In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fiscal-Military State

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • The Impact on Society
  • Public Opinion
  • Comparative Studies
  • Imperial Conflict

Atlantic History Fiscal-Military State
Mark Knights
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0073


A fiscal-military state was one capable of sustaining large-scale warfare through taxation and fiscal innovation, such as the creation of a national debt or credit-providing institutions. As armies and navies grew in size and sophistication, and the theater of war extended globally, so the cost of warfare spiraled; and the ability of states to pay for this determined their status as a “great power” in European or global affairs. Although it had its origins in the 16th- and 17th-century so-called military revolution, this process was a particular feature of 18th-century states. But the type and success of fiscal-military states varied: some, such as Britain, claimed to raise resources through consensual means, but others, such as Prussia or Russia, levied taxation more autocratically. The development of fiscal-military states of the 18th century was particularly important in an Atlantic context, since rivalry between Britain, France, and Spain was often fought out in a global theater that required huge resources and abilities. In turn, the colonies had a major impact on the character of the fiscal-military states. Spain’s decline in the 17th century arguably had much to do with the bullion from South America that had enabled the mother country to wage war for so long: but this approach also sidelined fiscal innovation and the growth of trade. And in the 18th century the cost of defending America placed a huge strain on the British state’s capacity, forcing it to adopt policies that precipitated conflict and to rethink economic policy. At the end of the 18th century the wars with France in some ways not only accentuated the trend toward fiscal-military muscle, they also led to an appreciation that concerted diplomacy was also a vital tool if a balance of power was to be maintained peacefully. The conceptualization of the fiscal-military state owes much to historians working on 18th-century Britain, which was in some ways precocious and different from other nations. The result is that much of the work on the character of the fiscal-military state (as opposed to the absolutist-bureaucratic military state) has been focused on Britain (and its empire). The sections that follow reflect that bias, but Comparative Studies and Imperial Conflict point to more specific European and global treatments.

General Overviews

Treatments vary according to time and place. Anderson 1988 offers a wide-ranging introduction in respect of both criteria, and Brewer 1989 has had a significant impact on the recent historiography. Bowen 1998 offers a succinct introduction to the British history of the fiscal-military state, though Dickson 1993 is still the standard work for the so-called British financial revolution, and Colley 1992 has placed the fiscal-military state in a wider cultural context. The collections by Duffy 1980 and Stone 1994 are particularly valuable, the latter containing many of the key contributors to the field. O’Brien 1993 sets out the fiscal side of the equation. Also see The “Military Revolution,” with which the larger topic of the fiscal-military state is often also closely associated, since that has its own historiography and general overviews.

  • Anderson, M. S. War and Society in Europe of the Old Regime, 1618–1780. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press, 1988.

    Compares different European experiences over a longer time frame than the conventional 18th-century focus.

  • Bowen, H. V. War and British Society, 1688–1815. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    A short overview of the nature of British warfare, with its own annotated select bibliography.

  • Brewer, John. The Sinews of Power: War and the English State, 1688–1783. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

    Influential and readable case for the transformations, costs, and tensions involved in Britain’s war effort. Shows the success and flexibility of the British model.

  • Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837. 2d ed. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1992.

    An influential and wide-ranging argument about the development of national identity, with war as one of its key concerns. Colley’s focus on intranational relationships, especially on the British Isles, refocused the discussion on war and state-building to include the influences of subnational groups and identities.

  • Dickson, Peter. The Financial Revolution in England: A Study of the Development of Public Credit, 1688–1756. Aldershot, UK, and Brookfield, VT: Gregg Revivals, 1993.

    Pioneering study of the fiscal mechanisms that developed after the Glorious Revolution, and how British governments adapted and reacted to both the opportunities and obstacles presented by the new financial environment. Originally published in 1967 (London: Macmillan).

  • Duffy, Michael, ed. The Military Revolution and the State, 1500–1800. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter, 1980.

    A concise volume with essays covering Portuguese, French, and British military developments. Its introduction is an especially helpful summary of the topic.

  • O’Brien, Patrick K., and Philip A. Hunt. “The Rise of a Fiscal State in England, 1485–1815.” Historical Research 66 (1993): 129–176.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2281.1993.tb01806.x

    Frequently cited article by economic historians charting the emergence of a “fiscal state” over a long early modern period, emphasizing 17th- as much as 18th-century developments.

  • Stone, Laurence, ed. An Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689 to 1815. London: Routledge, 1994.

    Important collection of essays engaging with Brewer 1989. The variety of approaches utilized by this collection’s contributors shows the range and scope of the questions raised by Brewer.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.