A Gaulish fortified town overlooking the river Loir
Châteaudun was built a the top of a rocky promontory overlooking the river Loir which runs 30 metres below. During the Antiquity there was a Gaulish fortified town of the Carnutes people which then became a Gallo-Roman town after the Roman conquest.
The town's name kept the Celt/Gaulish term dun related to a fortified elevated place. Châteaudun was defended by town walls from the early Middle Ages and its name also kept the latin term castrum or castellum. So the modern name of the town comes from two different terms related to fortifications.
Development of Christianism during the early Middle Ages
Châteaudun briefly constituted a diocese during the 6th century with Saint-Aventin, this bishop is said to have performed a miracle in curing his brother from leprosy and he is also said to have founded three churches in Châteaudun (Saint-Jean, Sainte-Marie which later became La Madeleine and Saint-Michel which later became Saint-Médard).
The area around Châteaudun, the Dunois, suffered from the Norman invasions and was ruled by non-hereditary counts until the 10th century.
The fortified town of the counts of Blois
The first hereditary count of Châteaudun is Thibaud le Tricheur, at first only count of Blois and then also of Tours, Chartres and Châteaudun in the middle of the 10th century. It seems to be the one who built the first castle which was a wooden castle at the time. The town walls were later progressively extended. The county of Dunois stayed under the rules of counts of Blois for nearly 450 years until the 15th century, the counts had viscounts to administer the town.
In the early 12th century an abbey is founded not far from the castle and a commune charter was given to the town by the count of Blois in 1197. It's also a the end of the 12th century that the count of Blois Thibault V had the large circular keep of the castle built. At the end of the 13th century the town walls are at their maximum extension to encompass the abbey of La Madeleine and the church of Saint-André.
A new count : Jean de Dunois (Jean de Duno)
At the very end of the 14th century the duke Louis of Orleans bought the counties of Blois and Dunois. After his death his older son Charles, known for his poetic work, inherited his properties. Detained by the English during the Hundred Years' War, he gave the county of Dunois and the Vicounty of Châteaudun to his half-brother, Jean of Orleans who became Jean de Dunois. He was a famous French captain and one of Joan of Arc's borthers in arms. He had the old castle destroyed to build a new chapel and a new wing which now bears his name. His heirs, the dukes of Longueville, added a second perpendicular wing at the beginning of the 16th century.
Prosperity of the 16th and 17th centuries
The town suffered from the French Wars of Religion but it prospered until the 17th century. Its economic growth rested only on a few industries, principally the textile industry with the production of sheets. Tanneries flourished and the textile industry used many water mills along the river Loir. Châteaudun also relied on agriculture with stock breeding, vineyards which were numerous at the time and the production of cereals.
A new town in the 18th century
A terrible fire happened on the 20th of June 1723 and most of the upper town was totally burnt (but the castle, the abbey of La Madeleine and a few streets between the two monuments including Saint-Lubin street were saved). The State sent Jules Michel Hardouin, architect of the king, to draw a new town map. Châteaudun was rebuilt in the classical style, a very sober and refined style. The new town articulates around a new great rectangular square which became the heart of the city.
The changes of the French Revolution
During the French Revolution churches and religious buildings were sold and some were mutilated. From the seven parishes in place before the Revolution, only three were still active after 1795 (La Madeleine, Saint-Valérien and Saint-Jean).
The events of 1870
On October the 18th 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, around 1200 irregular soldiers fought against a whole Prussian division tenth times bigger that came to attack the town. At the end of a fierce battle and after an unavoidable French withdrawal, the town was once again severely damaged. But this heroic resistance allowed the town to earn the Croix de la Légion d’Honneur in 1777 which still appears in the town's coat of arms.
An always changing town
The town encounters many important urban changes at the end of the 19th century with, amongst others, water adduction, baths, gaz lightning and the arrival of the railway in 1865.
The 20th century
Châteaudun hosted hospitals during World War I and suffered from several bombings during WWII, notably in 1940 and 1944. The neighbourhood around the railway station, the airfield and the neighbourhood of La Madeleine were severely damaged. The town is liberated on the 17th of August 1944.
The town went through hard times in the past but it has always been rebuilt which explains its motto : Extincta Revivisco which is latin for "Extinct, I'm reborn".