The 17th Century
The end of the Tudor dynasty marked the beginning of private ownership for Leeds Castle. With no royal treasury to use for repairs and alterations, the fortunes of the Castle relied solely on the fortunes of the owners, which were varied.
The St. Leger family had acquired the castle in the 1550s and they retained it until 1618 when Warham St. Leger had to sell it to Sir Richard Smythe, in order to finance a voyage to Guyana with Sir Walter Raleigh.
Smythe ordered the demolition of all surviving buildings at the north end of the larger island and constructed a large house in the prevailing Jacobean style. The foundations of this house were discovered during repair works to the present New Castle in 1993 and it is clear that this was a substantial mansion, only slightly smaller than the New Castle itself. Although the Smythe family owned the Castle for less than twenty years, this Jacobean house was a lasting legacy.
In 1632 the Smythes sold Leeds Castle to Sir Thomas Culpeper, whose son Cheney was a supporter of Parliament. Therefore, unlike many aristocratic homes, the Castle was left relatively unscathed during the Civil War, but at the Restoration in 1660 the Culpepers were financially ruined. Despite this, the Culpeper family managed to retain the Castle and estate by selling it in 1663 to a wealthy cousin, another Sir Thomas Culpeper, who as a Royalist had been rewarded with 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 Castle suffered major damage in 1665 when Culpeper leased the castle to the government as a place of detention for Dutch prisoners of war. Lodged in the Gloriette, the prisoners set fire to their accommodation, causing destruction which would not be repaired until the 19th century.
In 1690, Catherine Culpeper married Thomas, 5th Lord Fairfax and Leeds Castle passed to a new private family.