Orléans is located in the northern bend of the Loire, which crosses from east to west. Orléans belongs to the vallée de la Loire sector between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire, which was in 2000 inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The capital of Orléanais, 120 kilomètres south-south-west of Paris, it is bordered to the north by the Beauce region and the forêt d'Orléans, and the Orléans-la-Source neighbourhood and the Sologne region to the south.
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.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. 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.
Boys was born at Pentonville, London, on 2 January 1803. He was articled to the engraver George Cooke. When his apprenticeship came to an end he went to Paris where he met and came under the influence of Richard Parkes Bonington, who persuaded him to abandon engraving for painting. Some sources describe him as a pupil of Bonington, although William Callow, who later shared a studio with him in Paris, disputed this.
He exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time in 1824, and in Paris in 1827. In 1830 he went to Brussels, but returned to England on the outbreak of the revolution there. Paying another visit to Paris, he remained there until 1837, and then returned to England in order to lithograph the works of David Roberts and Clarkson Stanfield.
His most important work, Picturesque Architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rouen, etc., a collection of colour lithographs, appeared in 1839, attracting a great deal of admiration.Drawn on the stone by Boys and printed by Charles Joseph Hullmandel, it was described in a review in the Polytechnic Journal as "the first successful effort in chroma-lithography hitherto brought to perfection". King Louis-Philippe sent the artist a ring in recognition of its merits. He also published Original Views of London as it is, drawn and lithographed by himself, (London, 1843). He drew the illustrations to Blackie's History of England, and etched some plates for John Ruskin's Stones of Venice.
Boys was a member of the Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and of several foreign artistic societies. He died in 1874.