from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. Journalists considered as a group; the public press.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. A hypothetical fourth class of civic subjects, or fourth body (in Britain, after the Crown, and the two Houses of Parliament) which governed legislation.
- n. Journalism or journalists considered as a group; the Press.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. the press, including journalists, newspaper writers, photographers
The three (in England) estates were originally the three classes of people who could participate in government, either directly or by electing representatives – originally the clergy, barons/knights, and the commons (though they changed over time). Later the "three estates" were misunderstood as being the three governmental powers necessary for legislation: the Crown, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons; from there, the idea of a "fourth estate" was often used in satirical or jocular expressions, before developing a fixed association with the Press. (Wiktionary)
In fact, it was a sort of fourth estate of the realm; nearly as much so, indeed, as the Newspaper Press is in our time.