The Château de Châteaudun is a castle located in the town of Châteaudun in the French département of Eure-et-Loir. Overlooking the Loir 60 m, the castle of Jehan Dunois, called “the Bastard of Orleans” aligns a rare succession of elements of medieval architecture, Gothic and Renaissance. The Sainte-Chapelle houses a remarkable statuary. An important collection of tapestries decorates the place. The medieval and hanging gardens, unique in the Center region, offer a pleasant break during the visit.
The castle was built between the 12th and 16th centuries. Thibaud I the Cheater, count of Blois at the beginning of the tenth century, established one of its powerful fortresses at the time of invasions of the Vikings.
The count of Blois Thibaut V built the dungeon around 1180. On October 13, 1391, Guy II of Châtillon, last count of Blois, sells the counties of Blois and Dunois to Louis of Orleans, brother of King Charles VI.
In 1407, after the assassination of Louis of Orleans, Chateaudun and his other well passes to his son Charles of Orleans. Charles VI donated the castle in 1439 to his half-brother Jean de Dunois said “the bastard of Orleans” or “Dunois”, companion in arms of Joan of Arc.
The Sainte-Chapelle was built between 1451 and 1493. The choir and the high chapel were built between 1451 and 1454, with the nave and the oratory between 1460 and 1464. Jehan de Dunois, the bâtard d’Orléans (Bastard of Orléans), built the west wing (the “aile Dunois”) between 1459 and 1468.
The bell tower was erected in 1493. François I of Orléans-Longueville began construction of the north wing (the “aile Longueville”) between 1469 and 1491. The upper floors were added by François II d’Orléans-Longueville and his descendants during the first quarter of the 16th century.
When the Longueville family died without descendants in 1694, the castle returned to the Dukes of Luynes. The castle half abandoned by its owners serves as a refuge for the inhabitants of Chateaudun after the fire that devastated the city in 1723. During the French Revolution, the chapel is ransacked and buildings serve as barracks.
The castle is again damaged by the Prussians during the Battle of Chateaudun in 1870.
In 1938 the castle is acquired by the State which begins its restoration.
It became the property of Jean d’Orléans, a favored companion of Jeanne Arc, and it was he who had the west (Dunois) wing built between 1450 and 1468. The layout of this main building, with its small, more comfortable, refined rooms reflects the need for comfort that followed the Hundred Years’ War.
The profound originality of the castle of Châteaudun stems from the fact that there is a gradual transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance that allows the two styles to coexist. The castle courtyard, located between the “Dunois wing” and the “Longueville wing”, has also retained two loggia staircases, one with a flamboyant decor and the other, which follows the same pattern, from the Renaissance era. In Châteaudun, over a relatively short period, builders smoothly and seamlessly adopted the style of their time.
On entering the Loir Valley coming from Paris, between Chartres and Blois, the huge silhouette of the castle of Châteaudun stands proud before visitors who approach it from the north.
Owned by Jehan, the Bastard of Orléans, Count of Dunois and a favored companion of Jeanne d’Arc, the famous architect of the French victory over the English, it was a solid fortress before becoming a delightful princely residence at the end of the 15th century and during the 16th century.The combination of its site and its geographical situation make Châteaudun an exceptional defensive location.
Around the main courtyard, from left to right, the various constructions that form the castle of Châteaudun are laid out chronologically: the big tower of the 12th century keep, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Dunois wing of the 15th century and the Longueville wing of the 16th century.
Big Tower of the Castle Keep
Set out in the thickness between the walls at arch level, two ring-shaped corridors form a circular path that allowed archers to move around and position themselves behind the arrow loops in order to neutralize attackers.
The big tower is the last remaining part of the keep or medieval castle. It is in a remarkable state of preservation and is a unique example of master towers. With its huge silhouette and its opaque walls, this cylinder measuring 17 meters in diameter and 31 meters in height stands on three levels, the first two of which are dome vaulted.
The entrance was on the first floor, 10 meters above the ground, and the ground floor was accessed via a “manhole”. The upper floor housed the library of Jehan Dunois and apartments for members of his entourage.
Châteaudun is home to one of the eleven saintes-chapelles built in France between the 13th and 16th centuries. From 1451 to 1493, Jehan Dunois arranged for the construction of a Sainte-Chapelle, of Gothic style and asymmetric in shape, to house a piece of the True Cross given to him by Charles VII. This chapel was not just the expression of the remarkable devotion of Jehan Dunois: it was also a political act to assert his bloodline as a prince.
Intended for the lord of the castle, it consists of a choir ornamented by large openwork with small columns and a vaulted nave with three-quarter pointed arches.
