Treasure Houses of England: Leeds Castle

© Cheryl Bolen


The castle’s origins date to a descendant of William the Conqueror, Robert de Crevecoeur, who began construction on the keep in 1119. A century later de Crevecoeur’s descendants dammed the River Len to form the lake which surrounds the castle.

In 1278 the castle passed into royal hands, becoming the dower home of widowed English queens, including Eleanor of Castile, Margaret of France, Isabella of France, Joan of Navarre, Anne of Bohemia, and Catherine de Velois.

In Tudor times, Henry VIII visited Leed’s often, and his son Edward VI granted the castle to one of his father’s courtiers.

Since the 1600s the castle has been privately owned by the Culpeper, Fairfax and Wykeham Martin families. The last private owner, Lady Baillie, bought the castle in 1926, spent a vast fortune restoring it, and passed it to a charitable trust upon her 1974 death.

Olive, Lady Baillie, had inherited a large fortune at the age of 27 upon the death of her American mother, who was a Whitney (an heir to the Standard Oil riches). Lady Baillie’s father was an English peer, as was one of her three husbands. She purchased the house for £6.5 million and throughout her life continued to pore money into the castle’s restoration and furnishings. During the 1930s and 40s, the castle’s guests included Errol Flynn, Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, and David Niven.

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. Since Lady Baillie’s death, over 10 million people have visited the castle.


The elegance of medieval Leeds Castle rising from its surrounding lake is one of England’s most photographed sites and demonstrates why Leeds has been selected as one of the country’s 10 Treasure Houses.

The castle visitors see today is the result of over 900 years of alterations. It has Norman foundations, a medieval gatehouse, a gloriette built by Edward I and expanded during the reign of Henry VII, a Tudor tower, and a 19th-century country house. All of these were restored in the 20th century by architect Armand-Albert Rateau and decorator Stephane Boudin, whose clients included Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.

Visitors enter through the basement cellars, then tour the heraldry room before climbing to the keep, or gloriette (Spanish for pavilion). The queen’s bedroom has been recreated to appear as it would have when the medieval queens lived at the castle. From there, visitors move to the Tudor rooms, which include the queen’s gallery with its 1520 fireplace and busts of Tudor monarchs and the Henry VIII banqueting hall where the original arrow-slit windows have been replaced with large bay windows that afford a stunning view of the water surrounding the gloriette. Five of the castle’s 24 bedrooms (23 of which are available to conference guests) are located in the oval-shaped gloriette, including Lady Baillie’s bedroom and adjoining dressing room, the Catherine of Aragon room, and the seminar room, which was formerly the bedroom of Lady Baillie’s son.

The main staircase returns guests to the “new castle” and its yellow drawing room, the Thorpe Hall drawing room (named for the hall near Peterborough from which Lady Baillie purchased 17th- century paneling and fireplace), the library, and dining room.

Artwork at Leeds, though not as impressive as collections at Petworth or Chatsworth, for example, has been purchased with deference to the castle’s previous inhabitants.

While the castle’s furnishings reflect an amalgam of the eras to bridge the home’s history, they are pulled together gracefully. Visitors will appreciate the extra touches, ranging from live piano playing in the drawing room to dazzling displays of fresh flowers in every room.


Leeds Castle is a popular destination for families with young children. Children enjoy the vast duckery, which is a serpentine waterway where they can purchase duck grain to feed the large duck and swan population. Other favorites with children are the aviary, maze and grotto, dog collar museum, falconry, a turf maze, an education center, toddler’s play area, and train.

The castle’s grounds, which include a nine-hole golf course, encompass 500 lush acres. The greatest moat in England surrounds the three-acre castle island, which is the landscape’s crowning jewel. There’s a wooded cedar lawn, the Culpeper parterre garden, picnic areas, the great water lake, lovely walking trails, and a vineyard.

Another of its attractions is its short distance from London.


Treasure Houses of England: Burghley House

Note: Cheryl is writing a series on the ten Treasure Houses of England, which have been selected for their grandeur, architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance. See the website at

Burghley House


Burghley House was built more than 400 years ago by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley (1520-1598), who served as Lord High Treasurer and Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth I for 40 years. Upon his death, the house and title passed to his eldest son, Thomas, who became 1st Earl of Exeter.

