Estates of the realm

The estates of the realm, or three estates, were the broad orders of social hierarchy used in Christendom (Christian Europe) from the medieval period to early modern Europe. Different systems for dividing society members into estates developed and evolved over time.

The best known system is the French Ancien Régime (Old Regime), a three-estate system used until the French Revolution (1789–1799). Monarchy was for the king and the queen and this system was made up of clergy (the First Estate), nobles (the Second Estate), and peasants and bourgeoisie (the Third Estate). In some regions, notably Scandinavia and Russia, burghers (the urban merchant class) and rural commoners were split into separate estates, creating a four-estate system with rural commoners ranking the lowest as the Fourth Estate. Furthermore, the non-landowning poor could be left outside the estates, leaving them without political rights. In England, a two-estate system evolved that combined nobility and clergy into one lordly estate with "commons" as the second estate. This system produced the two houses of parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In southern Germany, a three-estate system of nobility (princes and high clergy), ritters (knights), and burghers was used. In Scotland, the Three Estates were the Clergy (First Estate), Nobility (Second Estate), and Shire Commissioners, or "burghers" (Third Estate), representing the bourgeois, middle class, and lower class. The Estates made up a Scottish Parliament.

Today the terms three estates and estates of the realm may sometimes be re-interpreted to refer to the modern separation of powers in government into the legislature, administration, and the judiciary. Additionally the term fourth estate usually refers to forces outside the established power structure (evoking medieval three-estate systems), most commonly in reference to the independent press or media. Historically, in Northern and Eastern Europe, the Fourth Estate meant rural commoners.

A 13th century French representation of the tripartite social order of the middle ages – Oratores: "those who pray", Bellatores: "those who fight", and Laboratores: "those who work".

Social Mobility

During the Middle Ages, advancing to different social classes was uncommon and very difficult.

The medieval Church was an institution where social mobility was most likely up to a certain level (generally to that of vicar general or abbot/abbess for commoners). Typically, only nobility were appointed to the highest church positions (bishops, archbishops, heads of religious orders, etc.), although low nobility could aspire to the highest church positions. Since clergy could not marry, such mobility was theoretically limited to one generation. Nepotism was common in this period.

Another possible way to rise in social position was due to exceptional military or commercial success. Such families were rare and their rise to nobility required royal patronage at some point. However, because noble lines went extinct naturally, some ennoblements were necessary.


"Medieval political speculation is imbued to the marrow with the idea of a structure of society based upon distinct orders," Johan Huizinga observes.[1] The virtually synonymous terms estate and order designated a great variety of social realities, not at all limited to a class, Huizinga concluded applying to every social function, every trade, every recognisable grouping.

There are, first of all, the estates of the realm, but there are also the trades, the state of matrimony and that of virginity, the state of sin. At court there are the 'four estates of the body and mouth': bread-masters, cup-bearers, carvers, and cooks. In the Church there are sacerdotal orders and monastic orders. Finally there are the different orders of chivalry.[1]

This static view of society was predicated on inherited positions. Commoners were universally considered the lowest order. The higher estates' necessary dependency on the commoners' production, however, often further divided the otherwise equal common people into burghers (also known as bourgeoisie) of the realm's cities and towns, and the peasants and serfs of the realm's surrounding lands and villages. A person's estate and position within it were usually inherited from the father and his occupation, similar to a caste within that system. In many regions and realms there also existed population groups born outside these specifically defined resident estates.

Legislative bodies or advisory bodies to a monarch were traditionally grouped along lines of these estates, with the monarch above all three estates. Meetings of the estates of the realm became early legislative and judicial parliaments. Monarchs often sought to legitimize their power by requiring oaths of fealty from the estates. Today, in most countries, the estates have lost all their legal privileges, and are mainly of historical interest. The nobility may be an exception, for instance due to legislation against false titles of nobility; similarly British government well maintains the distinction- witness its House of Lords, and the House of Commons.

One of the earliest political pamphlets to address these ideas was called "What Is the Third Estate?" (French: Qu'est-ce que le tiers-état?) It was written by Abbé Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès in January 1789, shortly before the start of the French Revolution.


After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, numerous geographic and ethnic kingdoms developed among the endemic peoples of Europe, affecting their day-to-day secular lives; along with those, the growing influence of the Catholic Church and its Papacy affected the ethical, moral and religious lives and decisions of all. This led to mutual dependency between the secular and religious powers for guidance and protection, but over time and with the growing power of the kingdoms, competing secular realities increasingly diverged from religious idealism and Church decisions.

The new lords of the land identified themselves primarily as warriors, but because new technologies of warfare were expensive, and the fighting men required substantial material resources and considerable leisure to train, these needs had to be filled. The economic and political transformation of the countryside in the period were filled by a large growth in population, agricultural production, technological innovations and urban centers; movements of reform and renewal attempted to sharpen the distinction between clerical and lay status, and power, recognized by the Church also had their effect.

