Nikolaus Esterházy became the Hungarian palatine, which was the highest function in his kingdom.
This day in 1583 marked the birth of Nikolaus Esterházy, the first member of that family who received the title of count. He was the most responsible for the rise of the Esterházy family from a local noble family into one of the most powerful families in the entire Habsburg Monarchy. The key to his family’s success was its support for the Habsburgs at a time when most other Hungarian nobles were against them. The Esterházys thus received a large number of estates the Habsburg rulers had confiscated from rebellious nobles.
Nikolaus was born in Galanta in what is now Slovakia, but was at that time part of Hungary. The town is located some 50 km from Bratislava, which functioned as the Hungarian capital in Nikolaus’s time since Buda had been conquered by the Ottomans.
In 1600, Nikolaus Esterházy converted from Calvinism to Catholicism. The Habsburgs were one of the main supporters of Catholicism in Central Europe and thus needed Catholic families as allies (many Hungarian, Austrian, and Czech nobles supported Protestantism). In 1625 Nikolaus became the Hungarian palatine, nominally the highest position in the Kingdom of Hungary. He received the title of count the next year, while his son Paul became a prince in 1687. The family remained the only Hungarian family with such a high title for many years.
Nikolaus Esterházy inherited the important estates of Eisenstadt and Forchtenstein in what is now Burgenland, Austria. They remained in the hands of his family for centuries and great castles were built there, which are now a tourist attraction. Palatine Count Nikolaus Esterházy died in 1645 in Grosshöflein, Burgenland at the age of 62.