Estates of the realm
The estates of the realm were the broad social orders of the hierarchically conceived society, recognised in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period in Christian Europe. There was no single system of dividing society into estates, and systems developed over time. The best known system is the French three-estate system that was used until the French Revolution: the clergy (first estate), the nobility (second estate), and commoners (third estate). Some countries considered burghers and rural commoners separate estates, notably Scandinavian nations and Russia. The two-estate system which eventually evolved in England was to combine nobility and bishops into one lordly estate, with ""commons"" as the other estate, the two-estate system which produced the two houses of parliament. In southern Germany, a three-estate system of princes, burghers, and knights was used, with high clergy included as princes.The term ""Fourth Estate"" is today often used in reference to forces outside the established power structure (imagined as three estates), and is now most commonly used in reference to the independent press or media. Historically, in Northern and Eastern Europe, the fourth estate meant rural commoners.