In his book The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined, the French medievalist Georges Duby has shown that in the period 1023-1025 the first theorist who justified the division of European society into the three estates of the realm was Gerard of Florennes, the bishop of Cambrai.[2]

As a result of the Investiture Controversy of the late 11th and early 12th centuries, the powerful office of Holy Roman Emperor lost much of its religious character and retained a more nominal universal preeminence over other rulers, though it varied. The struggle over investiture and the reform movement also legitimized all secular authorities, partly on the grounds of their obligation to enforce discipline.[3]

In the 11th and 12th centuries thinkers argued that human society consisted of three orders: those who pray, those who fight, and those who labour. The structure of the first order, the clergy, was in place by 1200 and remained singly intact until the religious reformations of the 16th century. The very general category of those who labour (specifically, those who were not knightly warriors or nobles) diversified rapidly after the 11th century into the lively and energetic worlds of peasants, skilled artisans, merchants, financiers, lay professionals, and entrepreneurs, which together drove the European economy to its greatest achievements. The second order, those who fight, was the rank of the politically powerful, ambitious, and dangerous. Kings took pains to ensure that it did not resist their authority.[4]

By the 12th century, most European political thinkers agreed that monarchy was the ideal form of governance. This was because it imitated on earth the model set by God for the universe; it was the form of government of the ancient Hebrews and the Christian Biblical basis, the later Roman Empire, and also the peoples who succeeded Rome after the 4th century.[3]

Kingdom of France

France under the Ancien Régime (before the French Revolution) divided society into three estates: the First Estate (clergy); the Second Estate (nobility); and the Third Estate (commoners). The king was considered part of no estate.

The First Estate (Fr. premier état) was the clergy

First Estate

The First Estate comprised the entire clergy, traditionally divided into "higher" and "lower" clergy. Although there was no formal demarcation between the two categories, the upper clergy were, effectively, clerical nobility, from the families of the Second Estate. In the time of Louis XVI, every bishop in France was a nobleman, a situation that had not existed before the 18th century.[5]

At the other extreme, the "lower clergy" (about equally divided between parish priests, monks, and nuns) constituted about 90 percent of the First Estate, which in 1789 numbered around 130,000 (about 0.5% of the population).

Second Estate

The Second Estate (Fr. deuxieme état) was the French nobility and (technically, though not in common use) royalty, other than the monarch himself, who stood outside of the system of estates.

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

The Second Estate constituted approximately 1.5% of France's population. Under the ancien régime ("old rule/old government"), the Second Estate were exempt from the corvée royale (forced labour on the roads) and from most other forms of taxation such as the gabelle (salt tax) and most important, the taille (the oldest form of direct taxation). This exemption from paying taxes led to their reluctance to reform.

Third Estate

The Third Estate comprised all of those who were not members of the above and can be divided into two groups, urban and rural, together making up 98% of France's population. The urban included wage-labourers. The rural included free peasants (who owned their own land) who could be prosperous and villeins (serfs, or peasants working on a noble's land). The free peasants paid disproportionately high taxes compared to the other Estates and were unhappy because they wanted more rights. In addition, the First and Second Estates relied on the labour of the Third, which made the latter's unequal status all the more glaring.

There were an estimated 27 million people in the Third Estate when the French Revolution started.

They had the hard life of physical labour and food shortages. Most were born within this group and died as a part of it, too. It was extremely rare for people of this ascribed status to make it out into another estate. Those who did so managed as a result of either being recognized for their extraordinary bravery in a battle or entering religious life.[6] A few commoners were able to marry into the second estate, but this was a rare occurrence.[6]

Estates General

The first Estates General (not to be confused with a "class of citizen") was actually a general citizen assembly that was called by Philip IV in 1302.

In the period leading up to the Estates General of 1789, France was in the grip of an unmanageable public debt (nearly 3.56 million livres).[7] In May 1776, finance minister Turgot was dismissed, after failing to enact reforms. The next year, Jacques Necker, a foreigner, was appointed Comptroller-General of Finance. He could not be made an official minister because he was a Protestant.[8]), terrible inflation and widespread food scarcity (a huge famine in the winter of 1788-89). This led to widespread popular discontent and produced a group of Third Estate representatives (612 exactly) pressing a comparatively radical set of reforms, much of it in alignment with the goals of Finance Minister Jacques Necker, but very much against the wishes of Louis XVI's court and many of the hereditary nobles forming his Second Estate allies (at least allies against taking more taxes upon themselves and keeping the unequal taxation on the commoners).

When he could not persuade them to rubber-stamp his 'ideal program', Louis XVI sought to dissolve the Estates-General, but the Third Estate held out for their right to representation. The lower clergy (and some nobles and upper clergy) eventually sided with the Third Estate, and the King was forced to yield. Thus, the Estate-General meeting was an invitation to revolution.

