In France under the Old Regime, the Estates General or States-General was a legislative and consultative assembly of the different classes of French subjects. It had an assembly for each of the three estates, which were called and dismissed by the king. The Estates-General met intermittently until 1614 and only afterwards, but was not definitively dissolved until after the French Revolution. The letters summoning the assembly of 1302 are published by M. Georges Picot in his collection of Documents inédits pour servir à lhistoire de France, during the same reign they were subsequently assembled several times to give him aid by granting subsidies. Over time subsidies came to be the most frequent motive for their convocation, in one sense, the composition and powers of the Estates-General always remained the same. They always included representatives of the First Estate, Second Estate, and Third Estate and their composition, however, as well as their effective powers, varied greatly at different times. In their primitive form in the 14th and the first half of the 15th centuries, the lay lords and the ecclesiastical lords who made up the Estates-General were not elected by their peers, but directly chosen and summoned by the king. In the order of the clergy, however, since certain ecclesiastical bodies and it was only the representation of the Third Estate which was furnished by election. Originally, moreover, the latter was not called upon as a whole to seek representation in the estates and it was only the bonnes villes, the privileged towns, which were called upon. They were represented by elected procureurs, who were frequently the municipal officials of the town, the country districts, the plat pays, were not represented. Even within the bonnes villes, the franchise was quite narrow and it was during the last thirty years of the 15th century that the Estates-General became an entirely elective body and really representative of the whole nation as divided into three parts. This came about through various causes, the letters of summons to the Estates-General of 1484 invited the ecclesiastics, nobles, and Third Estate to meet at the chief town of their bailliage or sénéchaussé and elect deputies. An intermediate form had been employed in 1468 when the prelates and lords had still been summoned personally, at the estates of 1484 there seems to have been universal and direct suffrage for all the three orders. Thus a system of indirect election arose for the Third Estate which became confirmed, the effective powers of the Estates-General likewise varied over time. In the 14th century they were considerable, the king could not, in theory, levy general taxation. The privileged towns had generally the right of taxing themselves, to collect general taxes, the king required consent of the lay and ecclesiastical lords, and of the towns. This amounted to needing authorization from the Estates-General, which only granted these subsidies temporarily for fairly short periods, as a result, they were summoned frequently and their power over the Crown became considerable. In the second half of the 14th century, however, certain taxes, levied throughout the Crowns domain
A painting depicting the three classes
Caricature on the Third Estate carrying the first and second estate on its back
Opening of the Estates General on May 5, 1789 in the Grands Salles des Menus-Plaisirs in Versailles.