The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, Front Cover. John Brewer. Unwin Hyman, – History – pages. The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State Front Cover . John Brewer. Routledge, Sep 11, – History – pages. The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English. State, New York: (Cambridge, ) and immediately after it John Brewer’s book.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Book Review of “The Sinews of Power: Focusing on war, taxation, public finances, and military and civilian administration, the author attempts sinewe write about such dense topics without invalidating other historians who have put forth their own views on the subject in the past.

In the space of about two or three generations during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Britain emerged as a dominant European power in naval might and trade relations, and by the Crown controlled more territory than it ever had.

Brewer notes the popular interpretations of this rise to prominence at the time he was writing, which emphasized either military accomplishments or ppower commercial and economic advantages Britain had over Continental states. They are helpful in that they point out the means dinews which nations create massive empires — economic and social resources such as capital and manpower — but for the author both of these factors as well as military events contributed to the enhanced status of Britain.

Administration, logistics, and the raising of money are the major historical themes the author handles in his book, preferring to dwell not on outcomes of individual battles but rather upon how administrative changes occurred during the time period in question. He goes about making his argument in five sections, the first of which deals with the English state prior to Brewer treats the British state and the English state simultaneously but as separate entities; while his analysis is focused on the latter, England comes to be at the center of the British state after the medieval era.

Brewer emphasizes heavily the creation of a fiscal-military state in England, a concept he endorses and calls the most important transformation in English government between the domestic reforms of the Tudors and the major administrative changes in the first half of the nineteenth century Brewer, xvii.

The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783

The third section of his book is dedicated to examining the political crisis that led to the birth of this fiscal-military state, which he argues cannot be understood without looking closely at the politics of the earlier medieval and Tudor periods. As far back as the Norman period in the twelfth century there were signs of a centralized political authority which came to personify national and local interests.

Brewer asserts the importance of both the early centralization of the English state and its absence from the larger Continental campaigns from about to as vital features that allowed for a future English superpower.

He asserted that parliament had, by the late seventeenth century, replaced what he called the patrimonial infrastructure which early statebuilding had initially bequeathed to England with a new administrative apparatus organized along proto-modern bureaucratic lines Ertman, Older departments did not undergo comprehensive reforms; instead, administrative innovation in Britain either worked around existing office-holders and their interests or reached an accommodation with them by combining the old and the new to their mutual satisfaction Brewer, In the end, three factors were important in providing the British fiscal-military state with advantages over its rivals when it finally did emerge in the late seventeenth century: Regarding the third factor, Brewer draws on comparisons with absolutist France when writing about how England was distinctive administratively.


As a result of remaining neutral in external conflicts until the end of the seventeenth century, the island nation did not suffer financially for having to field troops or pay for military-related expenses across the Channel. The sale of offices is seen as a financial device used to raise money in France, where an increase of French officers responded to satisfying the monetary demands of the Crown. No wholesale creation of offices for royal profit occurred in England, and office-holding did not offer such a variety of benefits to royal functionaries as in France.

Here the timing of the fiscal-military state is crucial for Brewer — he reasons that if England had been active in large-scale wars during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries it, too, would have acquired significant debts.

In another contrast with France, England was able to raise large sums of money without having to resort to the sale of offices. For the author, the acceptance of the institutions of central government set the stage for a powerful fiscal system that featured extreme centralization and a marked lack of resistance in the nation to such a high level of fiscal obligation.

Following it was economically unfavorable or simply not politically feasible for the government to raise money the way it used powfr — by levying forced loans, vending public honors, and manipulating the currency.

An effective tax system, providing the sienws with a substantial ;ower regular income, was a necessary condition of the new credit mechanisms which revolutionized public finance during the eighteenth century Brewer, The effective way Britain collected taxes between and was the result of a major transformation in its fiscal system that took zinews between the Restoration and the mid- eighteenth century, when an unproductive system was brought under the direction of a newly- founded Treasury Board.

