Niccolo D'Este (1383 - 1441)

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 d’Este, 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 d’Este 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.

July 1409: Niccolo III was rendered master of Parma and Reggio as result of his success against Ottobuono Terzo.

1411: Niccolo successfully battles Marquis Roland Palavicino for control of Borgo San-Donnino.

April 6-July 6, 1412 (1413 ?): Marquis Niccolo D'Este on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, visiting Venice, Ionian Islands, Pola, Corfu, Rhodes, Cyprus, and Syria. Sometime between May 15-19, at Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, Niccolo dubbed five knights of his retinue, including Feltrino Boiardo. Two books concerning this pilgrimage were recorded in Borso’s 1467 inventory of the Este library. One of 38 folios (but dating it to 1413) – “Liber itinerariium quondam Illu. d. Nicolai Estensis et eius societatis ad Sepulcrum Anno 1413 in papiro forma parvula litteris cursivis cohopertus carta pecudina sine tabulis cart. inter et non scriptas 38. ”[Bertoni 725 no. 25]The other had 50 folios – Libellus alius itinerarii Illu. princ. olim. d. Nicolai March. Est. ad Sepulcrum in papiro cum albis ligneis litteris modernis in vulgari cart. inter et non scriptas 50” [Bertoni 725 no. 27]. I have not investigated  if either of these books are still existant.

In 1414, the Marquis and a party that included Feltrino went to St. Anthony at Vienna and also met the King of France in Paris. Marchese Manfredo del Carretto di Cera captured them in Piedmont and offered to sell them to the Duke of Milan, as Milan had not yet recovered Parma from Niccolo D'Este's military seizure in 1409. The Count of Savoy forced di Cera to surrender the captives, and had di Cera beheaded. A book of 52 folios concerning this trip is recorded in the 1467 inventory published by Bertoni – Liber itinerariium Illu. princ. olim. d. Nicolai Marchionis Estensis ad Parisium Anno 1414 in papiro forma parvula litteris modernis carta pecudina cohepertus cart. 52. [Bertoni 725 no. 26] I have not investigated whether this book is existant. After this adventure Niccolo's unsteady life becomes much calmer.

1416: Niccolo's wife Gigliolà da Carrara dies of the plague, leaving no children.

1418: Niccolo marries Parisina Malatesta, daughter of Andrea Malatesta (told by Gardener). He will have three children with her.

1420, November: Niccolo cedes Parma and San-Donnino to Filippo Maria, but retains Reggio.

Sismondi: When Filippo Maria, Duke of Milan, began to force submission from the petty tyrants who had divided his father’s possessions, and to avenge himself on those who had abused him in his youth, Niccolo III feared that this powerful prince would demand account of him for the latest conquests he had made and, without waiting for hostilities, in the month of November 1420, he ceded to the Duke of Milan Parma and San-Donnino, while in return the Duke confirmed on him the rulership of Reggio.

1423: Feltrino Boiardo ceded Rubiera to Niccolo and received Scandiano instead with other smaller townlets and the title Count.

1425: The Ugo and Parisina case (told by Frizzi). Niccolo has wife and oldest son executed on charges of adultery. Nicolas joined the league against the Duke of Milan, and was put at the head of their armies (although, this is said about various persons).

1429: Niccolo makes his illegitimate son Leonello the heir of Ferrara, giving him the preference over the elder Meliaduse. For the further education of Leonello invites Guarino Veronese, one of the most famous humanists and teachers of Greek. A circle of young and older men surrounds the 22-year-old Leonello (born 1407) and in private; Guarino later became the Chair of Greek and Latin Letters at the local Studio, the academic university at Ferarra. With Guarino the intellectual life at Ferrara develops considerably (the university had in 30ies around 30 students and in the 40ies around 300). Leonello starts to take part in administrative functions in Ferrara, Niccolo concentrates on diplomatic missions on the high political level and of course also on his new young wife beside various maitresses.

1432: A new war between Milano and Venetia is ended by a peace treaty in Ferrara.

1433: Emperor Sigismondo visits Ferrara.

1438: Ferrara is made the place of a new council, in concurrence to Basel, the choice of Ferrara as place for that important event mirrors the new role of Ferrara as peacemaking city and Niccolo's important diplomatic role. A new war breaks out during the council.

1438: Florence, in return for his neutrality in the wars with Milan, returns Polesine de Rovigo to Niccolo and absolves his debt (in 1404 he had taken a loan from Venice on this city).

Sismondi: A little while later, the long wars between the Duke of Milan and the two republics of Florence and Venice began. The Marquis d’Este, situated between the combattants, knew how to maintain his neutrality, and even to win the friendship of the two parties, between whom he was many times the mediator of the peace. It was as a reward for these good offices, and for assuring the neutrality of the Marquis d’Este, that that Venetians in 1438 turned over to Niccolo the [Polesine de] Rovigo, considering him absolved of the sixty thousand florins that they had loaned to him on this mortgage.

7th of September 1440: Michele Savonarola, a famous physician, appears at the Court of Ferrara, together with his son and his family. Later (1452) in this family Girolamo Savanorola is born, the famous preacher with desastrous influences on the city of Florence.

1440, September 25: Bianca Maria Visconti, 15 years of age, arrives for a six-month stay in Ferrara, as guest of Niccolo d’Este. A possible follow-up - it's an unclear political situation - would be a marriage Leonello and Bianca Maria Visconti.

1.1.1441: This is the point in time, which interests us. Bianca Maria Visconti gets a present, objects, which might be identified as playing cards.

1441, April: Niccolo accompanies Bianca Maria back to Pavia, and then goes on to Milan, where he had been invited by Filippo Maria. He is called "governor of Milan" then. Leonello's function in Ferrara is strenthened. The situation is dominated by the still lasting Venetian-Milanese war.

Second half 1441: Peace between Venetia and marriage Bianca Maria and Francesco Sforza in October.

1441, December 26: Niccolo dies in the early morning after the Christmas feast. Many suspect poisoning, the suspicions go in various directions, of course also to the always suspected Filippo Visconti.

Sismondi: Duke Filippo Maria Visconti had taken such a great liking to him that, having called him to Milan, and following his advice in everything, he let it be understood that he would name him his successor. Those who waited impatiently for the vacancy of the Ducal throne, to change the government, viewed with extreme alarm this favour of the Marquis d’Este, and Niccolo III, probably poisoned, died in a few hours in Milan, on December 26, 1441.

(autorbis, Caldwell, Hoshizaki)

Niccolo d'Este

Niccolo d'Este

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