The famous Italian Este family, of Lombard origin, descended from the Obertenghi. Albert Azzo II (d. 1097) is regarded as the head of the family because he first made Este his residence. His first-born son, made heir of Carinthia by his uncle Guelf III and Duke of Bavaria by Emperor Henry IV, as Guelf IV continued the Guelf family (see guelfs and ghibellines). In time reduced to the Duchy of Brunswick, in 1714 it emerged as the House of Hanover with George I of England.
Medieval Origins. From Albert's second son, Folco (d. c. 1136), descends the Italian line. Folco's son, Obizzo I (d. 1193), inherited ferrara in 1184 but had to dispute with the Ghibelline Torelli family for the city. Obizzo's nephew, Azzo IV (d. 1212), who sided with Otto IV and then with Innocent III, accompanied Frederick II to Germany in 1212. His first son, Aldobrandino (d. 1215), lost the castle of Este to Padua and was succeeded by the second son, Azzo VII (d. 1264). Their sister, Bl. Beatrice, was a nun. Azzo VII broke with Frederick II and became podesta of Ferrara, establishing the basis of the family's authority. His daughter Beatrice married Andrew II of Hungary. Azzo's son died in prison as a hostage of Frederick II. His grandson, Obizzo II (d.1293), succeeded; as the ally of Charles of anjou, he acquired Modena in 1288 and Reggio in 1289; his daughter Beatrice married Galeazzo visconti. His son, Azzo VIII (d. 1308), had ambitions for Parma and Bologna but lost Modena and Reggio in 1306; he left a disputed succession, and Ferrara came into Angevin hands. In 1317 Rinaldo (d. 1335) regained Ferrara as a fief of the pope. Obizzo III (d. 1352) in 1336 regained Modena, which was conferred on his son Aldobrandino (d. 1361) by Charles IV. Aldobrandino's brother and successor, Albert (d. 1393), founded the University of Ferrara in 1391. Under Albert's son Nicholas III (d. 1441), dissolute and cruel but shrewd, the family became powerful.
Renaissance Greatness. Leonello (d. 1450), Nicholas's son, made Ferrara a major center of culture in the Renaissance. His brother and successor, Borso (d. 1471), Duke of Modena (1452) and of Ferrara (1471), gave his name to one of the world's richest codices, the Bible of Borso in the Biblioteca Estense in Modena. Borso was succeeded by his brother Ercole I (d. 1505), whose children are noteworthy: Beatrice married Ludovico sforza; Isabella, known for her culture, married Francesco II gonzaga, Duke of Mantua; Hippolyte I (d. 1520) was a cardinal; Alfonso I (d. 1534), his successor, Duke of Ferrara, married Lucretia borgia, and their son Hippolyte II (d. 1572) was a cardinal. Ercole II (d. 1559), Alfonso's son by his first wife, Anna Sforza, succeeded him. Ercole's son Louis was a cardinal (d. 1586); his daughters Lucretia and Eleanora were praised by Torquato Tasso. With his son Alfonso II (d. 1597), Duke of Ferrara, the legitimate line of Nicholas III became extinct.
The Cesare–Este Line. Clement VIII refused to recognize the illegitimate Cesare (d. 1628), who retained Modena but yielded Ferrara to the Church and French lands to Anne of guise. Cesare's son, Alfonso III (d.1644), married Isabelle of Savoy; he was widowed in 1626, abdicated in 1629, became a Capuchin, and was ordained in 1630. He labored for the apostolate in the Tyrol and in Vienna; his son Louis was cardinal and bishop of Reggio. Another son, Francesco I (d. 1658), fought for both Spain and France in hope of regaining Ferrara. His son, Alfonso IV (d. 1662), a general of Louis XIV, married a niece of Cardinal Mazarin in 1655. Their daughter, Maria Beatrice, married the Duke of York, later james ii of england; their son, Francesco II (d. 1694), founded the University of Mantua and the Biblioteca Estense. Since Francesco was without sons, he was succeeded by his uncle Rinaldo (d. 1737), who renounced the cardinalate to marry Charlotte of Brunswick. Rinaldo's son Francesco III (d. 1780) fought for Spain against Austria, but by becoming Austrian administrator general of Lombardy and marrying Beatrice, his niece and heir, to the Archduke Ferdinand, gave up the independence of the duchy. His son Ercole III died in Turin in 1803, an exile from Modena. Ferdinand (d. 1806) and Beatrice (d.1829) inherited the duchy until the Treaty of Vienna gave it to her son Francesco IV (d. 1846). Another son, Ferdinand Charles Joseph (d. 1850), was a famous Austrian general in the Napoleonic wars and governed Galicia (1830–46). Francesco V was dispossessed in 1860 and died in Vienna, Nov. 20, 1875.
