Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A royal visit to Leeds Castle: Henry VIII and the Field of Cloth of Gold

On this day in 1520 King Henry VIII stayed at Leeds Castle with Queen Catherine of Aragon and an entourage of 5000 people. This was the best-documented royal visit to Leeds Castle and was a stop off between Greenwich and northern France for a ceremonial meeting with Francis I of France. This meeting became known from its magnificence as the Field of Cloth of Gold and was part of unsuccessful diplomatic attempts by Francis to woo the English away from their alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

King Henry VIII travelled from London to Dover with an entourage of 3,997 people set out from Greenwich Palace on Sunday 21 May, 1520 and reached Leeds Castle on Monday 22nd May on the way to France. Queen Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, travelled in the same cavalcade accompanied by a personal suite numbering 1,175. Obviously not all of this vast concourse would have found quarters in the Castle, but the King, Cardinal Wolsey and nine other Bishops would have.  The entire upper floor of this part of the Castle was exclusively reserved for the Queen and her closest household staff, indeed the fireplaces decorated with her royal coat-of-arms and the symbols of Castile, a castle and a pomegranate, remain to this day.

At the time, Sir Henry Guildford was the Constable of the Guard at Leeds and as such was responsible for preparing the Castle for the King’s visit. It was his job to ensure food and sleeping places for everyone. He was paid £66-3s-3D (approx. £25,500 in today’s money). And given that the King had already paid some £860 for the necessary repairs and alterations to the Castle, the visit was an expensive undertaking; especially considering the Royal party only stayed for one night before moving on to Dover Castle. 

From the castle, they moved to Charing for their next night’s stay.  They reached Canterbury on the 25th of May, from where they moved on to Dover, before proceeding to France on the 31st of May, probably on board the flagship of the fleet, the ‘Henri Grace de Dieu’, or ‘Great Harry’.

Embarkation from Dover
Henry VIII rested in Priory while all the 27 ships were loaded, sailed across to France, unloaded, returned and reloaded. The hulls of the ships were too deep to come right inshore and so, small rowing boats were used to take the people to the ships, and they then had to climb up rope ladders to get on board. Once on board they hung their coats of arms on the side of the ship. This represented the passenger list and was a record of who was on which ship.

A copy of the painting of the “Embarkation from Dover” hangs in the Henry VIII Banqueting Hall at Leeds Castle. Henry VIII commissioned the paintings and in all probability the artist had not even visited Dover. They were pained around 1540, at least 20 years after the event.

The Field of Cloth of Gold
The kings spent huge amounts of money, wanting to outshine the other. Tents for people to stay in were made of gold cloth and there were wresting competitions, fountains which ran with wine, jousting tournaments, and much feasting and dancing. On the last day there was even a firework display.

They took all of their own food to eat during the 17 day meeting. Royal records show that venison from the Leeds park and butter from the dairies were supplied. We also know from Royal Household accounts that their fish menu included; 9100 plaice, 7836 whiting, 5554 soles, 2800 crayfish, 700 conger eels, 3 porpoises and a dolphin.

The original painting of the Field of Cloth of Gold is in Hampton Court palace.

Do you fancy sleeping under canvas just as Henry VIII’s entourage would have done in 1520? Leeds Castle has launched a new glamping site based on Medieval design to form a ‘village’ on the one-acre castle vineyard.

Bookable until September, Knight’s glamping offers guests a spectacular setting and the luxury of a four poster bed, warming log burning stove, crisp cotton bedding and cosy fur throws. Book your tent here!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Knight’s Glamping at Leeds Castle: Get the Glamping look

For those of you who hadn't noticed a new trend of glamorous camping (or glamping) has emerged. More and more people are deciding to brave the British weather and take their holidays in the UK but still want a little glamour and luxury during their stay. With luxury camping accommodation and resorts offering every amenity imaginable you can enjoy the great outdoors and the camping lifestyle without sacrificing luxury.

Leeds Castle has just launched a Medieval themed glamping site within the grounds. Families and couples can now escape to the countryside for a glamorous camping holiday with the luxury of a four poster bed, warming log burning stove, crisp cotton bedding and cosy furry throws.

Camping doesn't mean you have to sacrifice style and there are a number of ways to look your best whilst out in the great outdoors. Here are our tips on how to get the glamping look and pull off the countryside chic style:

Wrap up warm

The nights around the ‘glampsite’ might get chilly so wrap up warm in a big knit cardigan or oversized jumper. Leggings with a bold print like this season’s Aztec trend with some chunky socks will keep legs and toes toasty by a camp fire. Layer up your outfit with a chunky scarf and add stylish accessories such as beaded bracelets and chain necklaces to keep you on trend.