By June, when continued impasses led to further deterioration in relations, the Estates-General was reconstituted first as the National Assembly (June 17, 1789) seeking a solution for the realm independent of the King's management of the meetings of the Estates General which occasionally continued to meet. These self-organized meetings are today defined as the epoch event beginning the historical epoch (era) of the French Revolution, during which – after several more weeks of civil unrest – the body assumed a new status as a revolutionary legislature, the National Constituent Assembly (July 9, 1789).[9]

This unitary body composed of the former representatives of the three estates stepping up to govern along with an emergency committee in the power vacuum existing after the Bourbon monarchy fled Paris. Among the Assembly was Maximilien de Robespierre, an influential member of the Jacobins who would years later become instrumental in the turbulent period of violence and political upheaval in France known as the Reign of Terror (5 September 1793 – 28 July 1794).[9]

United Kingdom

Whilst the estates were never formulated in a way that prevented social mobility, the English (subsequently the British) parliament was long based along the classic estate lines being composed on the "Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons". The tradition where the Lords Spiritual and Temporal sat separately from the Commons began during the reign of Edward III in the 14th century.

Notwithstanding the House of Lords Act 1999, the British Parliament still recognises the existence of the three estates: the Commons in the House of Commons, the nobility (Lords Temporal) in the House of Lords, and the clergy in the form of the Church of England bishops also entitled to sit in the upper House as the Lords Spiritual.


The members of the Parliament of Scotland were collectively referred to as the Three Estates (Older Scots: Thre Estaitis), also known as the community of the realm, and until 1690 composed of:

The First Estate was overthrown during the Glorious Revolution and the accession of William III.[10] The Second Estate was then split into two to retain the division into three.

A Shire Commissioner was the closest equivalent of the English office of Member of Parliament, namely a commoner or member of the lower nobility. Because the Parliament of Scotland was unicameral, all members sat in the same chamber, as opposed to the separate English House of Lords and House of Commons.

The Parliament also had University constituencies (see Ancient universities of Scotland). The system was also adopted by the Parliament of England when James VI ascended to the English throne. It was believed that the universities were affected by the decisions of Parliament and ought therefore to have representation in it. This continued in the Parliament of Great Britain after 1707 and the Parliament of the United Kingdom until 1950.[11]

Sweden and Finland

The Estates in Sweden (including Finland) and later also Russia's Grand Duchy of Finland were the two higher estates, nobility and clergy, and the two lower estates, burghers and land-owning peasants. Each were free men, and had specific rights and responsibilities, and the right to send representatives to the Riksdag of the Estates. The Riksdag, and later the Diet of Finland was tetracameral: at the Riksdag, each Estate voted as a single body. Since early 18th century, a bill needed the approval of at least three Estates to pass, and constitutional amendments required the approval of all Estates. Prior to the 18th century, the King had the right to cast a deciding vote if the Estates were split evenly.

After Russia's conquest of Finland in 1809, the estates in Finland swore an oath to the Emperor in the Diet of Porvoo. A Finnish House of Nobility was codified in 1818 in accordance with the old Swedish law of 1723. However, after the Diet of Porvoo, the Diet of Finland was reconvened only in 1863. In the meantime, for a period of 54 years, the country was governed only administratively.

There was also a population outside the estates. Unlike in other areas, people had no "default" estate, and were not peasants unless they came from a land-owner's family. A summary of this division is:

  • Nobility (see Finnish nobility and Swedish nobility) was exempt from tax, had an inherited rank and the right to keep a fief, and had a tradition of military service and government. Nobility was codified in 1280 with the Swedish king granting exemption from taxation (frälse) to land-owners that could equip a cavalryman (or be one themselves) for the king's army. Around 1400, letters patent were introduced, in 1561 the ranks of Count and Baron were added, and in 1625 the House of Nobility was codified as the First Estate of the land. Following Axel Oxenstierna's reform, higher government offices were open only to nobles. However, the nobility still owned only their own property, not the peasants or their land as in much of Europe. Heads of the noble houses were hereditary members of the assembly of nobles. The Nobility is divided into titled nobility (counts and barons) and lower nobility. Until the 18th century the lower nobility was in turn was divided into Knights and Esquires such that each of the three classes would first vote internally, giving one vote per class in the assembly. This resulted in great political influence for the higher nobility.
  • Clergy, or priests, were exempt from tax, and collected tithes for the church. After the Swedish Reformation, the church became Lutheran. In later centuries, the estate included teachers of universities and certain state schools. The estate was governed by the state church which consecrated its ministers and appointed them to positions with a vote in choosing diet representatives.
  • Burghers were city-dwellers, tradesmen and craftsmen. Trade was allowed only in the cities when the mercantilistic ideology had got the upper hand, and the burghers had the exclusive right to conduct commerce within the framework of guilds. Entry to this Estate was controlled by the autonomy of the towns themselves. Peasants were allowed to sell their produce within the city limits, but any further trade, particularly foreign trade, was allowed only for burghers. In order for a settlement to become a city, a royal charter granting market right was required, and foreign trade required royally chartered staple port rights. After the annexation of Finland into Imperial Russia in 1809, mill-owners and other proto-industrialists would gradually be included in this estate.
  • Peasants were land-owners of land-taxed farms and their families, which represented the majority in medieval times. Since most of the population were independent farmer families until the 19th century, not serfs nor villeins, there is a remarkable difference in tradition compared to other European countries. Entry was controlled by ownership of farmland, which was not generally for sale but a hereditary property. After 1809, Swedish tenants renting a large enough farm (ten times larger than what was required of peasants owning their own farm) were included as well as non-nobility owning tax-exempt land. Their representatives to the Diet were elected indirectly: each municipality sent electors to elect the representative of an electoral district.
  • To no estate belonged propertyless cottagers, villeins, tenants of farms owned by others, farmhands, servants, some lower administrative workers, rural craftsmen, travelling salesmen, vagrants, and propertyless and unemployed people (who sometimes lived in strangers' houses). To reflect how the people belonging to the estates saw them, the Finnish word for "obscene", säädytön, has the literal meaning "estateless". They had no political rights and could not vote. Their mobility was severely limited by the policy of "legal protection" (Finnish: laillinen suojelu): every estateless person had to be employed by a taxed citizen from the estates, or they could be charged with vagrancy and sentenced to forced labor. In Finland, this policy lasted until 1883.[12]

