The Third Estate was one of the three dividing bodies in France that had originated in the Middle Ages. It was renamed the National Assembly in June 17, 1989 as a result of having almost no say in the Estates-General that was called by Louis XVI. The Third Estate consisted of members of France who were neither part of the nobility, nor part of the church.

The overwhelming majority of the citizens of France were in the Third Estate, so had twice as many representatives (who were mainly educated professionals such as lawyers) in the Estates-General than the other two estates. This was of no importance, however, because all decisions made by the Estates-General was made by a vote in which each estate cast one single vote. The first two estates generally agreed with each other, so their two votes would always overrule the vote of the Third Estate. The system was purposely designed this way to limit the Third Estate's power.

The Third Estate requested increases in its power by suggesting such things as a vote by head, but as a result was banned from officially attending the Estates-General, and convened in a tennis court, which began its quest for more major reform of the French government (eventually leading to the Revolution).

Most information from lectures by professor Storch at the University of Wisconsin - Rock County. Additional information from Fourth Edition Western Civilization from 1300 by Jackson J. Spielvogel.

The opposing Estates mentioned here are The First Estate, or the clergy, and The Second Estate, or the nobility. The feelings of exploitation possessed by The Third Estate eventually led to the start of the French Revolution.

"What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something.

-Abbé Sieyès

By 1789, many people in France had come to view the Third Estate or the Tiers-Etat as including everyone who was not a clergyman or noble. In 1789, the Estates-General had not been called for 175 years. The specifics of the Third Estate's compostion had been forgotten, and came to be viewed as "everyone else." But in statutes, the Third Estate actually only represented the bourgeois of the "seigneurial towns," that is, towns which had been chartered to be freed of the local lord. In the royal demesne, the king held the lordship of such towns. In cities located in the domaines of great lords of the realm, the city itself became its own lord and was the direct vassal of the king, thus making it an independent island inside another lord's territory. The peasantry (the vast majority of the population) were not intended to be represented at all.

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