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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the idea of sovereignty, from ancient Greece and Rome to wars in France in the 1500s, to Thomas Hobbes and the revolutionary era.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the idea of Sovereignty, the authority of a state to govern itself and the relationship between the sovereign and the people. These ideas of external and internal sovereignty were imagined in various ways in ancient Greece and Rome, and given a name in 16th Century France by the philosopher and jurist Jean Bodin in his Six Books of the Commonwealth, where he said (in an early English translation) 'Maiestie or Soveraigntie is the most high, absolute, and perpetuall power over the citisens and subiects in a Commonweale: which the Latins cal Maiestatem, the Greeks akra exousia, kurion arche, and kurion politeuma; the Italians Segnoria, and the Hebrewes tomech shévet, that is to say, The greatest power to command.' Shakespeare also explored the concept through Richard II and the king's two bodies, Hobbes developed it in the 17th Century, and the idea of popular sovereignty was tested in the Revolutionary era in America and France.


Melissa Lane
Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University

Richard Bourke
Professor in the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London


Tim Stanton
Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of York

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

47 minutes

Last on

Thu 30 Jun 2016 21:30


Melissa Lane at Princeton University

Richard Bourke at Queen Mary, University of London

Tim Stanton at the University of York

Sovereignty - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Sovereignty – Wikipedia



Jean Bodin (ed. Julian H. Franklin), On Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Richard Bourke and Quentin Skinner (eds.), Popular Sovereignty in Historical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State and Self (Basic Books, 2008)

F. H. Hinsley, Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 1986)

Thomas Hobbes (ed. Richard Tuck), Leviathan (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Bertrand de Jouvenel, Sovereignty: An Inquiry into the Political Good (University of Chicago Press, 1957)

Carl Schmitt (ed. George Schwab), Political Theology: Four chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Richard Tuck, The Sleeping Sovereign: The Invention of Modern Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2016)



Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Melissa Lane
Interviewed Guest Richard Bourke
Interviewed Guest Tim Stanton
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 30 Jun 2016 09:00
  • Thu 30 Jun 2016 21:30

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