-or even six of them ...
Not only is Leeds Castle a romantic ruin in a superb setting - sometimes described as the loveliest castle in the world - and so a 'must-visit' spot on any tourist or historical itinerary, it has a particular attraction for me as a writer of medieval historical fiction. During its time as a medieval royal residence, Leeds Castle has been home to at least six queens of England.
Why? Because Leeds Castle became part of the Queen of England's dower, granted to her on her marriage to give her future security in the case of her husband the King predeceasing her.
Situated in Kent, near Maidstone, the original castle was probably a simple motte and bailey construction of wood and earth, but a more formidable stronghold was built in 1119 by Robert de Crevecoeur.
Its importance in history began when it fell into royal hands in 1278 when King Edward I took over. It soon became - not surprisingly - one of his favourite residences and he made much investment there, creating the beautiful setting that it enjoys today. It is thought that Edward was the man who created the lake which surrounds the castle, linking the three islands in the River Len with a causeway. For the pleasure of his beloved wife Eleanor of Castile, he built a gloirette - a D shaped tower with residential apartments - on the smallest of the three islands, giving magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. I am sure they enjoyed living there during the summer months although I imagine it would be incredibly damp in winter.
So who were the Queens who spent time there?
- Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, for whom most of the early improvements were made. She is the Eleanor of the crosses, marking her final journey in death from Lincoln to her burial in Westminster abbey.
- Margaret of France, Edward I's second wife. She was only 20 when she married him, and he was 60, but when she was widowed 8 year later she never remarried, saying 'when Edward died, all men died for me.'
- Isabella of France, wife to Edward II. After his death in 1327 and her fall from grace when her son Edward III took control of England, she lived primarily at Leeds castle.
- Anne of Bohemia, the 15 year old bride of Richard II spent the winter of 1381 at the castle on her way to be married to the youthful king.
- Henry VIII transformed the castle with much new building in 1519 for his first wife Catherine of Aragon. They stayed at Leeds together, with the entire English Court, on their way to the Field of the Cloth of Gold to sign the treaty with Francis I of France. The wood and plaster work here in the courtyard looks to be a Tudor addition but the stonework is old enough for the castle's medieval beginnings.
And my own particular interest in Leeds Castle? It was the home of two of my favourite ladies, both of whom appear in my new novel for 2013, The Forbidden Queen:
- Joanna of Navarre, second wife to Henry IV and step mother to Henry V.
- Katherine de Valois, wife to Henry V and Owen Tudor.
This room is set out at the Queen's room as it might have been in Katherine's day. Isn't it magnificent?
Joanna was imprisoned at Leeds for witchcraft - a spurious accusation for which there was no evidence but which enabled Henry to get his hands on her dower to pay for the increasingly expensive war in France. This was not Henry at his best! Joanna was released just before Henry's death. I doubt that she enjoyed her enforced stay at Leeds.
As for Katherine, she was not always free to visit Leeds, condemned as she was to live in the household of her son, the boy king Henry VI, after her unwise association with Edmund Beaufort. But after her demand for independence and her subsequent marriage to Owen Tudor, I imagine they spent much time together there in so idyllic a setting.
The Queen's bathroom. What Queen could do without one?
What a rich sense of history this castle has. Is it possible that the spirit of any of these royal inhabitants still lingers in this lovely place? Not than anyone has noticed. But it is said that a large black dog haunts the ruins, a monstrous creature associated with Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, (married to the brother of Henry V) who was tried and convicted of necromancy, witchcraft, heresy and treason. She was held prisoner at Leeds for a short time before her trial. Perhaps her unsettling presence caused the black dog to roam the ruins.
Black dogs notwithstanding, I like to think that the shades of Katherine and Owen still walk the ruins together on a summer evening, hand in hand. Perhaps they even walk together through this splendid doorway ...
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