Esterházy (also spelled Eszterházy, Hungarian pronunciation: ['?st?rha:zi]) is a Hungarian noble family with origins in the Middle Ages. Since the 17th century, they were among the great landowner magnates of the Kingdom of Hungary during the time it was part of the Habsburg Empire and later Austria-Hungary. During the history of the Habsburg empire, the Esterházys were consistently loyal to the Habsburg rulers. They received the title of count in 1626 and the Forchtenstein line received the title of Fürst (Ruling Prince) from the Holy Roman Emperor in 1712.
The Esterházys arose among the minor nobility of the northern part of the Kingdom of Hungary (today's southwest Slovakia), originally a branch of the Salamon clan (de genere Salamon) by the name Zerházi (de Zerhásház / de Zyrház / de Zyrhas). Their first known ancestors were Mokud (Mocud) from the Salamon clan, who was a military serviceman and landowner in the Csallóköz region of Western Hungary (today ?itný ostrov in southwestern Slovakia), and Pristaldus, a judicial office-holder in the court of Béla III of Hungary.
The name Esterházy was first used by Benedict Zerhas de Zerhashaz (1508-1553), who in 1539 took over the wealth of his wife Ilona Bessenyei de Galántha. Their son, Ferenc Esterházy (1533-1604) inherited the coat of arms and title of his mother and the full name of the family became Eszterházy de Galántha, Galanta being a small town east of Bratislava (Hungarian: Pozsony, German: Pressburg), now capital of Slovakia.
The family rose to prominence under Count Nikolaus Esterházy (1583-1645) and his son, Prince Paul Esterházy (1635-1713). In the 17th century, after Nikolaus' acquisitions, the family split into four main family lines:
The success of the family arose from the steady accumulation of land, and loyalty both to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Habsburg Emperor. The latter factor was perhaps the most important. A consistent theme of Hungarian history was an ardent and sometimes violent wish to become free of Austrian rule, a wish that was finally fulfilled at the end of the First World War. The Esterházy princes were consistently loyal to the Habsburg monarchy, and on several occasions rendered vital services to it in times of crisis. These included the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, and the outright occupation of Vienna by Napoleon in 1809.
The family acquired its property in three principal ways: redistribution of land taken from Protestants in the Counter-Reformation, redistribution of land conquered from the Turks, and felicitous marriages. Most of these lands were situated in present-day Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The family ultimately became the largest landowners in the Habsburg Empire, and their income sometimes exceeded that of the Emperor.
The family derived its name from the settlement Esterháza, Kingdom of Hungary. The settlement no longer exists, and is not to be confused with the later castle of the same name which they inhabited since the Middle Ages. Since 1421 they have been the owners of a property in Galánta.
The most important seat of the Esterházys was Eisenstadt (Hungarian: Kismarton), since the heads of the family chose to make a castle in this tiny village their primary residence. A fortified stronghold had been built there in the 14th century; after the Esterházys acquired it they rebuilt it 1663-1672 to what is now the princely Schloss Esterházy. Their practical reason for choosing to create and maintain the princely court at Eisenstadt may have been that while the region was in Hungary, it had been mainly settled by Germans, and was situated rather close to the Habsburgs' Imperial residence, Vienna. (The region remained part of Hungary until 1921, when it was handed over to Austria according to the Treaty of Saint-Germain, 1919, and the Treaty of Trianon, 1920.)
The Esterházys maintained a number of other residences throughout the Kingdom of Hungary and Transylvania, and those Esterházy princes who preferred the stylish life of the capital spent most of their time in Vienna. In the 1770s, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who disliked Vienna, had a magnificent new palace constructed in Fert?d, Hungary. It was built on the site of a former hunting lodge. This is the most admired of the Esterházy homes, often called the "Hungarian Versailles."
The main line of the Esterházy family was generally bilingual, in Hungarian (as a result of their ethnicity) and German (as they were aristocrats of the Austrian Empire). Esterházys living in parts of the Kingdom of Hungary where other languages were spoken by the population also spoke those languages, especially Slavic languages in Slavic areas. Some family members went by both Hungarian and (rather distinct) German names. Thus, Pál Antal (Hungarian) was the same person as Paul Anton (German), and Miklós József was the same person as Nikolaus Josef. In discussions written in English, the Esterházy princes are occasionally given English versions of their names, as in "Nicholas".
