Medieval society was divided into three classes, called “estates”. The “First Estate” was the Clergy (those who prayed), the Second Estate was the Nobility (those who fought) and the “Third Estate” was the Peasantry, which was everyone else, who also grew the food that fed the first two estates (Schwartz 2009). They defined what a man (as opposed to a woman, who were defined by their sexual activity: Virgin, wife, widow), did for work as much as by social class (Schwartz). Second-Estate aristocrats could move into the First Estate when they joined the Church. (Schwartz).

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Today’s modern western society also can have three estates. Usually we think of them as the wealthy, the middle class and the poor. We usually think of the wealthy as people with a lot of money, huge mansions, cars and jewelry. The middle class, we think of by owning a nice home, with a job that pays the bills and have some left over for an occasional vacation and for retirement. Both the wealthy and the middle class may own, or run a business. The poor, we usually think of, as living in dirty, crime-ridden places, with little money and needing government assistance to survive.

Unlike medieval society though, in modern society, it is possible to move from the poor class into the middle class, and even into the wealthy class. It can be done through talent and hard work. In medieval times, though, it was rare for a Third Estate person to be able to acquire wealth, because a lot of their work went towards feeding themselves, and paying tribute to the first two estates. Plus, wealth was seen as owning land, which was primarily done by the first two estates. Today, a poor person may still own land and their own house, but may be struggling to pay their bills.

  • Schwartz Deborah B., The Three Estates, California Polytechnic State University, retrieved from