|1383: Niccolo III d'Este was the illegitimate son of Alberto I, Signore di Ferrara, Modena and Reggio (1388-93, born 1347 in Ferrara and dying at the same place 1393). Alberto married in 1388 Giovanna di Roberti, but it seems, that Niccolo stayed his only son - born before that marriage of his father by another woman.
His mother was Isotta Albaresani. Niccolo was born in Ferrara 9.11.1383; there were some dramatic events during his youth. 1385 there was a rebellion, probably caused by heavy taxes and famine and the current ruler, Niccolo II, Alberto’s brother and Niccolo’s uncle, reacted by starting to build a solid castle to be prepared for the future.
In 1388 Niccolo II died and Alberto, the illegitimate brother, became the new Signore, although there must have been some resistance from the side of his nephew, Obizzo IV, son of the earlier regent Aldobrandino III dEste, who claimed with some rights the throne for himself. Obizzo IV and his mother ended beheaded, and the whole story, which probably includes an usurpation of the throne, wasn't very well transmitted by Albert and his successors - as usual, history was written by the winners.
It seems that Niccolo and Alberto cooperated in the government since 1361 (death of the older brother Aldobrandino, who was father to Obizzo), so in the deciding situation of 1388 he had the better cards. Alberto proved as a good regent with much interest for culture and art. In 1392 he founded the University of Ferrara, which - with some difficulty at the beginning - established itself as a renowned centre of teaching and learning.
1393: Alberto died and placed the 10-years-old Niccolo under the protection of the republic of Venice.
Sismondi: Niccolo III, Marquis d’Este, Signore of Ferrara, Modena, Parma and Reggio, son and successor of Alberto, was left by his father, in 1393, under the protection of the republics of Florence, Venice and Bologna, as well as that of the Signore of Padua.In fact these allies sent soldiers to Ferrara and to Modena to protect the young Marquis from the ambitions of his powerful neighbour, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Signore of Milan. In 1394 one of his relatives, Azzo, a descendant of Francesco d'Este and general for Gian Galeazzo Visconti, tried to profit from the youth of Nicolas III and take his Estates; but with the Venitians, Bolognese and Florentines coming to his assistance, Azzo was defeated and made prisoner.
(Azzo descended from a side-path of the family, which till 1343 also carried the title "Signore da Ferrara").
Sismondi: "Niccolo III was soon attacked by Azzo d’Este, son of that Francesco who had made war with the three former Este princes, and who, while exiled from Ferrara, had earned a grand military reputation in the service of the house of Visconti. Azzo d’Este, assured of the secret assistance of Gian Galeazzo, had still on his side many noblemen of the estates of Ferrara and Modena, the Signores of Ravenna and Forli, and finally Giovanni Barbiano, a famous condottiere, whom the counsellors of Niccolo tried in vain to bring to their side, at last getting rid of him by assassination."
1395, April: Azzo dEste is taken prisoner by Astorre Manfredi, Signore of Faënza. He is kept in the Rocca di Faënza. As a result of this, the internal problems of the Este dominions cease.
In 1397, the Marquis Niccolo, 13 years old, married Gigliolà da Carrara (also known as Julie de Carrara), daughter of Francesco II, ruler of Padua.
Sismondi: Niccolo III, at less than fourteen years of age, married in 1397 Gigliolà, daughter of Francesco II da Carrara, Signore of Padua ; he was bound by this most intimately to the cause of the Guelfs, of which Carrara was one of the most staunch defenders, and because of this he was called upon in 1403 to help divide the possessions which Gian Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, had conquered and which his death had left defenseless. But, although he scored several victories over the Milanese armies, he was not able to make any stable conquests. Repulsed in the month of May 1404, before Reggio, which he had wanted to surprise, and soon after engaged in a dangerous war with the Venetians, in the defense of his father-in-law Francesco da Carrara, he lost on this occasion the Polesine de Rovigo, which he had previously engaged to the Republic of Venice for the security of a debt.”