In Sweden, the Riksdag of the Estates existed until it was replaced with a bicameral Riksdag in 1866, which gave political rights to anyone with a certain income or property. Nevertheless, many of the leading politicians of the 19th century continued to be drawn from the old estates, in that they were either noblemen themselves, or represented agricultural and urban interests. Ennoblements continued even after the estates had lost their political importance, with the last ennoblement of explorer Sven Hedin taking place in 1902; this practice was formally abolished with the adoption of the new Constitution January 1, 1975, while the status of the House of Nobility continued to be regulated in law until 2003.

In Finland, this legal division existed until 1906, still drawing on the Swedish constitution of 1772. However, at the start of the 20th century most of the population did not belong to any Estate and had no political representation. A particularly large class were the rent farmers, who did not own the land they cultivated but had to work in the land-owner's farm to pay their rent (unlike Russia, there were no slaves or serfs.) Furthermore, the industrial workers living in the city were not represented by the four-estate system.

The political system was reformed as a result of the Finnish general strike of 1905, with the last Diet instituting a new constitutional law to create the modern parliamentary system, ending the political privileges of the estates. The post-independence constitution of 1919 forbade ennoblement, and all tax privileges were abolished in 1920. The privileges of the estates were officially and finally abolished in 1995,[13] although in legal practice, the privileges had long been unenforceable. As in Sweden, the nobility has not been officially abolished and records of nobility are still voluntarily maintained by the Finnish House of Nobility.

In Finland, it is still illegal and punishable by jail time (up to one year) to defraud into marriage by declaring a false name or estate (Rikoslaki 18 luku § 1/Strafflagen 18 kap. § 1).

Low Countries

The Low Countries, which until the late sixteenth century consisted of several counties, prince bishoprics, duchies etc. in the area that is now modern Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, had no States General until 1464, when Duke Philip of Burgundy assembled the first States General in Bruges. Later in the 15th and 16th centuries Brussels became the place where the States General assembled. On these occasions deputies from the States of the various provinces (as the counties, prince-bishoprics and duchies were called) asked for more liberties. For this reason, the States General were not assembled very often.

As a consequence of the Union of Utrecht in 1579 and the events that followed afterwards, the States General declared that they no longer obeyed King Philip II of Spain, who was also overlord of the Netherlands. After the reconquest of the southern Netherlands (roughly Belgium and Luxemburg), the States General of the Dutch Republic first assembled permanently in Middelburg, and in The Hague from 1585 onward. Without a king to rule the country, the States General became the sovereign power. It was the level of government where all things were dealt with that were of concern to all the seven provinces that became part of the Republic of the United Netherlands.

During that time the States General were formed by representatives of the States (i.e. provincial parliaments) of the seven provinces. In each States (a plurale tantum) sat representatives of the nobility and the cities (the clergy were no longer represented; in Friesland the peasants were indirectly represented by the Grietmannen).

In the Southern Netherlands, the last meetings of the States General loyal to the Habsburgs took place in the Estates General of 1600 and the Estates General of 1632.

As a government, the States General of the Dutch Republic were abolished in 1795. A new parliament was created, called Nationale Vergadering (National Assembly). It no longer consisted of representatives of the States, let alone the Estates: all men were considered equal under the 1798 Constitution. Eventually, the Netherlands became part of the French Empire under Napoleon (1810: La Hollande est reunie à l'Empire).

