ESTE FAMILY, one of the oldest of the former reigning houses of Italy. It is in all probability of Lombard origin, and descended, according to Muratori, from the princes who governed in Tuscany in Carolingian times. The lordship of the town of Este was first acquired by Alberto Azzo II., who also bore the title of marquis of Italy  (d. c.1097); he married Kunitza or Kunegonda, sister of Welf or Guelph III., duke of Carinthia. Welf died without issue, and was succeeded by Welf IV., son of Kunitza, who married a daughter of Otto II., duke of Bavaria, and who obtained the duchy of Bavaria in 1070. Through him the house of Este became connected with the princely houses of Brunswick and Hanover, from which the sovereigns of England are descended. The Italian titles and estates were inherited by Folco I. (1060-1135), son of Alberto Azzo by his second wife Gersende, daughter of Herbert I., count of Maine.  The house of Este played a great part in the history of medieval and Renaissance Italy, and it first comes to the front in the wars between the Guelphs and Ghibellines; as leaders of the former party its princes received at different times Ferrara, Modena, Reggio and other fiefs and territories.
Obizzo I., son of Folco, was the first to bear the title of marquis of Este. He entered into the Guelphic league against the emperor Frederick I., and was comprehended in the treaty of Venice of 1177 by which municipal podestàs (foreigners chosen as heads of cities to administer justice impartially) were instituted. He was elected podestà of Padua in 1178, and in 1184 he was reconciled with Frederick, who created him marquis of Genoa and Milan, a dignity somewhat similar to that of imperial vicar. By the marriage of his son Azzo to the heiress of the Marchesella family (the story that she was carried off to prevent her marrying an enemy of the Este is a pure legend), he came to acquire great influence in Ferrara, although he was opposed by the hardly less powerful house of Torelli.
Obizzo died in 1194 and Azzo V. having predeceased him, the marquisate devolved on his grandson Azzo VI. (1170-1212), who became head of the Guelph party, and to him the people of Ferrara sacrificed their liberty by making him their first lord (1208). But during his lifetime civil war raged in the city, between the Este and the Torelli, each party being driven out again and again. Azzo (also called Azzolino) died in 1212 and was succeeded by Aldobrandino I., who in 1213 concluded a treaty with Salinguerra Torelli, the head of that house, to divide the government of the city between them. On his death in 1215 he was succeeded by his brother Azzo VII. (1205-1264), surnamed Novello, but Salinguerra Torelli usurped all power in Ferrara and expelled Azzo (1222). In 1240 Pope Gregory IX. determined on another war against the emperor Frederick II., but deemed it wise to begin by crushing the chief Ghibelline houses. Thus Azzo found himself in league with the pope and various Guelph cities in his attempt to regain Ferrara. That town underwent a four months' siege, and was at last compelled to surrender; Salinguerra was sent to Venice as a prisoner, and Azzo ruled in Ferrara once more. The Ghibelline party was annihilated, but the city enjoyed peace and happiness within, although her citizens took part in the wars raging outside. The Guelph cause triumphed, Frederick being defeated several times, and after his death Azzo helped in crushing the terrible Eccelino da Romano (q.v.) who upheld the imperial cause, at the battle of Cassano (1259). He died in 1264 and was succeeded by Obizzo II. (1240-1293) his grandson, who in 1288 received the lordship of Modena, and that of Reggio in 1289. He was a capable but cruel ruler, and while professing devotion to the Guelph cause, did homage to the German king Rudolph I. when he descended into Italy.
Obizzo II. died in 1293 and was succeeded by his son Azzo VIII., but the latter's brothers, Aldobrandino and Francesco, who were to have shared in the government, were expelled and became his bitter enemies. The misgovernment of Azzo led to the revolt of Reggio and Modena, which shook off his yoke. Enemies arose on all sides, and he spent his last years in perpetual fighting. He died in 1308, and having no legitimate children, his brothers, his natural son Fresco, and others disputed the succession. A papal legate was appointed, and though the Este returned they were placed under pontifical tutelage.
The history of the house now becomes involved and of little interest until we come to Nicholas III. (1384-1441), who exercised sway over Ferrara, Modena, Parma and Reggio, waged many wars, was made general of the army of the Church, and in his later years governor of Milan, where he died, not without suspicion of poison. To him succeeded Lionello (1407-1450), a wise and virtuous ruler and a patron of literature and art; then Borso (1413-1471), his brother, who was created duke of Modena and Reggio by the emperor Frederick III., and duke of Ferrara by the pope. In spite of the wars by which all Italy was torn, Ferrara enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity under Borso; he patronized literature, established a printing-press at Ferrara, surrounded himself with learned men, and his court was of unparalleled splendour. He also protected industry and commerce, and ruled with great wisdom. His brother Ercole I. (1431-1505), who succeeded him in 1471, was less fortunate, and had to engage in a war with Venice, owing to a dispute about the salt monopoly, with the result that by the peace of 1484 he was forced to cede the district of Polesine to the republic. But the last years of his life were peaceful and prosperous, so that afterwards men looked back to the days of Ercole I. as to a golden age; his capital was noted both for its luxury and as the resort of men eminent in literature and art. Boiardo the poet was his minister, and Ariosto obtained his patronage.