The 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), who visited Italy three times and was one of the leading collectors of his day, greatly altered Lord Burghley’s house. The 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793) added extensively to Burghley’s collections of paintings, furnishings, and porcelain (among the finest private collection in England) during his four tours of Italy and is responsible for the naturalistic landscape designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the mid 18th century. The 10th Earl became the 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1801.

None of the 1st Earl of Exeter’s descendants have played as important a role in government as the home’s builder, William Cecil. The 6th Marquess (1904-1981), as Lord Burghley, achieved fame by winning the gold medal in the 1928 Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles and winning the silver in the same event in 1932. A scene in the movie Chariots of Fire, where a Cambridge student runs around the great court in the time it takes the clock to strike 12, is based upon Lord Burghley. When he died without male descendants in 1981, the marquisate passed to his brother, who lived in Canada, and Burghley House and its contents became part of a charitable trust set up by him and administered, in part, by his descendants. His granddaughter, Miranda Rock, currently lives at Burghley with her husband and four children. The present Marquess of Exeter resides in Canada.

Movies which have featured Burghley House in recent years include the 2005 Pride and Prejudice in which Burghley served as Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home, and The Da Vinci Code.


Upon seeing Burghley House for the first time, visitors will immediately understand why it is billed “The Largest and Grandest House of the Elizabethan Age.” Because of the grandeur of the home’s architecture, furnishings and grounds, it has been selected as one of England’s 10 Treasure Houses.

The Elizabethan house that was constructed from 1555-1587 in the shape of an “E” to honor the queen was largely modified in the 17th century. The exterior features its original roofline bristled with cupolas, obelisks and round chimneys.

Allow plenty of time to see the house, as about 20 rooms are on the tour. This includes four Georgian state rooms, a billiards room, the painted dining room featured in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, the Elizabethan chapel, the bow room, the Marquetry room (for its inlaid furniture), Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom, the brown drawing room, the black and yellow bedroom, the pagoda room, the blue silk bedroom and its blue silk dressing room, the magnificently painted heaven room, after which visitors visit the equally magnificently painted hell staircase, and the great hall.


Much of what was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the 18th century remains, including the 26-acre lake. Like all of Brown’s landscapes, Burghley’s grounds of sweeping lawns, curving lake, swelling hills and strategically clumped trees contribute to a natural-looking landscape.

In recent years a sculpture garden and a Garden of Surprises (with a maze) have been added.

There’s a lake walk, a cricket ground and woodland area to explore.

The orangery offers a restaurant which looks out over a parterre rose garden.

Cheryl Bolen, who has been visiting England for three decades, spent most of the month of June exploring more of England’s stately homes. Her newest release is the A Birmingham Family Christmas. Visit her website at

Treasure Houses of England: Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House

© Cheryl Bolen 


Bess of Hardwick (1527-1608) built the original home on the site in 1552. The house passed to her son William Cavendish, who became the first Earl of Devonshire in 1618. The 4th Earl of Devonshire, William Cavendish (1640-1707), became the 1st Duke of Devonshire for his part in bringing William of Orange to the English throne. The first duke is responsible for the house visitors see today. He pulled down Bess’s house in 1686, and with architect William Talman, started construction on the palatial house that stands today. It took more than 20 years to build and was completed the year of his death.

The 4th Duke, by marrying the heiress daughter of Lord Burlington (Palladian prophet, builder of Chiswick), brought even greater wealth and properties into the family.

Among the most famous occupants of the house were the 5th duke and his glamorous duchess, Georgiana, daughter of the 1st Earl Spencer. (A biography of Georgiana was the number one best selling book of 1999. It chronicled her husband’s affair with her best friend and the two illegitimate children born of that affair, making for one of the most interesting menage a trois in history. The 2005 Keira Knightley movie Duchess is based on the book.)


Since the time of its completion, Chatsworth has had “open days” for public viewing. It is said to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy’s estate in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and actually serves as Darcy’s Pemberley in the 2005 movie.

The home’s five original state apartments were never visited by William and Mary, for whom they were intended, but Queen Victoria visited Chatsworth during the reign of the 6th, or Bachelor Duke (1790-1858), who was the first to make substantial changes to Chatsworth. In addition to adding a new wing, his most substantial changes were brought about by landscape designer Joseph Paxton, who also built the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Like the Crystal Palace, his Great Conservatory at Chatsworth is now gone, but his rockeries and fountains remain.