Countryside chic footwear

Nothing screams countryside chic more than some stylish wellington boots, especially if the weather isn’t quite as nice as you’d hoped. You can find fun and floral wellies almost anywhere and they just add that touch of cool to your look. Not a fan of wellies? Go for a pair of boots like Doc Martins, Timberlands or Cowboy boots with some colourful long socks underneath. If you are lucky with the weather and it is just far too hot for wellies then opt for a pair of gladiator sandals. If you want to glam it up for the evenings then a pair of lace up boot heels are both practical and on trend.


Jazz up a causal block colour dress with some bold accessories such as a chunky watch or bracelet, a statement necklace, a pair of large cat-eyed sunglasses, a large floppy hat or a headband. Complete the boho look with a vintage leather satchel or tassel bag.

Luxury nightwear

Bring a fluffy bathrobe with you for around the tent to enhance that glamorous and luxury experience.

Go long

A maxi dress or long skirt are very bohemian and can look really glamorous. If it is a bit chilly then wear a shirt over the top tied in a cute knot at the bottom. Add a chunky necklace or belt for some added flair.

The Medieval Glamping tents at Leeds Castle are available from the 25th May to the 29th September 2013. The tents sleep a maximum of 2 adults and 2 children. We have a 2 night minimum stay at the weekend; individual nights can be booked Sunday to Thursday. Book here!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The real Gatsby was a woman: Lady Baillie and the glamorous 1920s

In the late 1920’s and 30’s when F Scott Fitzgerald created the immortal character of Jay Gatsby, America was going through times of great wealth and great poverty in equal measure.  Strict moral codes of the Victorian era were a thing of the past. The war was over, corsets were thrown away and wild dances swept the country.  The character of the Great Gatsby epitomised the mood of the times – a mysterious and incredibly wealthy man, he was pictured as the aloof and enigmatic host of wondrous parties thrown every weekend at his mansion in West Egg, Long Island.

Meanwhile in Britain, albeit in a slightly more discreet manner, a similar change in mood was under way - amongst the rich and powerful there was a new thirst for hedonism.  The era of the great House Party had come about and Lady Baillie, a wealthy Anglo American heiress, was a pivotal player, becoming one of the most influential hostesses of her day.

In 1926 Olive Wilson-Filmer (still in her second marriage) had her first glimpse of Leeds Castle, known as the loveliest castle in the world, and for her it was love at first sight.  She set about with characteristic determination and drive to save the gently decaying castle.  With help from the greatest French designers of the day, she redesigned the interiors to the very height of comfort and art deco fashion.  Almost unheard of luxuries were installed in the castle, including under-floor heating, onyx en-suite bathrooms with new-fangled American washing facilities - her guests’ enjoyment and entertainment were paramount.  At weekend parties they were able to partake of the new swimming pool (incredibly for the day, with a wave machine), tennis, squash, croquet, riding, boating, zebras criss-crossing the grounds; and then in the evenings after a sumptuous dinner, they could repair to the velvet lined Grand Salon, where a specially laid ebony dance floor was ready to welcome them.

And no one, no matter how rich, famous or powerful would miss a chance to enjoy the hospitality laid on at Leeds Castle.   Whilst she herself was a reserved and discreet person, Lady Olive Baillie found her greatest pleasure in bringing together fascinating and influential people.  Like a great casting director, she would combine Royalty – George, Duke of Kent, Queen  Marie of Romania; with stars of the silver screen – Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplain, Errol Flynn, David Niven, Noel Coward; and powerful politicians, Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden. 

Pamela Harriman (one of the castle’s more infamous house guests) once described Olive Baillie as restrained in behaviour compared with many of her much more notorious contemporaries”.  “Above all”, she said “she was discreet, which many were not.  She didn’t need to seduce rich men, her special aphrodisiac was power”.   But like Gatsby, Lady Baillie could be enigmatic and shy.  When Margaret Sweeny, the ultimate 1920s “it” girl and later Duchess of Argyll, was first invited to the castle, she was warned by a regular visitor that she might not even see Lady Baillie, who often kept to her rooms rather than joining in the party.  In the event, they had tea together and she continued to visit for over 30 years.

In fact Lady Baillie shied away from any publicity and her discretion, coupled with the natural security of a castle set on an island, ensured that celebrity guests, many of whom were on public show for much of their lives, were able to totally relax without fear of press intrusion.  A rare appearance in the papers occurred when the Profumo scandal broke and Profumo was a weekend house guest: “but all the waiting journalists saw was a weed-clogged moat.”  Indeed, the castle’s great privacy has led to many global conferences taking place within its secure walls over the passing years, including in recent times the Irish Peace Talks.

Lady Baillie died in 1974 after a full and fascinating life and her greatest love, Leeds Castle, she left to the Nation.