Statues of Saints
After the pillaging of the Revolution…all that remains of the original opulent decor is a magnificent set of fifteen statues from the Loire workshops of the 15th century depicting the saints for which Dunois and his family had a particular devotion.
The wonderful Madonna and Child in the apse is a very pure example of Gothic art of around 1400.
Jehan Dunois statue
The famous statuette in the nave depicting an aged warrior, dressed in armor characteristic of the reign of Charles VII and adorned with a laurel crown, is, according to tradition, a portrait of Jehan Dunois.
Final Judgement Mural painting
The Saint-François chapel is adorned with a huge Last Judgment painted in watercolor on the south wall, attributed to Paoul Goybault. Dunois is likely to have commissioned it around 1466, for his son’s marriage to Agnès de Savoie.
The floor was assigned to domestic staff, contrary to custom that intended the upper level to be the lord’s religious space. It is covered by a barrel-vaulted paneled frame in opulent decor and sculpted in the middle of the 15th century: a Paschal Lamb and figures of angels.
This west wing with a second square body, erected between 1459 and 1468, overlooks the Loire at the bottom of the rocky outcrop. It is made up of five levels to offset the contours of the surrounding land – two underground floors with lighting on the garden side, two elevated floors and an attic level on the courtyard side.
Here the lord exercised his power of justice, in person or by delegation. Owing to its remarkable state of preservation, it is an exceptional example of the decor of a seigniorial jurisdiction of the Ancien Régime in the 17th century.
Two vast kitchens with vaulted beams house two fireplaces that take-up the entire width of the supporting wall. A large number of servants prepared food there. The extent of the kitchens demonstrates the importance of hospitality in the way of life that allowed the lord to assert his power.
Located on the first basement level, the bath apartment comprises two rooms. The first, fitted with a fireplace, probably a cloakroom or restroom, allows access to the garden. Accessed by a few steps, a vaulted room with stone benches was the hot room, opening out onto a small steam room.
The ground floor and the first floor form the noble part of the dwelling. The rooms are heated by large fireplaces with sculpted chimney pieces, the finest of them being located close to the multi-sided turret.
The south residence, the largest residence on the first floor, was probably occupied by Jehan Dunois.
On the site of the terrace there was a room, a chapel and an office that collapsed in the 18th century. From the facade there is an impressive view over the Loir.
The lords of Longueville, descendants of Jehan Dunois, completed the castle by adding a north wing, on the side of the Loir, between 1508 and 1519.
The opulence of the decor of its south wing contrasts with the sobriety of its 15th century construction and demonstrates early evidence of the Italian influence at the northern end of the Loire Valley. The building’s verticality indicated by its high roofs helps to retain its medieval nature whilst the relative symmetry of the composition and ornamental repertoire of the stairwell heralds the Renaissance.
Great Renaissance Staircase
With its opulent and flamboyant decor, the staircase is the major decorative feature of the north wing: an installation preceded by landings that form a loggia. The internal decor of the stairwell is an introduction to the Renaissance, its white limestone core being decorated with candelabras. Columns crowned with capitals in various types of decor adorn the walls of the stairwell. Stone box beams punctuate the flat staircase ceilings. The door lintels are sculpted with Italianate motifs, framed by medallions.
Apartment of Catherine of Alençon
The main room on the first floor, known as the Catherine d’Alençon room, with a surface area of 300m², was where the Longuevilles received their guests. It was the setting for great merrymaking: dancing, music, poetry, stories and tales to accompany the banquets. It is now permanent home to the castle’s magnificent collections of tapestries.
Medieval era-inspired garden
This garden was arranged out on filled-in ditches on the southern side, close to the keep.
Some 150 species of aromatic and medicinal plants, as well as varieties of vegetables that were present on medieval dining tables, are grown in the twelve boxwood squares.
The hanging garden occupies the western part of the site, below the Dunois wing. Enclosed by masonry structures, it affords a panoramic view over the countryside that can be seen through the castle windows.
Accessible depuis l’appartement des bains, il témoigne de la volonté du maître des lieux d’intégrer les extérieurs à l’architecture dans une savante hiérarchie, manifestant l’influence de l’art des jardins italiens de la Renaissance. Il marque l’évolution du jardin productif du Moyen-Âge vers le jardin de plaisance.
Long neglected, saved from ruin through its acquisition by the State, the castle of Châteaudun was restored after 1939 under the direction of the architect Jean Trouvelot (1897-1985). The restoration of Châteaudun is of particular note in its adherence to the architecture and sculpture of past centuries as well as to finishing touches that match the original features as closely as possible.