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French Revolution

Estates General

History >> French Revolution

The Estates General was the legislative body of France up until the French Revolution. The king would call a meeting of the Estates General when he wanted the advice on certain issues. The Estates General didn't meet regularly and had no real power.

Painting showing the meeting of the Estates General in France
Meeting of the Estates General in 1789
by Isidore-Stanislaus Helman (1743-1806)
and Charles Monnet (1732-1808)
What were the French Estates?

The Estates General was made up of different groups of people called "Estates." The "Estates" were important social divisions in the culture of ancient France. What estate you belonged to had a major impact on your social status and quality of life.
The Estates General of 1789

In 1789, the King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General. It was the first meeting of the Estates General called since 1614. He called the meeting because the French government was having financial problems.

How did they vote?

One of the first issues that came up at the Estates General was how they would vote. The king said that each estate would vote as a body (each estate would get 1 vote). The members of the Third Estate did not like this. It meant that they could always be outvoted by the much smaller First and Second Estates. They wanted the vote to be based on the number of members.

The Third Estate Declares the National Assembly

After arguing over how they would vote for several days, the Third Estate began to take matters into their own hands. They met on their own and invited members of the other estates to join them. On June 13, 1789, the Third Estate declared itself the "National Assembly." They would begin making their own laws and running the country.

Painting of men taking the Tennis Court Oath during French Revolution
The Tennis Court Oath
by Jacques-Louis David
Tennis Court Oath

King Louis XVI did not condone the formation or the actions of the National Assembly. He ordered the building where the National Assembly was meeting (the Salle des Etats) closed. The National Assembly was not to be denied, however. They met on a local tennis court (called the Jeu de Paume). While at the tennis court the members took an oath to keep meeting until the king recognized them as a legitimate government body.

Interesting Facts about the Estates General Activities

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  • More on the French Revolution:

    Timeline and Events
    Timeline of the French Revolution
    Causes of the French Revolution
    Estates General
    National Assembly
    Storming of the Bastille
    Women's March on Versailles
    Reign of Terror
    The Directory
    People
    Famous People of the French Revolution
    Marie Antoinette
    Napoleon Bonaparte
    Marquis de Lafayette
    Maximilien Robespierre

    Other
    Jacobins
    Symbols of the French Revolution
    Glossary and Terms


    Works Cited

    History >> French Revolution





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