The family name is also rendered variously: Eszterházy (Hungarian spelling), Esterházy (German), and Esterhazy (typographic convenience). The full family name since the 16th century was Eszterházy de Galántha (later also styled von/of Galanta). The Latinised form of the family name, Estoras, in 2009 is used to label fine Esterházy wines.
The Esterházy family is known for its association with the composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), who served as their Kapellmeister. Haydn was hired by Prince Paul Anton in 1761, and from 1762 to 1790 served under Paul Anton's successor Nikolaus. During the following reign, that of Prince Anton (1790-1794), the Esterházy family mostly did without the services of musicians, and Haydn, retained on a nominal appointment, spent most of this time in trips to England. Finally, during the reign of Nikolaus II, Haydn worked for the family on a part-time basis. He spent his summers in Eisenstadt and annually composed a mass for the name day of the Prince's wife (and Haydn's friend), Princess Maria Josepha Hermenegild (1768-1845). Haydn continued to perform these duties until his health failed in 1802.
The first prominent member of the family was Ferenc Zerházy (1563-1594), who was elevated to the title of baron of Galántha (an estate his family had held since 1421) and took the name Esterházy. Family history since this time is described according to three lines of descent, each originating in one of Ferenc's sons: the Fraknó (or Forchtenstein) line, the Csesznek line, and the Zólyom (or Zvolen) line.
In 1625, Nikolaus was elected Palatine of Hungary, the King's chief lieutenant within Royal Hungary. Nikolaus laid out what became the long-term family strategy, allying himself with the Catholic religion and the Habsburg emperor. He fought against the Protestant champions Gábor Bethlen and György Rákóczi and sought to free Hungary from Turkish domination.
Paul was the third son of Nicholas, born in Eisenstadt. Elected Palatine in 1681 and created Prince of the Holy Roman Empire (in Hungary the title of Prince did not exist till the 20th century) in 1687 by the Emperor. Paul was a poet, a harpsichordist, and a composer; a number of his cantatas survive; see Harmonia Caelestis. He also wrote a number of religious works. Under Paul the palace in Eisenstadt was rebuilt. Paul served as commander of troops in southern Hungary, during the struggle against the Turks, starting in 1667, and his troops were among the coalition that raised the siege of Vienna in 1683. He also played an important role in suppressing the autonomy of the existing Hungarian nobility.
The line that descended from Paul, the first Esterházy prince, is given as in the following figure. The sequence of princes that follow him continues below.
Son of Paul, he was the first to benefit from a 1712 decree of Emperor Charles VI, which made the title of Prince hereditary among the Esterházys. Under him, the family seat at Eisenstadt evolved into a provincial musical center. He died 24 March 1721.
Half-brother of Michael, he reigned for only 11 weeks, as he died on 7 June 1721. As his son Paul Anton was only ten, authority was assigned to two regents: Count Georg Erdödy, and his widow Maria Octavia (c. 1686 - 1762). The latter was responsible for introducing the German language to the court.
Son of Joseph. In his youth he studied in Leyden and also served as a soldier, rising to the rank of Field Marshal. He served as imperial ambassador to Naples from 1750 to 1752, and traveled extensively.
Paul Anton was a musical prince; he played the violin, the flute, and the lute, and compiled a large inventory of musical manuscripts. Paul Anton also played an important role as a patron of music. In 1728, his mother Maria Octavia, "probably at her son's instigation" engaged the composer Gregor Werner to be the family's Kapellmeister (music director), a post in which Werner served for several decades. Much later (1761), Paul Anton engaged Joseph Haydn to be his Vice-Kapellmeister in 1761, taking over most of the aging Werner's duties. At the same time, he upgraded the court orchestra, hiring several virtuosi who served under Haydn; the composer recognized their ability by writing many solo parts in his early symphonies.
Son of Joseph, in his youth a decorated soldier. He was the primary patron of Haydn and builder of Esterháza (see above).
Son of Nikolaus I, married first, in 1763, Maria Theresia Gräfin Erdödy e Monyorokerek et Monoszlo (1745-1782), and second, in 1785 Maria Anna Gräfin von Hohenfeld (1768-1848). He was elevated to the status of Prince (Fürst) in 1783. He received the Order of St. Stephen in 1777. He was Captain of the Hungarian Noble Life Guard from September 1791 until his death in 1794, and commanded an autonomous corps on the Upper Rhine at the beginning of the War of the First Coalition. His Corps participated in various actions between July and October, 1792, after which he received the Commanders Cross of the Order of St. Stephen. His corps was later absorbed into other military formations. He was Colonel and Proprietor (Inhaber) of the 31st Infantry Regiment, from November 1777 to October 1780, and then Proprietor and Colonel of the 34th Infantry Regiment, from September 1780 until his death. He was initiated to the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1790, and also became an imperial Chamberlain. He disbanded the Esterházy musical establishment for the duration of his reign.
