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States-General

Introduction

States-General or Estates-General, diet or national assembly in which the chief estates (see estate) of a nation—usually clergy, nobles, and towns (or commons)—were represented as separate bodies. The name survives in the Netherlands, where the two houses of parliament are known as States-General; however, only the name has been preserved there, for the lower house represents the entire nation by direct election, and the upper house represents the provincial estates, which are also elected democratically. Like the English Parliament, the States-General of France and other European assemblies had their origin in the king's council, or curia regis. The Cortes of the Spanish kingdoms, the diet of the Holy Roman Empire, and the diets of Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, and the Scandinavian countries all originated as royal councils and all represented, in varying degrees, the principal estates of the realm. They are generally said to have grown out of the earlier Germanic assemblies. Whatever their origin, they developed along entirely different lines in the various countries, and by the 16th cent. there was little or no resemblance between the English Parliament, the States-General of France, and the States-General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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