mid-14c., "pre-eminence," from Anglo-French sovereynete, Old French souverainete, from soverain (see sovereign (adj.)). Meaning "authority, rule, supremacy of power or rank" is recorded from late 14c.; sense of "existence as an independent state" is from 1715.
A nation or state's supreme power within its borders. A government might respond, for example, to criticism from foreign governments of its treatment of its own citizens by citing its rights of sovereignty.