After regaining independence in November 1813, the name "States General" was resurrected for a legislature constituted in 1814 and elected by the States-Provincial. In 1815, when the Netherlands were united with Belgium and Luxemburg, the States General were divided into two chambers: the First Chamber and the Second Chamber. The members of the First Chamber were appointed for life by the King, while the members of the Second Chamber were elected by the members of the States Provincial. The States General resided in The Hague and Brussels in alternate years until 1830, when, as a result of the Belgian Revolution, The Hague became once again the sole residence of the States General, Brussels instead hosting the newly founded Belgian Parliament.

From 1848 on, the Dutch Constitution provides that members of the Second Chamber be elected by the people (at first only by a limited portion of the male population; universal male and female suffrage exists since 1919), while the members of the First Chamber are chosen by the members of the States Provincial. As a result, the Second Chamber became the most important. The First Chamber is also called Senate. This however, is not a term used in the Constitution.

Occasionally the First and Second Chamber meet in a Verenigde Vergadering (Joint Session), for instance on Prinsjesdag, the annual opening of the parliamentary year, and when a new king is inaugurated.

Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire had the Imperial Diet (Reichstag). The clergy was represented by the independent prince-bishops, prince-archbishops and prince-abbots of the many monasteries. The nobility consisted of independent aristocratic rulers: secular prince-electors, kings, dukes, margraves, counts and others. Burghers consisted of representatives of the independent imperial cities. Many peoples whose territories within the Holy Roman Empire had been independent for centuries had no representatives in the Imperial Diet, and this included the Imperial Knights and independent villages. The power of the Imperial Diet was limited, despite efforts of centralization.

Large realms of the nobility or clergy had estates of their own that could wield great power in local affairs. Power struggles between ruler and estates were comparable to similar events in the history of the British and French parliaments.

The Swabian League, a significant regional power in its part of Germany during the 15th Century, also had its own kind of Estates, a governing Federal Council comprising three Colleges: those of Princes, Cities, and Knights.

Russian Empire

In the late Russian Empire the estates were called sosloviyes. The four major estates were: nobility (dvoryanstvo), clergy, rural dwellers, and urban dwellers, with a more detailed stratification therein. The division in estates was of mixed nature: traditional, occupational, as well as formal: for example, voting in Duma was carried out by estates. Russian Empire Census recorded the reported estate of a person.


The Parliament of Catalonia was first established in 1283 as the Catalan Courts (Corts Catalanes), according to American historian Thomas Bisson, and it has been considered by several historians as a model of medieval parliament. For instance, English historian of constitutionalism Charles Howard McIlwain wrote that the General Courts of Catalonia, during the 14th century, had a more defined organization and met more regularly than the parliaments of England or France.[14]

The roots of the parliament institution in Catalonia are in the Sanctuary and Truce Assemblies (assemblees de pau i treva) that started in the 11th century. The members of the parliament of Catalonia were organized in the Three Estates (Catalan: Tres Estats):

  • the "military estate" (polígons militars) with representatives of the feudal nobility
  • the "ecclesiastical estate" (eclesiàstica arrels) with representatives of the religious hierarchy
  • the "royal estate" (real estate) with representatives of the free municipalities under royal privilege

The parliament institution was abolished in 1716, together with the rest of institutions of Catalonia, after the War of the Spanish Succession.

See also

Location specific:



  1. ^ a b Huizinga The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919, 1924:47).
  2. ^ Georges Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined, Part 1
  3. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica, "History of Europe – Middle Ages – From territorial principalities to territorial monarchies"
  4. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, "History of Europe – Middle Ages – From territorial principalities to territorial monarchies – The three orders"
  5. ^ R. R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World 1961, p. 334.
  6. ^ a b Henslin, James M. (2004). "9". Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. Allyn & Bacon. p. 225. ISBN 0205407358.
  7. ^ "France's Financial Crisis: 1783–1788". Retrieved 26 October 2008.
  8. ^ Hibbert, pp. 35, 36
  9. ^ a b "Terror, Reign of"; Encyclopædia Britannica
  10. ^ Kidd, Colin Subverting Scotland's Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity 1689–1830 Cambridge University Press (2003) pp133
  11. ^ Mann, Alastair, "A Brief History of an Ancient Institution: The Scottish Parliament", Scottish Parliamentary Review, Vol. I, No. 1 (June, 2013) [Edinburgh: Blacket Avenue Press]
  12. ^
  13. ^ Original Act 971/1995
  14. ^ Joaquim Albareda, "Estat i nació a l'Europa moderna"


External links

1661 in Norway

Events in the year 1661 in Norway.

1723 in Sweden

Events from the year 1723 in Sweden

Cortes of Castile and León

The Cortes of Castile and León (Spanish: Cortes de Castilla y León) is the elected unicameral legislature of the Autonomous Community of Castile and León.

