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Second Estate

In France of the ancien régime and the age of the French Revolution, the term Second Estate (Fr. second état) indicated the nobility and (technically, though not in common use) royalty, the First Estate were the clergy, and the rest of the population constituted the Third Estate. From these terms came the name of the medieval French national assembly: the Estates-General (Fr. Etats-Généraux), the analogue to the British Parliament but with no constitutional tradition of vested powers: the French monarchy remained absolute.

The Second Estate is traditionally divided into "noblesse d'epee" ("nobility of the sword") and "noblesse de la robe" ("nobility of the gown"), the magisterial class that administered royal justice and civil government.

The French inheritance system of primogeniture meant that nearly all French fortunes would pass largely in a single line, through the eldest son.

Under the ancien régime, the Second Estate were exempt from most forms of taxation.

Table of contents
1 Use of this term outside of France
2 The Estates General
3 1789: End of The Estates General
4 End of Nobility in France
5 See also
6 External link
7 References

Use of this term outside of France

The notion of Estates of the realm also exists in Britain, where a close analogue to the French Second Estate would be the Lords Temporal. The picture is somewhat complicated by the British concept of gentry who are not nobility.

The Estates General

See main article French States-General.

The first Estates-General was called by Philip IV in 1302, in order to obtain national approval for his anticlerical policy. Philip organized the assembly into three divisions, and every following Estates-General down to 1789 maintained the division.

The Estates-General of France dwindled in importance, and after 1614 it was not called again for 175 years.

1789: End of The Estates General

See main article French Revolution.

In May 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General in order to address the financial crisis of the kingdom, which was effectively bankrupt. By this point, however, the French aristocracy has declined in power and influence, while the bourgeoisie had become much more important and conscious of itself as a class. The Third Estate, containing representatives of the bourgeois, asked for greater share of representation than it had possessed in earlier centuries; they were given twice as many representatives, but since voting was to be by the three Estates rather then by individual representatives, this gave them no immediately meanigful advantage. The Third Estate then asked for all estates to meet together as a single body.

On June 12, 1789 the Communes, the representatives of the Third Estate, invited the other orders to join them. (Some nobles, notably Mirabeau, were already present, having been elected to represent the Third Estate.) On June 17, 1789 the Communes declared themselves the National Assembly and (June 20, 1789) signed the Tennis Court Oath demanding a constitution for France.

Over the next week, most of the First Estate (and some of the Second) joined the National Assembly; on June 27 the king ordered the rest to follow. This was the end of the formal system of Estates of the Realm.

End of Nobility in France

On August 4, 1789, seigneurial dues were abolished, along with religious tithes. The nobility were subjected to the same taxation as their co-nationals, but for the moment they retained their titles. However the notions of equality and fraternity would soon triumph over official recognition of a noble class. Some nobles such as the Marquis de Lafayette supported the abolition of legal recognition of nobility, but even some other liberal nobles who had happily sacrificed their fiscal privileges saw this as an attack on the culture of honor. Nonetheless, the French Nobility was disbanded outright by the National Constituent Assembly on June 19, 1790, during the same period in which the were debating the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

See also

External link