Born in Vienna, on 12 December 1765, he was the son of Anton and his first wife Maria Theresia. He became reigning Prince on the death of his father in 1794.
Like several of his predecessors Nikolaus II pursued a military career. He is remembered for his amassing a large art collection, for his musical patronage of Haydn and Beethoven, for his sexual debauchery, and for his high expenditures. Ultimately these led to the family being placed under a sequestration order, roughly the equivalent of bankruptcy.
Main article: Pál Esterházy
Served Austria in a series of diplomatic posts, and in 1848 was briefly Foreign Minister.
The family encountered financial trouble during his reign, and (according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica), "the last years of his life were spent in comparative poverty and isolation, as even the Esterházy-Forchtenstein estates were unequal to the burden of supporting his fabulous extravagance and had to be placed in the hands of curators."
Owing to financial trouble, Nikolaus III sold the family art collection "on generous terms" to the Austro-Hungarian state in 1870. The collection is, as a result, on public view today in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.
The reign of Nikolaus IV was a time of revival for the Esterházy family fortunes. The family estates were made into flourishing businesses, including a "traditional welfare net, providing security for employees." With the resulting improvement in the family finances, the family properties were finally released from decades of sequestration. In addition, the family palaces--including the long-abandoned Esterháza--were restored and provided with modern plumbing and electricity. In these efforts Nikolaus was greatly assisted by his wife, Princess Margit (1874-1910), née Countess Csiráky.
The lifetime of this prince witnessed momentous, often catastrophic changes for the Esterházy family. At the end of the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was split up, and the family's land holdings thus came to be located in several different countries.
In 1938, the legal instrument of fideicommiss, which had allowed families to hold property in foundations owned by the whole family, but governed by the head of the family alone, was abolished in Austria (aristocratic families had used this instrument to finance the representative household of the head of the family as well as to maintain palaces and castles, and to pay allowances to family members without personal wealth.) After the dissolution of the Esterházy trust, prince Paul became the sole owner of the wealth accumulated therein so far.
The Second World War proved disastrous: the family was scattered during the war years, and at the end of the war the new Hungarian government carried out a comprehensive land reform, "confiscating the land of gentry with estates of more than 50 hectares". Only the land in Austria remained in prince Paul's possession. Further, in the years after 1945 Hungary came under the rule of the Hungarian People's Republic, an authoritarian Communist regime sponsored by the Soviet Union. Prince Paul endured a show trial and was sentenced to solitary confinement for 15 years. Freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he moved to Zurich with his wife, Melinda Ottrubay, whom he had married in Budapest in 1945, and lived in Zurich, from there managing his Austrian domains, until his death.
Paul's wealth was inherited by his wife Melinda. Since she has no children, she created several foundations to preserve the cultural and historic heritage of the family, with the historic family seat Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt as the centre of all activities. Her nephew Stefan Ottrubay acts as a general manager.
The heir to the line is Prince Paul-Anton Nikolaus Maximilian, born in Munich in 1986. The title of Prince has no legal standing in Hungary today, as noble titles were abolished in 1947 (for details see Hungarian nobility). In Austria, aristocratic titles were abolished in 1919.
While the Hungarian property was lost in 1945, the Austrian and German castles and estates still remain in the family. The widow of Prince Paul, Melinda Esterházy, created several foundations to preserve the cultural and historic heritage of the family.
Galanta, Slovakia (from 1421 owned by the House of Esterházy)
Forchtenstein Castle, Austria (since 1622 until today owned by the family)
Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt, Austria (since 1649 until today)
Eszterháza Palace, Hungary (1681-1945)
Former monastery at Edelstetten (in Neuburg an der Kammel, Bavaria) (since 1804 until today)
Lackenbach estate, Austria (since 1618 until today)
Csákvár Castle, Hungary (1778-1945)
Pápa Castle, Hungary (1626-1945)
Tata Castle, Hungary (1727-1945)