Castle in Ferrara

On this day in history: Birth of Niccolò III d’Este – Marquis of Ferrara


Niccolò III d’Este was born on this day in 1383 in Ferrara. The d’Este family ruled Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna for over 350 years. Niccolò issued a decree condemning all adulterous women in his domain to death.

Son of Alberto d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, Niccolò III d’Este became ruler of Ferrara when he was just ten years old. He was under the protection of Venice, Florence and Bologna due to his age.

Duke of Milan

A relative, Azzo d’Este, worked for Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan. He tried to attack Ferrara, but Venice, Florence and Bologna helped Niccolò see off the challenge.

In 1403, aged 20, Niccolò joined the league against the Duke of Milan. Pope Boniface IX appointed him Captain General of the Papal Army.

Family and marriage

At the age of 13, Niccolò married for the first time, to Gigliola da Carrara, the daughter of Francesco II da Carrara, Lord of Padua.

The marriage was childless, though he did father an illegitimate son Ugo in 1405. Da Carrara died of the plague in 1416. Two years later, Niccolò married Parisina Malatesta with whom he had three children.

However, in 1425 that marriage came to a grisly end. Niccolò had his wife and son Ugo executed for adultery. In a fit of pique, he also issued a decree condemning all adulterous women in his domain to death.

The order had to be rescinded when it turned out Ferrara would be depopulated as a result.

The marquis’s third marriage was to Ricciarda of Saluzzo in 1429. She bore him two children, both of whom lived into their seventies. In total, d’Este had 5 legitimate and 11 illegitimate children.

Military leader

Niccolò established his reputation as a military leader with a number of successful campaigns. However, it the role of Ferrara in brokering a peace between Milan and Venice in 1432 that boosted the city’s prestige.

Ferrara was chosen to be the seat of a council in 1438.

Death and succession

Niccolò died in Milan on Boxing Day in 1441 after the Christmas feast. It was suspected he had been poisoned, most likely on the orders of the Duke of Milan.

Niccolò had been invited to Milan apparently in friendship by Filippo Maria Visconti, the Duke of Milan. Niccolò had previously been in league against his father, Gian Galeazzo.

His illegitimate son, Leonello d’Este, succeeded him as Marquis of Ferrara. That was despite having a legitimate son, Ercole, who was the same age that Niccolò  had been when he succeeded to the title.

Leonello concentrated on sponsoring the arts and literature to the benefit of the city. Ercolo eventually came to the title in 1471, aged 40.

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