It was between these years that England itself obtained all of the main characteristics of a fiscal-military state: Mention is given to the customs taxes on international trade and importsthe excise duties on domestically-produced commoditiesand the hearth tax as the chief levies the Crown depended on for its regular income in the late s, and short sections are dedicated to explaining their functions in addition to their hazards and the manner in which they replaced tax farming practices.

In the latter half of his book he tries to push the issue further by explaining why English policy changed so dramatically in the late s, concluding that public deficit finance had by become a long-term part of the workings of the English state. It is argued that one of the major political concerns of the period was to find a way to avoid the excesses of the regime while still managing to preserve it, and Brewer is convinced that this difficult task was accomplished.

He writes that although it is paradoxical, a strong parliament effectively resisting much that was proposed by government eventually produced a stronger state Brewer, Rather than consider the macro-economic question of the extent to which the state helped or hindered the long-term economic development of Britain, the short-term impact of war on different parts of society and the immediate economic and social effect of changes in the configuration of state power are examined, instead.

It was the interplay between the making of policy, the conduct of war, and course of the economy which colored contemporary understanding of what struggles with Continental powers like France meant Brewer, Mathematics and arithmetic here were held as exemplary modes of reasoning, which eighteenth-century citizens believed permitted the ordinary man to understand human behavior.

The high standing of all forms of calculation, especially those mathematical in nature, stemmed from their power in the eyes of eighteenth-century observers to produce precision, certainty, and security out of chaos and order Brewer, Whereas Brewer dwells on what it meant on the small scale, down to the common shopkeeper, it is not a running theme in his book and Carroll uses it far more broadly in his work.


His sections on English society could be enlarged by exploring the ways people used mathematics and science in construction projects, for example, linking this with the expansion of civil administration, but attempting to prove such points may only serve as digressions from his more central arguments. He acknowledges early on that there is a self-congratulatory air evident in the historiography of early modern England, and rather than follow suit he shows throughout the volume that although the English fiscal-military system was effective it was far from being the shining example of such a system for the rest of Europe.

The fortunes of the economy fluctuated in irregular patterns during the s, and such growth and decline appeared erratic and unpredictable to those who lived in that time.

Further, while parliamentary consent made public resistance to tax collection very difficult in most parts of Britain, the North American colonies and Scotland were two places where the collection of taxes was met with vehement opposition.

The transcribers, copyists, and other clerks who recorded business accounts and other financial dealings are not neglected just because the documents they left behind are not easy to interpret for modern historians.

Brewer realizes why financiers and administrators have not received treatment before besides in the most technical of scholarship, but his research draws upon these records often to support his verdicts since he sees the clerks as having made sense of an exceptionally complex system.

This helps the author show a growing discrepancy in taxes, and his exact monetary amounts help illustrate just how rapidly the transformation took place.

Economic and military history are interwoven, but political history is not left by the wayside. This multi-faceted approach, which includes the English society and does not assume the path of its development was inevitable, is perhaps the greatest advantage Brewer has over scholars, especially those who focus on different aspects of the state as unrelated or isolated phenomena. In the end he is convincing in demonstrating how the fiscal-military state emerged in England, even as he draws conclusions some readers might find unorthodox.

Internal political battles over how the state should best be run following the Glorious Revolution helped to shape the changing contours of government by limiting its scope, restricting its influence, and rendering its institutions more public and accountable.

The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, by John Brewer

Paradoxically, this success made the fiscal-military state stronger and more effective, and over time public scrutiny replaced dishonesty in the financial spheres and parliamentary consent lent greater legitimacy to government action Brewer, xix.

The wars fought between and did not always result in victory, and together with the fluctuating economy and high taxes they sometimes caused tensions on the home front. The emergence of a peculiarly British version of the fiscal-military state was for Brewer an unintended consequence of the political crisis which racked the state after the Glorious Revolution.

Though not inevitable, changes in government after were enduring. The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, Birth of the Leviathan: Cambridge University Press, Remember me on this computer. Enter the email address you signed up with and we’ll email you a reset link.

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