In 1139 the castle was besieged and taken by Stephen of Blois who, after the death of Henry I, ascended the throne in place of Henry’s daughter Matilda. The de Crèvecoeur family soon regained control of Leeds, and building work continued spasmodically through the 12th and into the 13th centuries. Some remnants of this can be traced in details such as the medieval two-light window at the end of the Banqueting Hall, and the simple arch within the outer arch of the gatehouse which marks the site of the original gates.
In the mid-13th century, the owner of the castle, William de Leyburn, fell into debt, despite his years of loyal service to both Henry III and Edward I. In 1278, the caslte was bought by Eleanor of Castile (1241 –1290), the first queen consort of King Edward I of England (1239 –1307). Then it began both the long royal ownership of Leeds Castle and its association with six queens of England. As a favoured residence of Edward's, Leeds Castle saw considerable investment. The king enhanced its defences, and it was probably Edward who created the lake which surrounds the castle. A barbican spanning three islands was also built. Leeds Castle was also fitted with accommodation fit for royalty: between 1278 and 1290, a "Gloriette" with apartments for the king and queen were added.Eleanor died in 1290. In 1299, in order to improve his fraught relationship with France, Edward married the French princess Margaret, sister of Philip IV. Edward and Margaret spent their honeymoon at Leeds, and only a few weeks later he made a grant of the castle to his new queen. This marks the beginning of the tradition that saw the castle forming part of the ‘dower’, or personal property to be retained after the king’s death, of several queens of England.
Following Edward’s deposition and murder in 1327, Queen Isabella ensured that Leeds passed into her control and she held it until her death in 1358, when it again reverted to the king, Isabella’s son Edward III. During his reign, the royal apartments in the Gloriette were refurbished. New outer gates, with two portcullises and a drawbridge, were also built.
Anne spent the winter of 1381 at the castle on her way to be married to the king. After her untimely death of plague in 1394, Richard came back to the castle several times, using it for state business as well as for 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’.
Henry IV followed tradition and gave Leeds castle to his second wife, Joan of Navarre, in 1403, soon after their marriage. In 1412, with the king’s permission, she in turn granted Leeds to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel.
Henry V initially treated Joan of Navarre, his stepmother, 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 in Leeds, and then in solitary confinement in Pevensey Castle. Shortly before his death, however, it seems that the king had a change of heart; Joan returned to Leeds in March 1422 under much milder conditions, and in July she was freed and all her property restored to her.
Henry V died in August 1422, bequeathing Leeds Castle, as part of a much larger inheritance, to his widow Catherine de Valois, youngest daughter of Charles VI of France and mother of the infant Henry VI. 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.
Major alterations to the castle were undertaken between 1517–1523, on the orders of Henry VIII (1509–1547). The castle was transformed from fortified stronghold to magnificent royal palace for the use of King Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
In 1552, after nearly 300 years in royal ownership, Leeds was granted to Sir Anthony St Leger, of Ulcombe near Leeds, for a yearly rental of £10, in recompense for his services to Henry VIII in subjugating the uprising in Ireland. It remained in the St Leger family until 1618, when they faced financial disaster through their involvement with Sir Walter Raleigh’s ill-fated expedition to discover the legendary gold of El-Dorado, and were forced to sell the castle to a wealthy relation, Sir Richard Smythe. Although the Smythes owned Leeds for less than 20 years, selling it to the Culpeper family in 1632, they left a clear signature. Sir Richard ordered the demolition of all surviving buildings at the north end of the main island and the construction there of a large house in the prevailing Jacobean style.
This is a file from the www.castles.org
Unlike many aristocratic homes, Leeds was left relatively undamaged during the Civil War because the then owner, Sir Cheney Culpeper, alone of his family supported the parliamentarians. Although financially ruined at the Restoration in 1660, he continued to live at the castle until his death in 1663, when his creditors sold it to a royalist kinsman, Thomas, 2nd Lord Culpeper, whose father had been rewarded for his loyalty to the crown with the grant of more than five million acres of land in Virginia.This established the castle’s link with America, a connection that has had a significant influence to this day.
Leeds suffered major damage during the 1660s, when Lord Culpeper leased the castle to the government as a place of detention for French and Dutch prisoners of war. The prisoners, which were kept in the Gloriette, set fire to their accommodation, causing destruction which would not be repaired until the next major building programme in 1822.
By the end of the 17th century the castle and the Virginian estates had passed into the hands of the Fairfax family, through Catherine Culpeper’s marriage to Thomas, 5th Lord Fairfax, in 1690.
In 1693, at Leeds Castle, was born their son, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.
In 1745, Thomas Fairfax, sailed to Virginia for managing his estates and settled there for life.On Thomas Fairfax’s departure to America, Leeds passed to his brother Robert. The castle was owned by Robert Fairfax for 46 years until 1793 when it eventually passed on to the Wykeham Martins. Sale of the family estates in Virginia released a large sum of money that allowed extensive repair and remodelling of the castle in a more appropriate Tudor style, completed in 1823, that resulted in the appearance seen today.
This is a file from the www.leeds-castle.com
The last private owner of the castle was the Hon. Olive, Lady Baillie, a daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough, and his first wife, Pauline Payne Whitney, an American heiress. Lady Baillie bought the castle in 1926. She redecorated the interior, first working with the French architect and designer Armand-Albert Rateau (who also oversaw exterior alterations as well as adding interior features such as a 16th century-style carved-oak staircase) and then, later, with the Paris decorator Stéphane Boudin. During the early part of World War II Leeds was used as a hospital where Lady Baillie and her daughters hosted Commonwealth airmen as part of their recovery. Survivors remember the experience with fondness to this day. Upon her death in 1974, Lady Baillie left the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds for the benefit of the public.
The castle was opened to the public in 1976.
On 17 July 1978, the castle was the site of a meeting between the Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Karmel and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Cyrus Vance of the USA in preparation for the Camp David Accords. The castle also hosted the Northern Ireland peace talks held in September 2004 led by Tony Blair.
In 1998 Leeds Castle was one of 57 heritage sites in England to receive more than 200,000 visitors. According to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, in 2010, nearly 560,000 people visited Leeds Castle.
This article is based mainly on the materials of websites: www.leeds-castle.com, en.wikipedia.org and www.castles.me.uk.