Orleans in the Loire Valley and the Garden of France

The city of Orléans, like Dundee, owes its ancient origins to its position on the banks of a great river. Down the centuries Roman, Viking, English, and German invaders have all sought to control this vital crossing place on the Loire - France's longest river and key to the heart of France. Long famous for its part in the story of Joan of Arc, Orléans is the present-day capital of the département of Loiret and the capital of the Centre Region.

With the vast fertile agricultural hinterland of the Beauce and the Gâtinais surrounding it in the north bank of the river and the great royal hunting forests of the Sologne on the south side, Orléans was always one of France's principal centres of food production and trading.

From the 12th century right up to the founding of the early Scottish Universities, the University of Orléans was where many young Scots sought their education, particularly in law and theology. And the city's connection with Scotland was also reinforced by the involvement of many Scots on the French side in the Hundred Years' War with England. When the English besieged Orléans in October 1428 it was the Scottish Constable of France - John Stuart of Darnley - who led the first attempt to relieve the city in February 1429. The army which Joan of Arc led into the city three months later contained several hundred Scots - and the Bishop of Orléans who greeted Joan was John Kirkmichael, a priest from Crail who had studied at Orléans University and remained in France. He attended the Dauphin's coronation later that year and also instituted the annual parade to commemorate the relief of the city. This parade, in which a young girl represents Joan, is the culmination of ceremonies which have taken place annually ever since.

Among Joan's Scottish captains on that day was Patrick Ogilvy from Airlie in Angus. He was later severely wounded when he tried to defend her at the moment of her capture. Patrick Ogilvy and other Scottish captains are commemorated on a plaque in an old street in Orléans named 'The Street of the Scottish Sword'. John Stuart of Darnley was buried in Orléans Cathedral where there is also a memorial plaque. The nearby town of Aubigny-sur-Nere was part of the John Stuart's French estate and to this day is proud of its Scottish connection - the Aubigny Town Council always takes part in the Joan of Arc parade, wearing the kilt and accompanied by bagpipes as they march along!

In 1560 young Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots and of France, was at her dying husband's side in Orléans. Mary had spent much of her childhood in the surrounding countryside. But this wasn't the end of Orléans links with Scotland since after the two Jacobite Rebellions of the 18th century, the area became a place of refuge for many Stuart followers. To this day there are Macleods, Macnabs, Mackies and Macdonalds in the area - and Amiltons who have lost their "h" over the years!

In 1940 hundreds of thousands of refugees from Paris, Belgium and the north of France converged on Orléans in an attempt to flee the advancing German army. The city and its people suffered horrendously from airborne and land-based attacks and much of the city centre was destroyed by fire. There was further appalling damage done at the time of liberation in August 1944. But the city recovered to become once again one of France's great commercial centres.

In the aftermath of the war the old city on the north bank of the Loire was beautifully rebuilt and restored. A new second city was built south of the river and it is there at Orléans La Source the city's ancient university was re-established in the 1960s. Apart from modern high technology industries Orléans now houses France's national crop and geological research stations and the city's Parc Floral is famous for its national flower and tree collections.