He came from a low-gentry family in Pozsony County, his father was the vice-county comes and his mother was Illésházy Zsófia, the sister of the later reigning Palatine. Although he was born a Protestant, he was Catholicised, but his real path to the princely orders and the royal court was opened by two distinguished marriages. He accompanied his uncle to his exile in Poland and then to the court of Bocskai, but after his death (1609) he took a post at the castle of Mágochy Ferenc in Munkács, where he met his master’s wife, Dersffy Orsolya.

Dersffy Orsolya

First, they had a love affair, although she was much older, and then they married in 1612, after Mágochy’s death. Esterházy acquired the entire Mágochy and Dersffy inheritance. Orsolya gave birth to his first son, István.
She died in 1619, and five years later he remarried a wealthy heiress, Nyáry Krisztina, the widow of Thurzó Imre. They had nine children, including their son Pál, who later became a palatine.

With his two marriages and his royal behavior during the campaigns of Bethlen Gábor and Rákóczi I György, Esterházy acquired a huge fortune and became the lord of Höflány, Fraknó, Kismarton, Lakompak, and other castles and estates.

Fraknó Castle (by Civertan)

He became a baron in 1613, a count in 1626, and was elected palatine of Hungary (1625).
He fought against Prince Rákóczi I György of Transylvania, first attacking the principality in 1631, but the prince routed his army at Rakamaz and they met again on the battlefield in Rákóczi’s campaign for the kingdom in 1644-45. He also sided with Báthory Anna, who had been disgraced by Bethlen.

His main goal as Palatine was the reunification of the country, which is why he opposed the Transylvanian princes, whom he considered to be servants of the Turks. He thought he could achieve his goal by creating an independent Hungarian army, but there was no chance of that happening. Instead, the Thirty Years’ War, which lasted until 1648, required Hungarian soldiers to serve in Germany. An independent Hungarian government and the creation of internal financial and military autonomy were on the Palatine’s mind.

He expected the monarch to ensure that Hungarian revenues were not taken out of the country, but that the nobility should also pay taxes. He also proposed new types of tax to increase revenue. The creation of an independent foreign policy can be seen in the demand to send ambassadors of Hungarian origin to Constantinople. He also maintained good personal relations with the Spanish ambassador in Vienna, and the Polish crown prince, and kept in touch with the Vatican. Despite his opposition, he was also represented at the court of the Transylvanian princes.

He tried to win over certain members of the Hungarian aristocracy to his cause. Esterházy surrounded himself with young (mainly Catholic) Hungarian aristocrats such as Nádasdy Ferenc, Batthyány Ádám, Zrínyi Miklós, Pálffy Pál and Wesselényi Ferenc, who became the outstanding political leaders of the next generation. Among other things, he succeeded in converting some Protestant lords, such as Batthyány and Nádasdy, to Catholicism and promised to give them his daughter, the worldly beautiful Julia Anna.

The death of his second beloved wife (1641) was difficult to bear. This may have contributed to his death on 11 September 1645.
For a long time, Esterházy was regarded as an unprincipled servant of the Habsburgs, and the ideas he had developed and pursued to extend the autonomy of the Hungarian nobility were ignored. He had all this in mind within the Habsburg state, but he can be seen as an advocate of Hungarian interests in the same way as Bethlen Gábor, the Rákóczi princes, or the participants in the Wesselényi movement.

Esterházy Miklós

Source: Szibler Gábor

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