The History of the Palace

Eszterházy - TATA_47_02

The History of the Palace

The Esterházy Palace in Tata might not be the most notable in terms of size and art-historical value, but as the home of a family with a historical name, like “the sea in a drop of water”, through its history the cross-section of the family and Hungarian history can be grasped.

Among its walls, events of national importance took place and rulers, such as Emperor and King Francis I, Emperor Franz Joseph I, German Emperor Wilhelm II, and Charles I of Austria (Karl Franz Josef Ludwig Hubert Georg Maria von Österreich) have visited its premises. Armies marched outside, while commanders-in-chief (e.g. Artúr Görgei during the Revolution of 1848-49) held war councils within its walls.


The Esterházy family obtained Tata in 1727, when Judge royal József Esterházy bought the Tata-Gesztes estate. The development of the estate began with the drainage of the swampy terrain and the establishment of serf settlements; the palace was built only later. It was Miklós Esterházy (II) who first dreamt of a palace in place of the castle that became dilapidated at the time of the Rákóczi War of Independence. He commissioned the first plans for the palace from Jakab Fellner, the architect of the Tata estate. This idea was not pursued because of the early death of the count, but it was this plan that made the architect famous. From then on, Fellner’s assignments multiplied, and his position was strengthened. He became head of the manorial construction office, and he was employed also in the construction works of the family in Pápa, and in the diocese of Eger by the brother of Count Miklós (II), Bishop Károly Esterházy.

Jakab Fellner’s architectural plans of the palace, 1763. (Museum of Kuny Domokos)

Finally, the palace was built next to the castle in the second half of the 1760s, the work of which was completed in the 1770s. Based, once again, on the plans of Jakab Fellner. The building was erected by Ferenc Esterházy (IV), who, just like his father, worked as a diplomat also. Shortly after the construction was completed, the Count was able to serve as host of the ruler, who did not simply come here as a visitor. In 1809, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte gained victory at Wagram, so he was forced to flee with the court of Emperor and King Francis I. The Emperor spent several months at the palace preceding the peace treaty, and signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn here, on 14 October 1809.

The next owner of the palace was Chamberlain Count Miklós Esterházy (III).  Although the Palace of Csákvár was his favourite place to reside, after it was shaken by an earthquake, he spent a long time in Tata. This was where, along with his French wife, Marie Françoise de Baudry, Marquise de Roisin, he entertained Marie Thérèse, Duchesse d’Angoulême, who was the only surviving daughter of French king Louis XVI, and wife of French king Louis XIX. As Napoleon stated about her in connection with the Bourbons: “she is the only man in the family”.

Commissioner of the construction of the palace, Count Ferenc Esterházy de Galántha and Fraknó end of 18th century (Museum of Kuny Domokos)

The guests were accommodated in the so called “Small Palace”. The accommodation of the family was located in the two-storey main building. The dining room with gilded and painted wood panelling as well as the large salons were located to the east, the private suites to the west of the main stairs. The count’s suite was located in the southern part of the ground floor of the palace. The countess’s suite was situated on the first floor. Both the Dutch tiled and the marble bathrooms were designed in the early 20th century, and can still be seen in their original splendour.


In 1806 – at the time when the Esterházy family often already stayed in the comfortably furnished palace – a court orchestra was set up here. Bernát Menner led the orchestra for 40 years as a manorial choir and music director, and provided music services in the palace (and in the parish church). He composed music and performed opera at the Csákvár Palace Theatre.


The real heyday in the life of the palace started after 1867, when Tata became the centre of the social life of the Monarchy. Count József Miklós Esterházy, “Count Nicky” himself was an excellent rider, winner of many competitions, a member of the Equestrian Association, the founder of the Vienna Jockey Club, and the host of large herd hunts. The noble family also boasted its own stud.


Horse racing tracks were built in Tata, derbies were organized, and a training ground where the horses of the aristocratic stables were trained and prepared for the races by former English jockeys, was set up here. The city was often referred to as the “Hungarian Newmarket” after the equestrian centre organised on the English model.

Julius von Blaas: Miklós Esterházy József, the equestrian, 1894



The Tata Palace Theatre was built in 1889 at the time of Miklós József Esterházy. The count wanted to provide evening entertainment for the guests arriving at the derby, and to that end, he had a neo-baroque and neo-rococo theatre built next to his palace by the Office of Fellner and Helmer. The music director of the theatre was pianist Rezső Raimann, who composed historical operas at the request of the count. On one occasion, as a result of seeing a picture in Vienna of a theatre auditorium, the count decided to have his own theatre eternalised in a painting by the young Viennese master too: this is how Gustav Klimt came to Tata, where in 1893 he made a painting depicting the auditorium of the Tata Schlosstheater. Although the original painting has been lost, its black and white photograph has survived. The theatre then was demolished by Anna Bertha Lobkowitz the widow of the next owner, Ferenc Esterházy (V), in 1913. Since, as legend has it, she wanted to protect her son from the bohemian world. However, Count Ferenc Esterházy (VI) chose art as his profession: he studied to be a composer in New York, composed an opera and formed an open-air theatre in Tata, in the 1930s.

The Castle Theatre, end of 19th century (Museum of Kuny Domokos)  



Since he had previously entertained the ruler at his Palace in Tata, Emperor and King Franz Joseph I chose the estate of Miklós József Esterházy as the location of a diplomatic, large-scale, joint military exercise with the German Emperor Wilhelm II. They used the palace as their accommodation between 12 and 15 September, 1897.


The walls of Tata Palace also testify to a sad event. Charles I of Austria, a former emperor and king, arrived in Tata, at the palace of Ferenc Esterházy (VI), on 23 October, 1921, after losing the Battle of Budaörs, the failure of his second attempt to return. Here the former king was arrested and then interned in Tihany, and finally sent into exile to Madeira.