State-building, conquest, and royal sovereignty in Prussia, 1815-1871

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Since Bodin scholars have been debating whether sovereignty is indivisible or rather decentred, multiple and shared. This article adds to practice-oriented conceptualisations of sovereignty, which acknowledge the existence of jurisdictional pluralism in nineteenth-century state-building. Borrowing from imperial history, it contrasts the nominal supremacy of the Prussian crown – as embodied by the monarchical principle – with the residual sovereign rights of potentates that had lost their lands in Germany’s successive wars of unification. The possession of ‘bare sovereignty’ allowed such mediatised princes and exiled rulers to maintain a presence in the lives of their former subjects. They did so by exercising privileges and functions which left vague in whose name was being governed. The Hohenzollerns for their part struggled (and to a certain extent proved unwilling) to assert exclusive dominion because right of conquest-based justifications had no firm standing in international law, alienated segments of domestic public opinion and did not necessarily serve the interests of the state. The article argues, ultimately, that the resulting negotiation and contestation of monarchical sovereignty in Prussia speaks to global themes of state-building through state destruction in the Age of Empire.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1281-1310
JournalThe Historical Journal
Issue number5
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s), 2021.

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