Ercole's daughter Beatrice d'Este (1475-1497), duchess of Milan, one of the most beautiful and accomplished princesses of the Italian Renaissance, was bethrothed at the age of five to Lodovico Sforza (known as il Moro), duke of Bari, regent and afterwards duke of Milan, and was married to him in January 1491. She had been carefully educated, and availed herself of her position as mistress of one of the most splendid courts of Italy to surround herself with learned men, poets and artists, such as Niccolò da Correggio, Bernardo Castiglione, Bramante, Leonardo da Vinci and many others. In 1492 she visited Venice as ambassador for her husband in his political schemes, which consisted chiefly in a desire to be recognized as duke of Milan. On the death of Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Lodovico's usurpation was legalized, and after the battle of Fornovo (1495) both he and his wife took part in the peace congress of Vercelli between Charles VIII. of France and the Italian princes, at which Beatrice showed great political ability. But her brilliant career was cut short by death through childbirth, on the 3rd of January 1497. She belongs to the best class of Renaissance women, and was one of the culture influences of the age; to her patronage and good taste are due to a great extent the splendour of the Castello of Milan, of the Certosa of Pavia and of many other famous buildings in Lombardy.
Her sister Isabella d'Este (1474-1539), marchioness of Mantua, was carefully educated both in letters and in the arts like Beatrice, and was married when barely sixteen to Francesco Gonzaga, marquis of Mantua (1490). She showed great diplomatic and political skill, especially in her negotiations with Cesare Borgia (q.v.), who had dispossessed Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, the husband of her sister-in-law and intimate friend Elisabetta Gonzaga (1502). She received the deposed duke and duchess, as well as other princes in the same condition, at her court of Mantua, which was one of the most brilliant in Italy, and like her sister she gathered together many eminent men of letters and artists, Raphael, Andrea Mantegna and Giulio Romano being among those whom she employed. Both she and her husband were greatly influenced by Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), author of Il Cortigiano, and it was at his suggestion that Giulio Romano was summoned to Mantua to enlarge the Castello and other buildings. Isabella was "undoubtedly, among all the princesses of the 15th and 16th centuries, the one who most strikingly and perfectly personified the aspirations of the Renaissance" (Eugène Müntz); but her character was less attractive than that of her sister, and in her love of collecting works of art she showed a somewhat grasping nature, being ever anxious to cut down the prices of the artists who worked for her.
To Ercole I. succeeded his son Alphonso I. (1486-1534), the husband of Lucrezia Borgia (q.v.), daughter of Pope Alexander VI. During nearly the whole of his reign he was engaged in the Italian wars, but by his diplomatic skill and his military ability he was for many years almost always successful. He was gifted with great mechanical skill, and his artillery was of world-wide reputation. On the formation of the league of Cambrai against Venice in 1508, he was appointed to the supreme command of the papal troops by Julius II.; but after the Venetians had sustained a number of reverses they made peace with the pope and joined him against the French. Alphonso was invited to co-operate in the new combination, and on his refusal war was declared against him; but although he began by losing Modena and Reggio, he subsequently inflicted several defeats on the papal troops. He fought on the side of the French at the battle of Ravenna (1512), from which, although victorious, they derived no advantage. Soon afterwards they retired from Italy, and Alphonso, finding himself abandoned, tried to make his peace with the pope, through the mediation of Fabrizio Colonna. He went to Rome for the purpose and received absolution, but on discovering that Julius meant to detain him a prisoner, he escaped in disguise, and the pope's death in 1513 gave him a brief respite. But Leo X. proved equally bent on the destruction of the house of Este, when he too was cut off by death. Alphonso availed himself of the troubles of the papacy during the reign of the equally hostile Clement VII. to recapture Reggio (1523) and Modena (1527), and was confirmed in his possession of them by the emperor Charles V., in spite of Clement's opposition.