During World War II Chatsworth was occupied by a girls’ school. The rooms and corridors were dormitories, and the drawing rooms and larger bedrooms were classrooms.

The 11th Duke inherited Chatsworth in 1950 following the sudden death of his father. (His elder brother, who had married President Kennedy’s sister Kathleen, had been killed in the war.) It would take him 17 years to pay off the 80 percent death duties and would require selling off some of the estate’s art collection and deeding the Devonshire’s Hardwick Hall to the National Trust. Chatsworth, too, needed substantial repairs and modernization. By opening Chatsworth to the public and establishing the Chatsworth House Trust, the 11th Duke was able to preserve Chatsworth for future generations. When he died in 2004, the Guardian said the 11th Duke was able to turn his magnificent stately home in Derbyshire “into a public resource without compromising its dignity or losing it as a family home.” His son, the 12th Duke, continues living at Chatsworth.


The baroque palace of Chatworth with its surrounding 12,000-acre estate in the Derbyshire hills has repeatedly been selected as England’s favorite country house. Despite its fairly remote location, it draws 300,000 visitors a year. The collonaded, pedimented view of the house that is most photographed is not the entrance through which visitors enter.

The portion of the house built before the addition of the 1820s wing is constructed around a central courtyard. Only a portion of the home’s 297 rooms are open to the public. Perhaps the most recognizable of these is the Painted Hall, so named for the 17th century paintings of Julius Caesar that adorn the ceiling and walls. Floors here are of black and white checkered marble, and the hall’s focal point is a broad central staircase balustered in gilt iron and carpeted in red.

After climbing stairs in the Painted Hall and the Great Stairs, visitors come to the five original state apartments: the Great Chamber, the State Drawing Room, the State Music Room, the Bedchamber and the State Closet. Each features ceilings painted in the 17th century, as well as fine woodworking craftsmanship on the walls. It is thought the state bed which retains its 1700 coverings belonged to George II.

The Library

The library is roped off but can be viewed by visitors before they stroll into the Ante Library and its adjacent Dome Room, which features a windowed alcove flanked by polished marble columns.

The 1820s wing houses the Crimson Dining Room where Queen Victoria was feted while she was still a princess. Other rooms on the public tour include the 6th Duke’s Oak Room, a Grotto, Sculpture Gallery, and the Chapel.

Treasures (paintings, sculpture, and furnishings) from London’s Devonshire House, sold in the 1920s, and from Lord Burlington’s Chiswick House melded with those already at Chatsworth to give  Chatsworth what is said to be the finest art collection of any English country home.

Chatsworth has been selected as one of England’s nine Treasure Houses.


It is difficult to separate the palatial house of Chatsworth from the stunning grounds in which it is set. The 35,000-acre agriculture estate offers a 1,000-acre park that is open free to the public. Wooded hills with footpaths rise above the house, and the River Derwent rushes alongside the property’s pastoral sheep pasture. One day is really not long enough to explore all this property has to offer.

The Cascade

In earliest times, the house, which sets at the foot of the Derbyshire hills of the Peak District, was surrounded by formal gardens. The 4th Duke, however, demolished the 1st Duke’s formal gardens when he chose Capability Brown to landscape the parkland around the house in 1756. Fortunately, the 1st Duke’s cascade and the temple above it, voted Best Water Feature in England, has survived, along with his Willow Fountain, Canal Pond, and Flora’s Temple.

Capability Brown’s scheme to make the grounds around Chatsworth look natural included the planting of broad lawns and a variety of American trees.

Landscape architect Joseph Paxton’s (1803-1865) mark on Chatsworth is the most distinct today. Trained at Kew Gardens, Paxton is responsible for the huge rockeries, the pond their water flows into, the Azalea Dale and ravine, and the Bamboo Walk.

In modern times a maze constructed of 1,209 yew trees, flower gardens, and a Serpentine Hedge have been added. The original stable block, constructed to house 80 horses, is now used for the Farmyard demonstrations, and the 6th duke’s carriage house now serves as a restaurant. For children, there is an Adventure Playground.

One thing remains from Bess of Hardwick: the 16th century hunting tower, nestled in the verdant foothills.–Cheryl Bolen’s newest Regency historical release is Miss Hastings’ Excellent London Adventure.

Cheryl by Georgiana’s portrait at Chatsworth