Academy of Ideas

Academy 2018: The Transformation of the Concept of Popular Sovereignty in Early-Modern Europe

August 11, 2018

A recording of a lecture by Rachel Hammersley at The Academy 2018, a residential weekend organised by the Academy of Ideas. Find out more here.

Rachel Hammersley is senior lecturer, intellectual history, Newcastle University; author, The English Republican Tradition and Eighteenth-Century France; editor, Revolutionary Moments: reading revolutionary texts


Popular sovereignty lies at the heart of our modern understanding of democracy government. But what does this concept mean and how did it emerge? In the large states of Northern Europe, for much of the medieval period and beyond, the term ‘sovereign’ was conventionally used to describe a monarch. Yet, from the sixteenth century onwards, the concept was being transformed. This lecture traces that transformation, taking in the influential distinction drawn by Jean Bodin between sovereignty and government and the practical and theoretical developments arising out of the English, American and French Revolutions.