The tradition of the regional Cortes is traced back to the Royal Council (Latin: Curia Regis) of León (1188). The Curia Regis was a king's summons of the estates of the realm. Although the practical outcome of the Curia Regis of 1188 is still disputed, its charter seems to be an early move towards the rule of constitutional law, much like the Magna Carta. The Cortes of Castile and León is seated in the city of Valladolid.


The term edelfrei or hochfrei ("free noble" or "free knight") was originally used to designate and distinguish those Germanic noblemen from the Second Estate (see Estates of the realm social hierarchy), who were legally entitled to atonement reparation of three times their "Weregild" (Wergeld) value from a guilty person or party. Such knights were known as Edelfreie or Edelinge. This distinguished them from those other free men or free knights who came from the Third Estate social hierarchy, and whose atonement reparation value was the standard "Weregild" (Wergeld) amount set according to regional laws. In the Holy Roman Empire, the "high nobility" (Hoher Adel) emerged from the Edelfreie during the course of the 12th century, in contrast to the so-called ministeriales, most of whom were originally unfree knights or Dienstadel.In the Middle Ages edelfrei or hochfrei meant, in simple terms, that someone was a member of an ancient, dynastic aristocratic line. Free noble families were independent of legal obligations of a secondary nature, and they were not subordinated to any other families or dynasties, apart from the king or emperor. The modern concept of aristocracy (Uradel) must not be confused with the term edelfrei, since the former term's scope is much broader: all families that can prove they belonged to the knightly aristocracy by no later than around 1400 (whether originally edelfrei or ministeriales) are counted today as Uradel, i.e., the aristocracy.

Many edelfrei families submitted themselves during the course of the Middle Ages to more powerful feudal lords; these families are commonly referred to in the literature as "originally edelfrei". This submission did not always happen under duress. Many vassals attained high positions in the courts of their lords, and vassal service was often very lucrative. Especially at the time of territorial expansion and the emergence of a monetary economy, many Edelfreie were dependent on the protection and support of a powerful secular or ecclesiastical lord. And vice versa: a dependent relationship existed, in that larger territories could only be secured and managed with the aid of loyal vassals.

The number of edelfreie families was limited. A new social order, the ministeriales now arose rapidly. These officials, who were mostly unfree in their origins, managed within a century to elevate themselves to the lesser nobility. The differences between ministeriales and the old aristocratic families began increasingly to blur. For many aristocratic families that were originally edelfrei there is therefore no reliable evidence of their dynastic origins.

Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate is a socio-cultural reference to groupings of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society, and is most associated with bloggers, journalists publishing in non-mainstream media outlets, and the social media or "social license". The "Fifth" Estate extends the sequence of the three classical Estates of the Realm and the preceding Fourth Estate, essentially the mainstream press. The use of "fifth estate" dates to the 1960s counterculture, and in particular the influential The Fifth Estate, an underground newspaper first published in Detroit in 1965. Web-based technologies have enhanced the scope and power of the Fifth Estate far beyond the modest and boutique conditions of its beginnings.

Nimmo and Combs assert that political pundits constitute a Fifth Estate. Media researcher Stephen D. Cooper argues that bloggers are the Fifth Estate. William Dutton has argued that the Fifth Estate is not simply the blogging community, nor an extension of the media, but 'networked individuals' enabled by the Internet, e.g. social media, in ways that can hold the other estates accountable.Making reference to the medieval concept of "three estates of the realm" (clergy, nobility, and commoners) and to a more recently developed model of "four estates", which encompasses the media, Nayef Al-Rodhan introduces the weblogs (blogs) as a "fifth estate of the realm". Blogs have potential and real influence on contemporary policy-making, especially in the context of elections, reporting from conflict zones, and raising dissent over corporate or legislative policies. Based on these observations, Al-Rodhan suggests moving beyond traditional thinking that limits the “estates of the realm” to governmental action and proposes a broader perspective in which civilians or anyone with access to a computer and the Internet can contribute to the global political change and security.

Fifth power

The fifth power is a term, apparently created by Ignacio Ramonet, that intends a continuation of the series of the three estates of the realm and the fourth power, the mass media. The term fifth power can be used to refer either to the Internet, public opinion, the Church (which is the First Estate by the original meaning), economic systems or simply money including its creation.

Fourth Estate

The term Fourth Estate or fourth power refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues. Though it is not formally recognized as a part of a political system, it wields significant indirect social influence.The derivation of the term fourth estate arises from the traditional European concept of the three estates of the realm: the clergy, the nobility and the commoners. The equivalent term fourth power is somewhat uncommon in English, but it is used in many European languages (see for example de:Vierte Gewalt, es:Cuarto poder and fr:Quatrième pouvoir) referring to the separation of powers in government into a legislature, an executive and a judiciary.


