Prehistory and Roman
Cenabum was a Gallic stronghold, one of the principal towns of the tribe of the Carnutes where the Druids held their annual assembly. It was conquered and destroyed by Julius Caesar in 52 BC, then rebuilt under the Roman Empire. The emperor Aurelian rebuilt the city, renaming it Aurelianum, or Aureliana Civitas, "city of Aurelian" (cité d'Aurélien), which evolved into Orléans.
Accompanying the Vandals, the Alans crossed the Loire in 408. One of their groups, under Goar, joined the Roman forces of Flavius Aetius to fight Attila when he invaded Gaul in 451, taking part in the Battle of Châlons under their king Sangiban. Installed in Orléans and along the Loire, they were unruly (killing the town's senators when they felt they had been paid too slowly or too little) and resented by the local inhabitants. Many inhabitants around the present city have names bearing witness to the Alan presence – Allaines.
Early Middle Ages
In the Merovingian era, the city was capital of the kingdom of Orléans following Clovis I's division of the kingdom, then under the Capetians it became the capital of a county then duchy held in appanage by the house of Valois-Orléans. The Valois-Orléans family later acceded to the throne of France via Louis XII then Francis I. In 1108, one of the few consecrations of a French monarch to occur outside of Reims occurred at Orléans, when Louis VI of France was consecrated in Orléans cathedral by Daimbert, archbishop of Sens.
High Middle Ages
The city was always a strategic point on the Loire, for it was sited at the river's most northerly point, and thus its closest point to Paris. There were few bridges over the dangerous river Loire, but Orléans had one of them, and so became – with Rouen and Paris – one of medieval France's three richest cities.
On the south bank the "châtelet des Tourelles" protected access to the bridge. This was the site of the battle on 8 May 1429 which allowed Joan of Arc to enter and lift the city from the siege of the Plantagenets during the Hundred Years' War, with the help of the royal generals Dunois and Florent d'Illiers. The city's inhabitants have continued to remain faithful and grateful to her to this day, calling her "la pucelle d'Orléans" (the maid of Orléans), offering her a middle-class house in the city, and contributing to her ransom when she was taken prisoner.
1453 to 1699
Once the Hundred Years' War was over, the city recovered its former prosperity. The bridge brought in tolls and taxes, as did the merchants passing through the city. King Louis XI also greatly contributed to its prosperity, revitalising agriculture in the surrounding area (particularly the exceptionally fertile land around Beauce) and relaunching saffron farming at Pithiviers. Later, during the Renaissance, the city benefited from it becoming fashionable for rich châtelains to travel along the val-de-Loire (a fashion begun by the king himself, whose royal domains included the nearby Chambord, Amboise, Blois, and Chenonceau).
The University of Orléans also contributed to the city's prestige. Specializing in law, it was highly regarded throughout Europe. John Calvin was received and accommodated there (during which time he wrote part of his reforming theses) and in return Henry VIII of England (who had drawn on Calvin's work in his separation from Rome) offered to fund a scholarship at the University. Many other Protestants were sheltered by the city. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his pseudonym Molière, also studied law at the University, but was expelled for attending a carnival contrary to University rules.
From 13 December 1560 to 31 January 1561, the French States-General met here. This was just after the death of Francis II of France, the eldest son of Catherine de Médicis and Henry II, on 5 December 1560 in the Hôtel Groslot in Orléans, with his queen Mary at his side.
The cathedral was rebuilt several times. The present structure had its first stone laid by Henry IV, and work on it took a century. It thus is a mix of late Renaissance and early Louis XIV styles, and one of the last cathedrals to be built in France.
When France colonised America, the territory it conquered was immense, including the whole Mississippi River (whose first European name was the River Colbert), from its mouth to its source at the borders of Canada. Its capital was named "la Nouvelle-Orléans" in honour of Louis XV's regent, the duke of Orléans, and was settled with French inhabitants against the threat from British troops to the north-east.
The Dukes of Orléans hardly ever visited their city since, as brothers or cousins of the king, they took such a major role in court life that they could hardly ever leave. Officially their castle was that at Blois. The duchy of Orléans was the largest of the French duchies, starting at Arpajon, continuing to Chartres, Vendôme, Blois, Vierzon, and Montargis. The duke's son bore the title duke of Chartres. Inheritances from great families and marriage alliances allowed them to accumulate huge wealth, and one of them – Philippe Égalité is sometimes said to have been the richest man in the world at the time. His son, Louis-Philippe I, inherited the Penthièvre and Condé family fortunes.
1852 saw the creation of the "Compagnies ferroviaires Paris-Orléans" and its famous gare d'Orsay in Paris. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the city again became strategically important thanks to its geographical position, and was occupied by the Prussians on 13 October that year. The armée de la Loire was formed under the orders of général d'Aurelle de Paladines and based itself not far from Orléans at Beauce.
1900 to present
During the Second World War, the German army made the Orléans Fleury-les-Aubrais railway station one of their central logistical rail hubs. The Pont Georges V was renamed "pont des Tourelles". A transit camp for deportees was built at Beaune-la-Rolande. During the Liberation, the American Air Force heavily bombed the city and the train station, causing much damage. The city was one of the first to be rebuilt after the war: the reconstruction plan and city improvement initiated by Jean Kérisel and Jean Royer was adopted as early as 1943 and work began as early as the start of 1945. This reconstruction in part identically reproduced what had been lost, such as Royale and its arcades, but also used innovative prefabrication techniques, such as îlot 4 under the direction of the architect Pol Abraham.
The big city of former times is today an average-sized city of 250,000 inhabitants. It is still using its strategically central position less than an hour from the French capital to attract businesses interested in reducing transport costs.
According to Victor Adolphe Malte-Brun in La France Illustrée, 1882, Orléans's arms are "gules, three caillous in cœurs de lys argent, and on a chief azure, three fleurs de lys Or." Charle Grandmaison, in the Dictionnaire Héraldique of 1861, states that it is "Or, with three hearts in gules", without the chief of France. Sometimes, in faulty designs, we find it described "gules, three fleurs de lys argent, and on a chief azure three fleurs de lys Or."
It is to be noted that the design shown left shows 3 "cœurs de lys" (heart of a lily), seen from above. This "cœurs de lys" is therefore not a true lily, which would have 6 tepals, but a hypothetical aerial view of a symbolic lily. It has probably also been stylised more and more in heraldry, as in the heart in a pack of cards. Certain authors solve the problem by calling this symbol a "tiercefeuille", defined as a stemless clover leaf, with one leaf at the top and two below, thus making this coat of arms "gules, with three reversed tiercefeuilles in argent, etc".
"Hoc vernant lilia corde" (granted by Louis XII, then duke of Orléans), meaning "It is by this heart that lilies flourish" or "This heart makes lilies flourish", referring to the fleur de lys, symbol of the French royal family.