|House of Este|
|Princely noble family|
|Country|| Duchy of Ferrara|
Duchy of Modena and Reggio
|Etymology||From the town of Este, Italy|
|Founder||Fulco I of Este[a]|
|Current head||None; direct line extinct|
|Final ruler||Ercole III (Modena)|
Maria Beatrice (Massa & Carrara)
Ab Insomni Non Custodita Dracone
(Unattended by the tireless dragon)
|Estate(s)||Castello Estense (Ferrara's seat)|
Ducal Palace (Modena's seat)
|Cadet branches||House of Welf (agnatic) |
The elder branch of the House of Este, known as the Younger House of Welf, included dukes of Bavaria and Brunswick-Lüneburg and produced Britain's Hanoverian monarchs, as well as one Emperor of Russia (Ivan VI) and one Holy Roman Emperor (Otto IV).
According to Edward Gibbon, the family originated from the Roman Attii family, which migrated from Rome to Este to defend Italy against the Ostrogoths. However, there is little evidence to support this hypothesis. The names of the early members of the family indicate that a Frankish origin is much more likely. Other sources state that the family is a branch of the Obertenghi. The first known member of the house was Margrave Adalbert of Mainz, known only as the father of Oberto I, Count palatine of Italy, who died around 975. Oberto's grandson, Albert Azzo II, Margrave of Milan (996-1097) built a castle at Este, near Padua, and named himself after the location. He had three sons from two marriages, two of whom became the ancestors of the two branches of the family:
The two surviving branches, with Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and Bavaria on the German (Welf dynasty) side, concluded an agreement in 1154 which allocated the family's Italian possessions to the younger line, the Fulc-Este, who in the course of time acquired Ferrara, Modena and Reggio. Este itself was taken over in 1275 by Padua, and in 1405 (together with Padua) by Venice.
The elder branch of the House of Este, the House of Welf, historically rendered as "Guelf" or "Guelph" in English, produced dukes of Bavaria (1070-1139, 1156-1180), dukes of Saxony (1138-1139, 1142-1180), a German King (1198-1218), the dukes of Brunswick and Lüneburg (1208-1918) (later styled the "Electors of Hanover") when the two branches of the family recombined in 1705. The senior branch of the House of Welf continued to be ruled by the princes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, as undisputed until the death of the ruling duke of Brunswick Prince William VIII, in 1884. Prior to his death, his brother Karl II from Geneva Switzerland, as exiled de jure ruler of the house, had declared the Prussian annexation of the crown and the earlier Hanoverian usurpation absolutely illegal acts of usurpation inside of the German House. At his death, his grandson continued internationally recognized appeals. Hanover formed the Guelph Party (or German Party) to continue political appeals against the Prussian and German annexations of the crown.
After the peace ending the Napoleonic Wars reshaped Europe, ushering in the modern era, the Electorate of Hanover (duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg, held in personal union by the king of Great Britain, George III) was dissolved by treaty. Its lands were enlarged and the state was promoted to a kingdom. The new kingdom existed from 1815 to 1866, but upon the accession of Queen Victoria (who could not inherit Hanover under Salic law) in 1837, it passed to her uncle, Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover, and thus ceased to be in personal union with the British Crown.
All later generations of the Italian branch are descendants of Fulco d'Este. From 1171 on, his descendants were titled Margraves of Este.
Obizzo I (d. 1193), the first margrave, battled against Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. His nephew Azzo d'Este VI (1170-1212) became podestà of Mantua and Verona. As the dowry of his niece the Marchesella, Ferrara passed to Azzo VI d'Este In 1146, with the last of the Adelardi. In 1242 Azzo VII Novello was nominated podestà for his lifetime.
The lordship of Ferrara was made hereditary by Obizzo II (d. 1293), who was proclaimed Lord of Ferrara in 1264, Lord of Modena in 1288, and Lord of Reggio in 1289. Ferrara was a papal fief and the Este family were given the position of hereditary papal vicars in 1332.
Ferrara became a significant center of culture under Niccolò d'Este III (1384-1441), who received several popes with great magnificence, especially Eugene IV. He held a Council in Ferrara in 1438, later known as the Council of Florence.
His successors were his illegitimate sons Leonello (1407-1450) and Borso (1413-1471), who was elevated to Duke of Modena and Reggio by Emperor Frederick III in 1452, receiving these duchies as imperial fiefs. In 1471, he received the duchy of Ferrara as papal fief from Pope Paul II, for which occasion splendid frescoes were executed at Palazzo Schifanoia.
Borso was succeeded by a half-brother, Ercole (1431-1505), who was one of the most significant patrons of the arts in late 15th and early 16th century Italy. Ferrara grew into a cultural center renowned especially for music; Josquin des Prez worked for Duke Ercole, Jacob Obrecht came to Ferrara twice, and Antoine Brumel served as principal musician from 1505. Ercole's daughter Beatrice (1475-1497) married Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan; another daughter, Isabella (1474-1539), married Francesco Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua.
The son of Alfonso and Lucrezia Borgia, Ercole d'Este II (1508-1559), married Renée of France, daughter of Louis XII of France. His son Alfonso II first married Lucrezia, daughter of grand-duke Cosimo I of Tuscany. After she died, he married Barbara, the sister of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor (1527-1576). His third wife, Margherita Gonzaga, was daughter of the duke of Mantua.
Ercole raised the glory of Ferrara to its highest point, continuing the patron of Torquato Tasso and Giovanni Battista Guarini and in general favoring the arts and sciences, as the princes of his house had always done. The legitimate line ended in 1597 with him; as his heir, Emperor Rudolph II recognized his first cousin Cesare d'Este (1533-1628), member of a cadet branch born out of wedlock, who continued to rule in the imperial duchies and carried on the family name. Ferrara, on the other hand, was annexed by force of arms in 1598 by Pope Clement VIII on grounds of the heir's illegitimacy and incorporated into the Papal States.
The last duke, Ercole III, was deposed in 1796 by the French. His two duchies became the Cispadane Republic which one year later was merged into the Cisalpine Republic and then into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. Ercole was compensated in 1801 with the small principality of Breisgau in southwestern Germany, whose previous rulers, the Habsburgs, ceded it to him in anticipation of its eventual return to the Habsburgs, since Ercole's daughter Maria Beatrice Ricciarda d'Este was married to a cadet Habsburg, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este. Ercole died in 1803 and Breisgau passed to his daughter and her husband, who in 1806 lost it during the Napoleonic reorganization of the western territories of the defunct Holy Roman Empire to the enlarged and elevated Grand Duchy of Baden.