The elder son of Ercole II of Ferrara and Renée de France (daughter of King Louis XI and Anne of Brittany), was the fifth, and last, Duke of Ferrara. He was one of the gentlest and most cultivated princes of the late Renaissance. Proficient in Latin and French as well as Italian, he preferred courtly entertainments to diplomacy and war, and took special pleasure in the hunt and in the balls and tournaments that filled the social calendar of the Ferrarese nobility. Perhaps he had had his fill of the military life as a young man in the service of King Henry II of France, fighting against the Habsburgs. In any event, as Duke of Ferrara he tended to avoid conflict, for instance allowing himself to be persuaded by the pope to send his mother away for her Calvinist sympathies. Aside from a recurrent, but sterile, controversy with the Medici over matters of diplomatic protocol, his long reign was exceptionally tranquil.
But it was also in many ways unproductive. In particular, notwithstanding attempts with three wives (Lucrezia de' Medici, Barbara of Austria, Margherita Gonzaga), he produced no successor, and the last years of his reign brought recurrent anxiety on this score. Finally, near the end of his life, Alfonso designated Cesare d'Este, the illegitimate son of his father's brother, as his successor, but this choice was unacceptable to the Papacy, under whose grant the Este ruled as vicars in Ferrara. Upon Alfonso's death, the family was obliged to leave the city it had ruled for over 300 years, and the government was turned over to a cardinal legate. This change might have been forestalled. But the extravagant splendour of Alfonso's court had for 38. years been sustained by fiscal oppression which did little to win popular support for the dynasty. Although under Cesare and his successors the Este state enjoyed new and vigorous life in Modena, in Ferrara it had come to an inglorious end.
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