He died in 1534, and was succeeded by his son Ercole II. (1508-1559), who married Renée, daughter of Louis XII. of France, a princess of Protestant proclivities and a friend of Calvin. On joining the league of France and the papacy against Spain, Ercole was appointed lieutenant-general of the French army in Italy. The war was prosecuted, however, with little vigour, and peace was made with Spain in 1558. The duke and his brother, Cardinal Ippolito the Younger, were patrons of literature and art, and the latter built the magnificent Villa d' Este at Tivoli. He was succeeded by Alphonso II. (1533-1597), remembered for his patronage of Tasso, whom he afterwards imprisoned. He reorganized the army, enriched the public library, encouraged agriculture, but was extravagant and dissipated. With him the main branch of the family came to an end, and although at his death he bequeathed the duchy to his cousin Cesare (1533-1628), Pope Clement VIII., renewing the Church's hostility to the house of Este, declared that prince to be of illegitimate birth (a doubtful contention), and by a treaty with Lucrezia, Alphonso's sister, Ferrara was made over to the Holy See. Cesare held Modena and Reggio, but with him the Estensi cease to play an important part in Italian politics. For two centuries this dynasty had been one of the greatest powers in Italy, and its court was perhaps the most splendid in Europe, both as regards pomp and luxury and on account of the eminent artists, poets and scholars which it attracted.
The subsequent heads of the family were: Alphonso III., who retired to a monastery in 1629 and died in 1644; Francis I. (1610-1658), who commanded the French army in Italy in 1647; Alphonso IV. (1634-1662), the father of Mary Beatrice, the queen of James II. of England, who fought in the French army during the Spanish War, and founded the picture gallery of Modena; Francis II. (1660-1694), who originated the Este library, also at Modena, and founded the university; Rinaldo (1655-1737), through whose marriage with Charlotte Felicitas of Brunswick-Lüneburg the long-separated branches of the house of Este were reunited; Francis III. (1698-1780), who married the daughter of the regent Philip of Orleans. Francis III. wished to remain neutral during the war between Spain and Austria (1740), but the imperialists having occupied and devastated his duchy, he took the Spanish side and was appointed generalissimo of the Spanish army in Italy. He was re-established in his possessions by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), and on being reconciled with the empress Maria Theresa, he received from her the title of governor of Lombardy in 1754. With his son Ercole III. Rinaldo (1727-1803), who at the peace of Campoformio lost his duchy, the male line of the Estensi came to an end. His only daughter, Marie Beatrice (d. 1829), was married to the archduke Ferdinand, third son of the emperor Francis I. Ferdinand was created duke of Breisgau in 1803, and at his death in 1806 he was succeeded by his son Francis IV. (q.v.), to whom the duchy of Modena was given at the treaty of Vienna in 1814. He died in 1846 and was succeeded by Francis V. (q.v.), who lost his possessions by the events of 1859. With his death in 1875 the title and estates passed to the archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The children of Lady Augusta Murray, daughter of the earl of Dunmore, by her marriage with Augustus Frederick, duke of Sussex, sixth son of George III. of Great Britain, assumed the old name of d' Este, and claimed recognition as members of the royal family; but as the marriage was in violation of the royal marriages act of 1773, it was declared invalid, and their claims were set aside.
Bibliography. - G. Antonelli, Saggio di una bibliografia storica ferrarese (Ferrara, 1851); L.A. Muratori, Delle antichità estensi ed italiane (3 vols., 1717, etc.), the chief and most reliable authority on the subject, containing a quantity of documents; A. Frizzi, Memorie per la storia di Ferrara (2nd ed., Ferrara, 1847); A. Solerti, Ferrara e la corte estense nella seconda metà del sec. XVI. (Città di Castello, 1900); C. Antolini, Il dominio estense in Ferrara (Ferrara, 1896), which deals with the siege of 1240 and other special points; E.G. Gardner, Princes and Poets of Ferrara (London, 1904), a bulky volume dealing only with the Renaissance period, full of interesting and unpublished matter, especially about the literary and artistic associations of the house, but not well put together (contains good bibliography); G. Bertoni, La Biblioteca estense e la coltura ferrarese ai tempi del duca Ercole I. (Turin, 1903), useful for the literary aspect of the subject; P. Litta, Le Celebri Famiglie italiane, vol. iii. (Milan, 1831), still a valuable work; E. Noyes, The Story of Ferrara (London, 1904); Julia Cartwright's Isabella d'Este (London, 1903), and Beatrice d'Este (1899), pleasantly written but amateurish volumes based on A. Luzio's Mantova e Urbino (Turin, 1893); A. Luzio and R. Renier, "Delle relazioni di Isabella d'Este Gonzaga con Lodovico e Beatrice Sforza" (Milan, 1890, Archivio Storico Lombardo, xvii.).
 i.e. Margrave of the Empire (marchio Sancti Imperii) in Italy. (See Marquess.)
 Another son of Azzo and Gersende became count of Maine as Hugh III. (d. 1131).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)