Rebecca Gates-Coon. The Landed Estates of the Esterházy Princes: Hungary
during the Reforms of Maria Theresia and Joseph II. Baltimore, Md. and
London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. xxi + 312 pp.
Bibliographical references and index. $48.50 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Peter I. Hidas, Dawson College.
Published by HABSBURG (March, 1996)

In the eighteenth century the Habsburg Empire was a major power in
Europe. One of the essential pillars of that somewhat fragile political
and social structure was the national aristocracy. About one-third of
the total land area of the monarchy was owned by a few hundred families
of which this class was composed. By the end of the century one of them,
the Esterházy, owned ten million acres of Hungary, including over one
hundred villages, forty towns and thirty castles.

The Esterházy family rose to prominence in the late sixteenth-century
Habsburg Empire. The first truly outstanding representative of the
family was Nicholaus Esterházy, who by marriage became the proprietor of
vast estates in Hungary. As a reward for championing the Catholic cause
and serving the Habsburgs faithfully, he received more land, which
included Eisenstadt in northwestern Hungary, the eventual centre of the
Esterházy estates. Nicholaus' eldest son, Ladislaus, died fighting the
Turks and the family leadership passed to Nicholaus' second son Paul. In
1687 Paul became prince of the Holy Roman Empire, a title which was
inherited by successive generations. In 1721 the titular leadership of
the family devolved on Paul Anton, who was ten years old at the time.
Paul Anton and his younger brother Nicholaus, to some extent the heroes
of Gates-Coon, were heirs to enormous wealth and a glittering array of
family honors and titles until 1790, when Nicholaus died (pp. xvi-xvii).

The Landed Estates of the Esterházy Princes: Hungary during the Reforms
of Maria Theresia and Joseph II is a well researched and elegantly
presented local history. Some of the estates of the Esterházy family are
discussed, but not all. The author concentrates on the northwestern
holdings of the family. Two princes are described but no attempt is made
at biography. The history of Hungary serves as a background to this
local history rather than as the main subject of the essay, which runs
through 194 pages out of a total of 312 pages. Since there is a
abundance of material on the Esterházys it would have been wiser to
concentrate on the social and economic history of the Esterházy estates,
or the history of the family, including the Haydn connection. Of course,
arguments can be presented to the contrary.

Why would anyone want to read about Anton and Nicholaus Eszterházy, two
extremely rich aristocrats without political influence in the affairs of
the Habsburg empire? The princes did not belong to the inner elite of
the Habsburg aristocracy, nor were they privy to the workings of the
government in Vienna (p. 188). The main text of the study shows,
contrary to the conclusions (p. 193), that the Esterházys cared little
for Hungarian politics. Moreover, whenever there was conflict between
the Habsburgs and the Magyars, they took the side of Vienna or remained
neutral. Anton and Nicholaus showed no outstanding skills at estate
management. They took no more credit in the support of musical life on
their estates than did their fellow aristocrats. Neither were they the
ones who recognized the commercial importance of Jews and settled them
on the family estates. Why write the biography of such dull and
unimportant persons? The life and work of Haydn has been well documented
and written by musical and other specialists of the past two hundred
years. Rebecca Gates-Coon wisely wrote about Haydn's life on the estate,
concentrating on the connection with the family. This concentration
makes Chapter Seven an excellent one.

There are other good snapshots of life on the Esterházy estates. The
reader is introduced to the problems of estates managers, peasants,
Jews, Gypsies and vagabonds passing through the lands. The pictures,
however, are taken from above, with the help of archival documents
written by princes and managers. For example, the reader learns about
the anti-Semitism of the two princes, the peasants and the town folks,
but not about the economic contribution of the Jewish business community
to the wealth of the Esterházys, especially in the field of marketing.

One puts down this book upon reading it with mixed impressions. Both
specialists and generalists will find much useful in the work but both
will find it lacking in focus.

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Library of Congress call number: DB932.7 .G38 1994

* Hungary -- Civilization
* Hungary -- Social life and customs
* Hungary -- History -- 1699-1848
* Esterhâazy family
* Sopron Megye (Hungary) -- History

Citation: Peter I. Hidas . "Review of Rebecca Gates-Coon, The Landed
Estates of the Esterházy Princes: Hungary during the Reforms of Maria
Theresia and Joseph II," HABSBURG, H-Net Reviews, March, 1996. URL:

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