Any family that distinguishes itself for eight hundred and seventy-five years must have something special, and the Italian family d’Este has it. Appearing first in the misty beginnings of the eleventh century, they became rulers of the city of Ferrara near the end of the twelfth. Their iron rule stayed firm until 1598, when Ferrara was incorporated into the Papal States.
The first Marchese or marquess was Azzo d’Este (1205 – 1264), whose absolute authority seems to have been established by the last year of his life. The office of Signore or Lord was made hereditary during the time of his son, Obizzo, who annexed the territories of Modena and Reggio. Niccoló III, born 1383, brought peace and security to the area; his sons Leonello, born 1407, Borso, b. 1413, and Ercole, b. 1431 were mainly known as fervent patrons of the arts, as well as being scholarly students of the humanities. The daughters of Ercole, Isabella, b.1474 and Beatrice, b. 1475 continued this peaceful tradition. The first married Francisco Gonzaga (q.v.) of Mantua while the second married Lodovico Sforza (q.v.) of Milan, thus uniting three of the grandest (and richest) Italian families.
Alfonso I (d. 1534) interrupted decades of scholarly introspection and active art patronage by quarrelling with two Popes – Julius II and Leo X, losing the Este family’s papal fiefs which were of course priceless, but Alfonso’s son Ippolito, d. 1572 was responsible for the construction of the world-famous Villa Este, at Tivoli. The family had lost authority over Ferrara by 1598, though it retained the Duchy of Modena until 1859, when Francis V (1819 – 75) gave up his properties to King Victor Emmanuel II. The Villa Este still stands, having survived revolutionary wars, and both World Wars in the twentieth century.
Among the most powerful Hungarian aristocratic families flourishing and expanding into different branches from the 16th to the 19th centuries was the family Esterhazy. The family was huge, but among the multitudes was Count Pál Esterhazy of Fraknó, b. 1635 who was a Habsburg field-marshal, promoted to Prince of the Empire in 1687 for his usually successful defence of his country and dynasty against the Turks.
Prince Miklós IV (b. 1765) fought well against Napoleon and his marshals, but he was an extravagant man and lost most of the family estates through debt. Prince Pál Antal (b.1786) was Ambassador to London, though he represented Austria, and in 1848 returned to Hungary to become Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Both Este and Esterhazy remains distinguished families in Italy and Hungary, though they are denied political power or influence by the workings of Democracy. Former Esterhazy palaces throughout Hungary and Austria are regularly visited by interested tourists.