This episode is dedicated to the remarkable last private owner of Leeds Castle, Olive, Lady Baillie, and the sophisticated mid-20th Century style she brought to “the loveliest castle in the world”, as the historian Lord Conway called it. Although she avoided public attention, you will certainly have heard of the many famous weekend guests she welcomed here: Hollywood stars, royalty and some of the greatest politicians of the day.
Henry VIII is in peak condition, he’s 29, sporty, good looking, charming, musical, and possibly still in a loving relationship with Catherine of Aragon. They descend on one of their treasured homes, Leeds Castle, with a party of 5,000 to prepare for a landmark event in 16th Century European politics: the first momentous meeting between Henry and the equally dashing King of France, Francis 1st, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais. It’s a masterpiece in event planning by Henry’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.
This third episode is packed with intrigue, violence and summary executions, capturing the turbulent few weeks when this now peaceful corner of Kent was at the epicentre of the struggle for power in England between the weak, cash-strapped Edward II and a coalition of angry rebel barons.
It’s the remarkable and often overlooked Eleanor of Castile who’s the star of this episode, not her famously ruthless husband, Edward I. She not only transformed a standard Norman motte and bailey structure into the elegant castle we know today; she brought some much-needed civilisation to the English court and established a precedent for women (ok, queens) to become major property owners in their own right.
In this first episode, you are invited to travel back to the time of William the Conqueror and Domesday and learn how major conflicts left their mark on the Leeds estate: Normans versus Anglo-Saxons, Stephen versus Matilda, the Crown versus the Barons, and Henry I versus a plateful of lampreys.