Estates General

Created: 5 May 1789

The Estates General was a representative body with deputies elected from all over France, split between the three Estates (or Orders) into which the country was traditionally divided: clergy (the First Estate), nobility (the Second Estate) and everybody else (the Third Estate). Preparations for a meeting of this body—which had last met back in 1614—began on 8 August 1788 and its proceedings opened on 5 May 1789. Louis XVI was forced to convene one in response to the financial crisis faced by the French monarchy, but its composition and voting procedures quickly became mired in controversy. This culminated in the Third Estate (along with several members who had joined them from the ranks of First Estate deputies) unilaterally creating a new constitutional body by declaring themselves to be a National Assembly on 17 June 1789. Once the monarchy realised this development could not be reversed, the other two Estates were ordered to join the Third in this new body on 27 June.





Appears in these Letters:


13 December: Pre-Revolutionary Political Tensions

This extract covers the first two paragraphs of the first surviving Letter from the duchess's notebook series. We are in the period known as the...


10 February: Pre-Revolutionary Violence

Although many of the Letters focus on Paris, they also show that the duchess made considerable efforts to stay informed about events elsewhere in the...

9 May: The Opening of the Estates General

The Estates General was the national representative body called by Louis XVI to solve the state’s financial problems. It was set up with ornate...

22 July: Revolutionary Paris in July 1789

The duchess reflects on events in the Revolution so far and the rising power of Paris's new municipal government. She castigates a...

14 October: A King Imprisoned? The October Days

On 5-6 October 1789, a Parisian crowd led by thousands of women marched out to demonstrate at Versailles and forced the royal family to relocate to...