Este (ĕsˈtā) [key], Italian noble family, rulers of Ferrara (1240–1597) and of Modena (1288–1796) and celebrated patrons of the arts during the Renaissance. Probably of Lombard origin, they took their name from the castle of Este, near Padua. They succeeded to the house of the Guelphs when the original Guelph line died out.
Azzo d'Este II, 996–1097, lord of Este and the founder of his family's greatness, was invested with Milan by the emperor. Azzo's son, Guelph d'Este IV or
Azzo d'Este II had another son, who continued the Italian line of the house; among that son's successors was Obizzo d'Este I, d. 1193. Obizzo and his grandson played an important part in the struggle of the Guelphs against Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I (see Guelphs and Ghibellines). He married the heiress of one of the two families contending for supremacy in Ferrara. His grandson, Azzo d'Este VI, 1170–1212, was podesta [chief magistrate] of Mantua and Verona and fought to obtain Ferrara, but it was left for his son, Azzo d'Este VII, 1205–64, to succeed in becoming (1240) podesta of that city at the head of the triumphant Guelph party. Obizzo d'Este II, d. 1293, was made perpetual lord of Ferrara in 1264, lord of Modena in 1288, and lord of Reggio (now Reggio nell' Emilia) in 1289.
Because Ferrara was held as a fief from the pope, the Este became papal vicars in 1332. Niccolò d'Este III, 1384–1441, made Ferrara a center of arts and letters and increased the power of his house by playing his more powerful neighbors against each other. Under his successors the court of the Este became one of the most brilliant in Europe. Among them were his illegitimate sons Leonello d'Este, 1407–50, an accomplished prince, and Borso d'Este, 1413–71, who received the title duke of Modena and Reggio from Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1452 and that of duke of Ferrara from Pope Paul II in 1471.
Niccolò's legitimate son Ercole d'Este I, 1431–1505, lost some territory in wars against Venice. Ercole's beautiful and brilliant daughter, Beatrice d'Este, 1475–97, married Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan, one of the most lavish of all Renaissance princes. Her sister, Isabella d'Este, 1474–1539, married Francesco Gonzaga, marquis of Mantua. Ariosto, Boiardo, and Berni were her friends, and Leonardo da Vinci and Titian painted portraits of her.
Ercole I was succeeded by his son, Alfonso d'Este I, 1476–1534, second husband of Lucrezia Borgia. In the Italian Wars he entered the League of Cambrai against Venice and remained an ally of Louis XII of France even after Pope Julius II had made peace with Venice. The pope declared Alfonso's fiefs forfeited and excommunicated him (1510); Modena and Reggio were lost. However, in 1526–27 Alfonso participated in the expedition of Charles V, Holy Roman emperor and king of Spain, against Pope Clement VII, and in 1530 the pope again recognized him as possessor of those duchies. Ariosto lived at his court in Ferrara after a long employment by Alfonso's brother, Ippolito I, Cardinal d'Este, 1479–1520, to whom Ariosto's Orlando Furioso is dedicated.
Alfonso's son and successor, Ercole d'Este II, 1508–59, married Renée, daughter of Louis XII of France. He joined the pope and France against Spain in 1556, but made a separate peace in 1558. He also was a patron of the arts, as was his brother, Ippolito II, Cardinal d'Este, 1509–72, an able diplomat who led the pro-French party at the papal court. Ippolito built the celebrated Villa d'Este at Tivoli.
With Ercole II's son, Alfonso d'Este II, 1533–97, the direct male line of the house ended. He willed his titles to his cousin, Cesare d'Este, 1533–1628, but Pope Clement VIII refused to recognize Cesare's rights, and Ferrara was incorporated into the Papal States in 1598. Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II recognized Cesare's rights to Modena and Reggio, but without Ferrara the duchy lost political importance.
The last duke, Ercole d'Este III, was deposed in 1796 by the French and died in 1803. His daughter, Maria Beatrice, married Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, a son of Austrian Emperor Francis I, who founded the house of Austria-Este. After the restoration (1814) of the duchy of Modena their son and grandson, Francis IV and Francis V, ruled as dukes of Modena, Massa, and Carrara. Francis V was expelled in 1859, and his territories were annexed (1860) to the kingdom of Sardinia.
See W. L. Gundersheimer, Ferrara: The Style of a Renaissance Despotism (1973).
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