The Este Cardinals. The Este family was represented by many cardinals during the period of the high Renaissance. Hippolyte I, a cardinal (b. Ferrara, Nov. 20, 1479; d. Ferrara, Sept. 2, 1520) was, thanks to his aunt, the queen of Matyas Hunyadi of Hungary, archbishop of Esztergom at age seven, cardinal deacon at age 14, archbishop of Milan at age 17, and bishop of Ferrara, Narbonne, Modena, and Capua, as well as a holder of other benefices. He renounced Esztergom for Zagreb in 1497 and yielded Milan to his nephew Hippolyte II in 1520. He conducted successful military operations against Venice in the League of Cambrai (1509) and urged Este to resist Pope Julius II, who wanted it to join the Holy League. When he was summoned to Rome by Julius, he sent in his stead Ariosto, whose patron he was from 1503
to 1517 and who dedicated the Orlando furioso to him. Hippolyte was in Hungary from 1517 to 1520. He knew Leonardo da Vinci and was himself a man of great culture.
Hippolyte II, cardinal (b. Ferrara, Aug. 25, 1509; d. Tivoli, Dec. 2, 1572) was archbishop of Milan at age ten, later bishop of Lyons, Orléans, Autun, Auch, and Morienne, and was made cardinal in pectore (thanks to Francis I) in 1538 and publicly proclaimed in 1539. As cardinal protector of France, he represented the French party in Italy and in the sacred college. He was out of favor with Paul IV, but was legate a latere for Pius IV to Catherine de Médicis in France (1561–63). He was a great patron of the arts and began the construction of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli. His candidacy for the papacy was defeated in 1550, 1555, and 1561 because reformers who thought him too worldly joined the enemies of France.
Louis, cardinal, (b. Ferrara, Dec. 25, 1538; d. Rome, Dec. 30, 1586) disliked the clerical life, but his family persuaded him to become archbishop of Ferrara and, in 1561, cardinal. In 1558 and in 1581 he sought to leave his orders for marriage, but the pope refused permission. He was protected by the French. From 1565 to 1572 he was the patron of Tasso. Despite his enormous income he was always in debt. He completed the building of the Villa d'Este.
Alexander, cardinal (b. Modena, 1568; d. Rome, 1624) was bishop of Reggio (1621) and a good pastor; he was a learned man, as well as a patron of the arts.
Rinaldo, cardinal (b. Modena, 1618; d. Rome, 1672) left a distinguished military career to become bishop of Reggio and of Montpellier.
Rinaldo, cardinal (b. 1655; d. 1737) was the son of Francesco I. He became cardinal in 1681, but renounced the cardinalate to marry and assure the succession of his family.
The Last Dukes of Ferrara. The power and prestige of the Este family dwindled during the rule of the last Dukes of Ferrara. Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara (b. Ferrara, July 21, 1476; d. Oct. 1534) was married to Anna Sforza and then Lucretia Borgia; he maintained the duchy by alliances with the pope, France, and the Empire. He traveled in England and Flanders and devoted himself to the arts, commerce, and military science.
Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara (b. Ferrara, Nov. 22, 1533; d. Ferrara, Oct. 27, 1597) sought in vain to promote the fortunes of Este. From his marriages to the daughters of Cosimo I de Medici in 1560, Emperor Ferdinand I in 1565, and the Duke of Mantua in 1579 he had neither issue nor political advantage. He took part in the civil wars in France; and for his part in the war against the Turks in 1566, Tasso dedicated the Gerusalemme liberata to him. He lost supremacy over the small Italian city–states to the Medici. He was disliked despite an anti–Machiavellian program of loyalty and religion, expressed in a Principe written by his secretary of state. He died without heirs, and Este escheated to the pope.
Bibliography: l. simeoni, Enciclopedia Italiana di scienzi, littere ed arti, 36 v. (Rome 1928–39; suppl. 1938–) 14:395–398; 15:857–859. a. mercati and a. pelzer, Dizionario ecclesiastico, 3 v. (Turin 1954–58) 1:1014–15.
[e. p. colbert]