Freeman, free men, or variant, may refer to:

Freeman may refer to:

a member of the Third Estate in medieval society (commoners), see estates of the realm

Freeman, an apprentice who has been granted freedom of the company, was a rank within Livery companies

Freeman, in Middle English synonymous with franklin (class), initially a person not tied to land as a villein or serf, later a land-owner

Freeman (Colonial), in U.S. colonial times, a person not under legal restraint

A person who has been awarded Freedom of the City

A member of a livery company who has been awarded "Freedom of the Company"Free tenant, a social class in the Middle Ages

Freedman, a former slave that had been freed from bondage

House of Nobility (Finland)

The House of Nobility either refers to the institution of the Finnish nobility or the palace of the noble estate. The Finnish nobility was until 1906 the first of the four estates of the realm.

House of the Estates

The House of the Estates (Finnish: Säätytalo, Swedish: Ständerhuset) is a historical building in Helsinki, Finland. It is located opposite of the Bank of Finland building, immediately northeast of Helsinki Cathedral. From 1891, when it was built, it housed the three commoner estates of the four estates of the realm of Finland (see Diet of Finland); there is a separate House of Nobility. The estates were superseded at the 1906 parliamentary reform by the foundation of the unicameral parliament of Finland. The parliament settled elsewhere, leaving Säätytalo for secondary usage.

Today the House of the Estates houses sporadic governmental meetings. It is also the established location for official coalition talks after general elections and for the sessions of High Court of Impeachment. In addition, the house is used by scientific and scholarly organizations for meetings. The building is owned by the Republic of Finland through Senate Properties.

Judicial reform of Alexander II

The judicial reform of Alexander II is generally considered one of the most successful and consistent of all his reforms (along with the military reform). A completely new court system and order of legal proceedings were established. The main results were the introduction of a unified judicial system instead of a cumbersome set of estates of the realm courts, and fundamental changes in criminal trials. The latter included the establishment of the principle of equality of the parties involved, the introduction of public hearings, the jury trial, and a professional advocate that had never existed in Russia. However, there were also problems, as certain obsolete institutions were not covered by the reform. Also, the reform was hindered by extrajudicial punishment, introduced on a widespread scale during the reigns of his successors – Alexander III and Nicholas II.

The judicial reforms started on 20 November 1864, when the tsar signed the decree which enforced four Regulations (Establishment of Judicial Settlements, Regulations of Civil Proceedings, Regulations of Criminal Proceedings, and Regulations of Punishments Imposed by Justices of the Peace).

Junta de Braços

The Junta de Braços or Braços Generals (States-General) was, during the early modern age, an institution of the Principality of Catalonia, convened by the Generalitat of Catalonia in cases of emergency or urgency. It was composed by the representatives of the Catalan Courts who at that time were in Barcelona.The decision to convene the Junta de Braços was to be taken by the three deputies and the three oïdors that formed the Generalitat. It was constituted following the same system of the Catalan Courts, that is, by bringing together the members of the three estates of the realm: the ecclesiastic formed by the clergy, the military formed by the nobility, and the popular formed by royal towns and cities of the country. Only those who lived in Barcelona (or who were at that time) were summoned, due to the urgent nature of the issues that had to be raised and the precarious communications of the time made it impossible for a general call for all of Catalonia. This favored the presence of a majority of Barcelona residents, and of a greater number of nobles who lived in the city; and the presence of the ciutadans honrats (honorable citizens) of Barcelona was accepted, even though on an individual basis.

Partitioned-off duke

In the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, the term "partitioned-off duke" (German: Abgeteilte Herren) was used to denote a series of dukes whose territories were not recognized by the estates of the realm.

Romano-Germanic culture

The term Romano-Germanic describes the conflation of Roman culture with that of various Germanic peoples in areas successively ruled by the Roman Empire and Germanic "barbarian monarchies".

These include the kingdoms of the Visigoths (in Hispania and Gallia Narbonensis), the Ostrogoths (in Italia, Sicilia, Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, Dalmatia and Dacia), the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Sub-Roman Britain and finally the Franks who established the nucleus of the later "Holy Roman Empire" in Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Belgica, Germania Superior and Inferior, and parts of the previously unconquered Germania Magna. Additionally, minor Germanic tribes, like the Vandals, the Suebi, and the Visigoths established kingdoms in Hispania.

The cultural syncretism of Roman and Germanic traditions overlaid the earlier syncretism of Roman culture with the Celtic culture of the respective imperial provinces, Gallo-Roman culture in Gaul and Romano-British culture in Britain. This results in a triple fusion of Celtic-Roman-Germanic culture for France and England in particular.

Romano-Germanic cultural contact begins as early as the first Roman accounts of the Germanic peoples. Roman influence is perceptible beyond the boundaries of the empire, in the Northern European Roman Iron Age of the first centuries AD. The nature of this cultural contact changes with the decline of the Roman Empire and the beginning Migration period in the wake of the crisis of the third century: the "barbarian" peoples of Germania Magna formerly known as mercenaries and traders now came as invaders and eventually as a new ruling elite, even in Italy itself, beginning with Odoacer's rise to the rank of Dux Italiae in 476 AD.

