century and installed boiserie, or paneling, which conceals several doors.
The New Castle, a section of Leeds reconstructed in 1822, includes a pine-paneled sitting room, a dining room, and twenty-one luxuriously appointed bedrooms available to visitors attending conferences and events at the castle. Perhaps one of the loveliest rooms in the New Castle is the library. Once used as a schoolroom for Lady Baillie’s daughters, as well as a dining room, the shelves are filled with volumes from the libraries of both Lady Baillie and her father. In the 1930s, the castle was known as one of the great homes of England, where Lady Baillie played hostess to politicians, film stars, ambassadors, and foreign royalty.
Toward the end of her life, she established the Leeds Castle Foundation to ensure that visitors from all over the world could enjoy the castle. Leeds and its surrounding park were bequeathed to the foundation after Lady Baillie’s death in 1974, and, since then, the organization has strived to preserve the castle and the park for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.