In 1403, Niccolo joined the league formed against the Duke of Milan (duke Gian Galeazzo had died in 1402 and there were constant fights for the regency in Milan around this time, the new Duke was his eldest son Giovanni Maria) and by Pope Boniface IX he was declared Captain General of Church's Army. From special notes (compare our page about Feltrino, who accompanied Niccolo on his adventures) we know, that there were a famous fighting school in Ferrara at this time (1404 is mentioned); Niccolo was young then, but probably capable to take the job.
1405: Niccolo gets his first illegitimate son, Ugo; his first marriage is now 7 years old and childless. Niccolo will get many illegitimate children from then and will have two other wives with some children, totally around 20 are known by name. Some say, that there were more and some say, that there were much more (the highest number I have seen was nearly 300). Niccolo became the subject of a humorous rhyme: "On this and the other side of Po, everywhere are the sons of Niccolo". (List of known children).
1405, 27th of March: Niccolo signs a treaty ceding all holdings around Este to Venice.
Sismondi: Este and the castles in the vicinity had been ceded previously to the Signore of Padua ; they also were conquered by the Venetians, seeing to it that the house of Este was entirely deprived of its long-held possessions. Niccolo III was obliged to renounce them, by his peace treaty with the Republic on the 27 March, 1405.
Ca. 1407: Niccolo tried to take the town of Reggio, which from earlier belonged to the Ferrarese state, but he was repulsed by Ottoboni (= Ottobuono Terzo), who, in the pretext of going to the assistance of the Duke of Milan, held the place after having been rendered master of it. Niccolo joined with Giovanni Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, and other princes to stop the brigandage which Ottoboni never stopped practising in Lombardy.
Sismoni: However, the weakening of the house of Visconti granted security to all its neighbours. Niccolo III, attacked by Ottobuono Terzo, one of the generals of Gian Galeazzo, who upon being rendered independent dominated at Parma and Reggio, achieved some victories over this tyrant.
1409: Ottoboni was killed the 27th of May 1409 by Muzio Attendola (also called Sforza Cotignola), the father of Francesco Sforza, personally, at that time general of the Marquis Niccolo d'Este, the story (here shortened and translated) of this is given by Klaus Schelle, "Die Sforza" :
Muzio Attendola was active together with Condottieri Tartaglia (normal name: Angelo Lavello) against Pisa and was successful in 1406, Pisa became then part of the Florentian state (very important for the Florentian trade on sea). With his 250 horses (which indicates at that time a condottieri of minor importance) he then was hired by Niccolo, especially against Ottobuono Terzo, who must be regarded as a despot of rather worse dimensions. In November 1408 a cousin of Muzio, Michele Attendola, was captured with some men by Terzo, tortured and imprisoned under very bad conditions - contradicting with this behaviour the common conditions between mercenaries of the time. A few monthes later it was possible for the prisoners to escape. In 1409 it was arranged to talk about peace, the delegations approached each other without weapons - under them also Ottobuono Terzo and at the other side Muzio and Michele Attendola, the latter both filled with rather bad feelings against Terzo. Muzio had full armour, pretending, that he never was without it. His horse started to jump, running from one side to the other, and seemed obviously out of control, when Sforza suddenly appeared beneath Terzo with a drawn sword in his hand, raming the steel in the body of the despot. Michele with a knife was immediately above Terzo, doing the rest of the bloody work, and a hidden troop of soldiers arrived from the background attacking with success the rest of Terzo's delegation. The corpse of Terzo was taken to Modena, where emigrants of Parma and Reggio, which had in the past suffered enough by Ottobuono, tore up the corpse with their teeth.
Francesco Sforza (* 1401) was from that time on educated at the court of the d'Este till 1412. He must have known Niccolo d'Este well (perhaps in
the role of a second father) and also Leonello (*1407) as a child.