What was the Estates-General in France?  

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The Estates-General was a legislative group created by King Philip IV in 1302. However, the group didn’t meet regularly and had no real political power.

There were three groups that compromised the Estates-General. The First Estate, which was the smallest group, consisted of the clergy. These people worked for the church and included priests, nuns, and monks. The Second Estate consisted of the nobles. These people held many of the important government offices and received perks such as not having to pay all of the taxes. The largest group was the Third Estate. Peasants, laborers, and skilled workers belong to this group. This group paid taxes, which became increasing burdensome prior to the French Revolution.

When voting occurred, each Estate had one vote. This created problems because the Third Estate, which made up most of the population of France, often didn’t have its voice heard because the other two Estates often voted the same way on matters that arose. It was the actions of the Third Estate that eventually led to the start of the French Revolution.

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The Estates-General was a body with representatives of each of the three "estates," or socio-legal orders, in France under the Bourbon monarchs. It was convened most famously by Louis XVI in 1789 in a last-ditch attempt at achieving some type of reform to address the growing fiscal crisis that confronted the kingdom. It had not been previously convened in more than two hundred years, a fact which shows how urgent this crisis really was. The delegates to the Estates-General were chosen by local elections, and instructed by what were known as cahiers, similar to petitions, which expressed grievances of ordinary people. A fatal problem to the 1789 Estates-General was the seating of delegates by order, which ensured that the reforms that Louis XVI sought would be impossible to achieve--the First and Second Estates (the Catholic clergy and the nobility) would generally vote together against the Third Estate (everyone else in French society). Eventually the Third Estate left the Estates-General, forming what became known as the National Assembly. This act is often seen by historians as the beginning of the French Revolution.

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