Estates General

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Estates General


a high government organ of estate or class representation (the clergy, nobility, and the burgher or merchant class) in feudal France and the Netherlands. The estates general developed as a result of the growth of cities and the intensification of social contradictions and the class struggle. This situation made urgent the strengthening of the feudal state, which led to the establishment of limited monarchy.

The precursors of the Estates General in France were the expanded sessions of the king’s council (with the addition of the city leadership) as well as the provincial assemblies of the estates. (These assemblies laid the foundation for the formation of provincial estates.) The first Estates General was convened in 1302 during the conflict between Philip IV and Pope Boniface VIII. At that time it was an advisory organ, convened at the king’s initiative in times of crisis to aid the government. Its main function was to vote taxes. Each estate was seated separately in the Estates General and had only one vote, regardless of the number of representatives it had. The third estate was represented by the leadership of the townspeople. The significance of the Estates General increased during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), when the king was in particular need of money. During the 14th-century popular uprisings (the Paris Uprising of 1357-58 and the Jacquerie of 1358) the Estates General claimed a more active role in governing the country. The Estates General of 1357 expressed similar demands in the Great March Ordinance. However, there was a lack of unity between the cities and their irreconcilable enemy, the nobility. As a result, the French Estates General failed to gain the rights that the English Parliament had succeeded in obtaining.

In the late 14th century the Estates General was convened less and less frequently, and it was often replaced by meetings of notables. From the late 15th century the institution of the Estates General declined as absolutism began to develop, and from 1484 to 1560 it was not convened. (Its activity was revived to some extent during the religious wars, when it was convened in 1560, 1576, 1588, and 1593.) Again from 1614 to 1789 the Estates General was not convened. Only on May 5, 1789, during the acute political crisis on the eve of the French Revolution, did the king convene the Estates General. On July 17, 1789, the deputies of the third estate declared themselves the National Assembly. On July 9 this group proclaimed itself the Constituent Assembly and became the highest representative and legislative organ of revolutionary France. In the 20th century the name “estates general” was assumed by some representative assemblies that reviewed current political problems and represented broad public opinion (for example, the Estates General for Disarmament, May 1963).


Picot, G. Histoire des états généraux, 2nd ed., vols. 1-2. Paris, 1888.


In the Netherlands the Estates General also consisted of delegates from the clergy, the nobility, and the city leadership. It was first convened in 1463, after the unification of the Netherlands by the Burgundian dukes. It had the power to vote taxes. The Great Privilege of 1477 gave the Estates General particularly wide authority. During the 16th-century Dutch bourgeois revolution the Estates General became the center of opposition to the Spanish regime by the bourgeoisie and nobility. After the creation of the northern Netherlands the Estates General became the highest permanent legislative organ of the Republic of the United Provinces. In the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Estates General is called the Parliament.

References in periodicals archive ?
Similarly, on January 31, 1996, the CE adopted a mandate to hear from the Co-Chairs of the Commission for the Estates General on Education (CEGE), which had compiled in a report (9) the views expressed at regional hearings.
Michael Hayden, France and the Estates General of 1614 (Cambridge, 1973).
For example, we will demonstrate that the breakdown of the French estates general, characterized by the use of the voting institutions to transfer resources from non-voters to voters with the noble exemption from direct taxation, was caused by the increasing insecurity of French rulers.
The book examines political speech and rhetoric in the major policy debates held between the meeting of the Estates General of Blois in 1576 and the Assembly of Notables in 1583-1584.
All of these priorities are laid out in "The State of Education in Quebec," the initial report of the commission set up to run the Estates General.
played a decisive role in focusing the public debate at the beginning of 1789 on the issue of representation in the Estates General.
The absence of a discussion of the English Parliament along with the French Estates General in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is particularly distressing, since these are institutions central to Gordon's basic theme.
The idea of an "Estates General" on education, on the model of a famous estates general on the state of the French language in the 1960s, gradually took form and gained momentum.
98) and the misdating of the meeting of the Estates General (p.
In the course of the 1789 elections to the Estates General, Frenchmen (and a few women) met to elect their representatives and to prepare a list of complaints to guide these individuals.
John Markoff challenges this emphasis in providing the most complete account to date of both the cahiers published for the Estates General and a complex computer analysis of the 4,689 incidents of rural violence of the years 1788-93.
Financing this overwhelming effort created other problems because the monarch elected to order the necessary taxes without consulting intermediate constituted bodies such as the Estates General.