Secrets of Great British Castles

Leeds Castle

Season 2, Episode 5 of 6

Dan Jones is in the southeast of the country, at an idyllic castle owned once by six medieval Queens and an American heiress: Leeds Castle. He explores why Leeds Castle is nicknamed the "Ladies Castle" and through the castle's history discovers that it isn't quite as genteel as it sounds. Leeds Castle was originally the site of a royal Saxon family's manor. It was a Norman stronghold before becoming a Royal palace, home for 300 years to the Kings and Queens of England. It was the private property of six medieval queens; a palace of Henry VIII; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; and an elegant 20th-century retreat for the rich and famous. It has been besieged, imprisoned 'witches' and witnessed a clandestine love affair that sparked the Tudor dynasty. In 1139 the castle had its first encounter with royal politics when, held by Empress Matilda's supporters, it was besieged by King Stephen. The castle fell and the King took control of it. Jones visits a royal bath house at Leeds Castle built by Edward II for Queen Eleanor and meets an historian who gives him insight into medieval hygiene and bathing habits. Jones also meets a Food Historian at Hampton Court Palace who shows him what Henry VIII and his court would have eaten at the famous meeting with Francis I in France called the 'Field of the Cloth of Gold.' He samples some delicious spit roasted meats as well as more unusual Tudor sweets. In the 20th century Leeds Castle was bought by Lady Baillie, who completely restored the fabric and structure of the castle. Lady Baillie lived longer at Leeds Castle than any other owner in history and made it one of the great houses of England. It became a center of lavish hospitality for leading politicians, ambassadors, international royalty and film stars.

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