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d'Este, House of

d'Este, House of

An aristocratic family that ruled the cities of Ferrara and Modena and who were leading patrons of Renaissance writers, musicians, and artists in Italy. The family came from the northern region of Lombardy and originally were lords of Este, a domain near Padua. In the Middle Ages the Este dynasty supported the popes and the Guelph faction in the struggles between the papacy and the Holy Roman emperors. Azzo VI d'Este reigned as the podesta, or magistrate, of Mantua and Verona; his son Azzo VII succeeded to that title in Ferrara. In 1264, Obizzo d'Este became the lord of Ferrara. The Este family held Ferrara as a fief granted by the pope, and served as the pope's vicars (representatives) from 1332.

Ferrara became a flourishing cultural center under Niccolo d'Este, who ruled from 1384 until his death in 1441. The court of the d'Este patronized artists, musicians, and writers. Niccolo's son Borso increased the family's lands and power through winning the title of duke of Modena and Reggio d'Emilia from Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor, and duke of Ferrara from Pope Paul II. Ercole d'Este, another son, married his daughter Beatrice to Ludovico Sforza, the duke of Milan; his daughter Isabella married Francesco Gonzaga, the marquis of Mantua, and through her lavish patronage of the leading artists and writers of the day, including Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, and Ludovico Ariosto, won the title of Queen of the Renaissance.

Alfonso d'Este, who ruled the d'Este domain until his death in 1534, took an active part in the wars and diplomacy of northern Italy. He joined with Milan, the kingdom of France, and the pope in the League of Cambrai against Venice. The pope and Alfonso fell out of favor, however, and in 1510 the duke was excommunicated from the church and forfeited his titles in Modena and Reggio. In 1526 Alfonso joined the campaign of Emperor Charles V against Pope Clement VII, and won back the lost duchies in 1530. Ercole d'Este, the son of Alfonso, married the daughter of King Louis XII, and allied with France against the kingdom of Spain. His brother Ippolito, a cardinal of the church, built the lavish Villa d'Este at Tivoli, the finest example of a Renaissance palace to survive to the present day.

The last of the d'Este line was Alfonso II, who died in 1597. Although he sought to pass the duchy to his cousin Cesare, Pope Clement VIII did not recognize the inheritance and declared Ferrara a part of the papal territories.

See Also: Ariosto, Ludovico; d'Este, Isabella; Ferrara

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