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The Fiscal-Military State: Britain 1688-1783,
This review is from: The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783 (Paperback)
Many are the books on British history that cite John Brewers 1989 classic "The Sinews of Power" not infrequently in glowing terms, but the fact that it has been out of print since 1994, absent without leave from my local library, and hideously expensive second hand has meant that it is not until now (thanks to Oxfam) that I have been able to read this seminal work. It was definitely worth the wait.
"The Sinews of Power" charts the develpment of Britain into what he calls a "fiscal-military state" from the period of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the loss of their American colonies in 1783. Brewer is alive to the context within which this happened, a British State that was in increasingly in the hands of the propertied classes, primarily via the House of Commons, during a period when Britain was frequently at war with France. Against these two facts the development of a "peculiary British version of the fiscal-military state, complete with large armies and navies, industrious administrators, high taxes and huge debts" are laid out in detail.
Other developments that receive Brewers attention include the formation of a distinct Financial interest (The City) that recieved a large helping hand from the "high taxes and huge debts" that became necessary for the British state during its repeated wars with France. The changes in both taxation policy and how the debt evolved are discussed in detail, as are the changes in the source of taxation. In the earliest part of the period it is direct, in particular a land tax, that form the greater proportion of tax receipts. As time passes the emphasis changes to indirect taxation on popularly consumed items that are often, or regarded as, essential. There is also an interesting chapter on Government information and Lobbyists with many examples, going back to the 1690's, of Lobbying that are immediately recognisable to the twenty-first century reader.
This is a fine book, that provides a fascinating and detailed insight into the development of Britain during the eighteenth century with particular attention paid to the military and fiscal dimensions. For anyone interested in British history, in particular how Britain found itself as the leading world power in the 19th century, this book is essential.
Readers unfamiliar with the period will probably find the following books more welcoming: English Society in the Eighteenth Century by Roy Porter, or J.H.Plumbs England in the Eighteenth Century which though dated in many of the particulars still rewards the reader with a fluent general account of the era. More detailed and unapologetically academic, in the best sense, are John Rules The Vital Century: England's Economy, 1714-1815 and Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815 (Social and Economic History of England).