Sanctio in Latin means a “decree or ordinance with a penalty attached,” or, in other words, a “penal statute.” Pragmaticus means “relating to state affairs,” so that Pragmatic Sanction is a penal statute bearing on some important question of state. The term was first applied by the Romans to those statutes which related to their provinces. The French applied the phrase to certain statutes which limited the jurisdiction of the Pope; but generally it is applied to an ordinance, fixing the succession in a certain line.
Pragmatic Sanction of Charles VII. (of France), 1438, defining and limiting the power of the Pope in France. By this ordinance the authority of a general council was declared superior to the dictum of the Pope; the clergy were forbidden to appeal to Rome on any point affecting the secular condition of the nation; and the Roman pontiff was forbidden to appropriate a vacant benefice, or to appoint either bishop or parish priest.
Pragmatic Sanction of St. Louis, 1268, forbade the court of Rome to levy taxes or collect subsciptions in France without the express sanction of the king. It also gave plaintiffs in the ecclesiastical courts the right to appeal to the civil courts. The “Constitutions of Clarendon” were to England what the “Pragmatic Sanction” was to France.
Pragmatic Sanction of Germany, 1713. Whereby the succession of the empire was made hereditary in the female line, in order to transmit the crown to Maria Theresa, the daughter of Charles VI.
This is emphatically the Pragmatic Sanction, unless some qualifying word or date is added, to restrict it to some other instrument.
Pragmatic Sanction of Naples, 1759, whereby Carlos II. of Spain ceded the succession to his third son in perpetuity.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894