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Prince Esterhazy: Family & Palace

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Esterházy family was one of the most important noble lines of Hungary. In this lesson, we'll talk about the first prince of the Esterházy family, and see how this house developed its power.

Paul I, Prince Esterházy of Galántha

What kind of noble has a name like Prince Esterházy of Galántha? A very, very powerful one. Although you may not be familiar with this name, the Esterházy family was one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of Hungary at a time when Hungary was one of the wealthiest and most powerful kingdoms in Europe. So, they're a big deal. Many of the Esterházy nobles held the title of prince, referring to someone within the Holy Roman Empire who had almost complete authority over their own territory. The first of the Esterházy princes was Paul I, sometimes written as Pál, who lived from 1635 to 1713. A lot of history from this time period revolves around Paul I, but with a name like Esterházy, he had a lot to live up to.

Prince Paul I
Paul I

The Esterházy Family

So, who is this noble family? They were a family from what is now Galanta, Slovakia. Called the Eszterhas family, they rose to prominence as lesser nobles in the 15th century. The founder of the true noble House of Esterházy, however, is generally considered to be Ferec Esterházy. Ferec distinguished himself through military and civil service and earned the rights and lands of lordship in the late 16th century. He was the first to assume the name/title of Ferec Esterházy of Galántha, and started amassing land, power, and titles for this house. While the Esterházy house formally served the Hapsburgs (a German family who ruled the Holy Roman Empire), they would eventually hold substantial power of their own, especially in what was then the kingdom of Hungary.

Over time, the noble House of Esterházy grew in size and wealth. Most of their wealth came from owning property, something only nobles had the right to do, and this land came from three sources: property seized from Protestants in the Counter-Reformation, property seized from Turks in various wars, and property acquired through fortuitous marriages.

As the Esterházy family built up their lands and wealth, they also started accumulating titles and power. Nikolaus Esterházy (1583-1645) was the first to acquire the title of Count, and established the family as refined patrons of the arts. Count Nikolaus, sometimes spelled Miklós, also held the title of palatine, which was the highest-ranking noble of Hungary who served directly below the monarch. His son, however, would achieve an even greater title. Paul Esterházy of Galántha was the first to hold that coveted title of Prince. This didn't exactly make him an heir to the throne, but did grant him great autonomy and sovereignty over a wide range of lands. It was under Count Nikolaus and Prince Paul I that the House of Esterházy truly became a force to be reckoned with and one of the most influential families of Europe.

Count Nikolaus
Count Nikolaus

The Esterházy Palace

Now, imagine that you are a 17th-century noble family. You've got money, you've got power, you've got time-- what do you do? You build a palace, of course! Or, at least you renovate one in the newest style. In 1622, the Esterházy family bought a 13th-century castle. Around 1663, Prince Paul I decided that the estate needed to fit the family's new title and embarked on a major restoration.

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