The cultural syncretism was most pronounced in Francia. In West Francia, the nucleus of what was to become France, the Frankish language was eventually extinct, but not without leaving significant traces in the emerging Romance language. In East Francia on the other hand, the nucleus of what was to become the kingdom of Germany and ultimately German-speaking Europe, the syncretism was less pronounced since only its southernmost portion had ever been part of the Roman Empire, as Germania Superior: all territories on the right hand side of the Rhine remain Germanic-speaking. Those parts of the Germanic sphere extends along the left of the Rhine, including the Swiss plateau, the Alsace, the Rhineland and Flanders, are the parts where Romano-Germanic cultural contact remains most evident.

Early Germanic law reflects the coexistence of Roman and Germanic cultures during the Migration period in applying separate laws to Roman and Germanic individuals, notably the Lex Romana Visigothorum (506), the Lex Romana Curiensis and the Lex Romana Burgundionum. The separate cultures amalgamated after Christianization, and by the Carolingian period the distinction of Roman vs. Germanic subjects had been replaced by the feudal system of the Three Estates of the Realm.

Sweden proper

Sweden proper (Swedish: Egentliga Sverige) is a term used to distinguish those territories that were fully integrated into the Kingdom of Sweden, as opposed to the dominions and possessions of, or states in union with, Sweden.

Specifically this means that from approximately 1155–1156 up to the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in 1809, Sweden proper did also include the bulk of present-day Finland as a fully integrated part of the realm. After 1809 however the use of the term has been to distinguish the western part from former eastern half of the realm, or Sweden from Finland.

Skåne, Halland, Blekinge and Bohuslän formerly parts of Denmark and Norway, came under the Swedish Crown by the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, but it was not until 1719 that it was fully integrated and became part of Sweden proper.

Only the estates of the realm of Sweden proper were represented in the Riksdag of the Estates. In Sweden this included the fourth estate, the Peasants.

Sweden proper is, as opposed to Finland Proper, a geographical reference that has changed over time, whereas the latter was a province in southwestern Finland that gave its name to all of Finland.

The Estates

The Estates or the States (French: États, German: Landstände, Dutch: Staten) was the assembly of the representatives of the estates of the realm, the divisions of society in feudal times, called together for purposes of deliberation, legislation or taxation. A meeting of the estates that covered an entire kingdom was called an estates general.

The first estate was the clergy, the second the nobility and the third the commoners, although actual membership in the third estate varied from country to country. Bourgeoisie, peasants and people with no estate from birth were separated in Sweden and Finland as late as in 1905.

Representation through estates was the norm in Europe until the advent of popular representation beginning with the French Revolution. The Estates General of France were convoked only twice between 1614 and 1789, both times during the Fronde (1648–53) and in neither case did they actually meet. At the final meeting of the Estates in 1789, they voted to join together in a single National Assembly, generally seen as marking the start of the Revolution. Still, Estates continued to meet in Navarre until 1828, in Hungary until 1848, in Sweden until 1866 and in the Duchy of Mecklenburg until 1918.In some countries, the parliament kept the same name when its feudal organization was replaced with a more modern kind of representation, like census or universal suffrage. In Sweden, the Riksdag of the Estates was replaced with the Riksdag in 1866.

Union and Security Act

The Union and Security Act (Swedish: Förenings- och säkerhetsakten, Finnish: Yhdistys- ja vakuuskirja), alternately Act of Union and Security was proposed by king Gustav III of Sweden to the assembled Estates of the Realm during the Riksdag of 1789. It was a document, adding to the Swedish Constitution of 1772 new provisions. The King strengthened his grip on power, while at the same time riding on a popular wave that also meant the decrease in aristocratic power. It has been described as "fundamentally conservative".

Zemsky Sobor

The Zemsky Sobor (Russian: зе́мский собо́р, IPA: [ˈzʲemskʲɪj sɐˈbor], lit. assembly of the land) was a parliament of the Tsardom of Russia's Estates of the realm active during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Zemsky Sobor represented Russia's feudal classes in three categories: Nobility and the high bureaucracy, the Holy Sobor of the Orthodox clergy, and representatives of "commoners" including merchants and townspeople. Assemblies could be summoned either by the Tsar, the Patriarch, or the Boyar Duma, to decide controversial issues or enact major pieces of legislation.

Tsar Ivan the Terrible held the first Zemsky Sobor in 1549, holding several assemblies primarily as a rubber stamp but also to address initiatives taken by the lower nobility and townspeople. The Time of Troubles saw the Zemsky Sobor appoint Boris Godunov as Tsar in 1598 during the succession crisis after the end of Rurik Dynasty. Assemblies were held annually after Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar in 1613, but lost influence as the Romanov dynasty became more established, with the assembly to ratify the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654 the last for thirty years. The last Zemsky Sobors were held in the 1680s to abolish the mestnichestvo system and to ratify the "Eternal Peace" with Poland.

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