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pragmatic sanction

pragmatic sanction, decision of state dealing with a matter of great importance to a community or a whole state and having the force of fundamental law. The term originated in Roman law and was used on the continent of Europe until modern times. The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, issued by Charles VII of France in 1438, sharply limited the papal authority over the church in France and established the liberty of the Gallican Church (see Gallicanism). It was revoked in 1461 by Louis XI, who sought to improve relations with the Holy See, but relations between church and state remained dubious until Francis I concluded the Concordat of 1516 (see concordat). There have been many other pragmatic sanctions, but the term, if unqualified, always refers to the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, issued by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI to alter the law of succession of the Hapsburg family. Soon after Charles succeeded (1711) his elder brother Joseph I as emperor, he undertook to change the law so that, in the event of no male heir, the Hapsburg lands would be inherited through his own daughters rather than through Joseph's daughters. As it became apparent that there would be no male heir, the law took on great importance. By its terms, the succession to all Hapsburg dominions (but not to the imperial dignity, which was elective) was reserved for Charles's daughter Maria Theresa. The principal aim of the law was to guarantee the continued integrity of the Hapsburg territories and to prevent a struggle for the succession. Charles labored throughout his reign to obtain the adherence to the Pragmatic Sanction of the European sovereigns and of the diets and estates of the various Hapsburg lands. France gave it its support in 1738, and at the time of Charles's death (1740) most other powers and all the diets and estates of the Hapsburg domains (including those of the Austrian Netherlands, Bohemia, and Hungary) had endorsed it; the diet of the Holy Roman Empire had guaranteed it in 1732. A notable exception was that of Elector Charles Albert of Bavaria (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII), who was married to Maria Amelia, one of the daughters of Joseph I who had been displaced by the Pragmatic Sanction. The other daughter, Maria Josepha, had been married to Elector Frederick Augustus II of Saxony (Augustus III of Poland), who had ratified the Pragmatic Sanction in 1733 in exchange for Austrian support in his struggle for the Polish throne. When Maria Theresa acceded to the Hapsburg succession in 1740, she had to defend her right in a long and bitter struggle, the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), in spite of all the guarantees her father had obtained. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 confirmed the Pragmatic Sanction.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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