Usually a gathering of representatives of the three estates of a realm: the Church; the nobility; and the commons (representatives of the corporations of towns). They met to advise a sovereign on matters of policy. The name was applied to the representative body of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in their struggle for independence from Spain in the 16th century.
In France, it began as an occasional advisory body, usually summoned to register specific support for controversial royal policy. It was developed by Philip IV who held a meeting in 1302 to enlist support during a quarrel with the pope, but throughout the 14th century it was rarely convoked and the first proper States-General in France was in 1484 in the reign of Louis XI.