Skip to main content Skip to navigation

The State, Government and Politics

In this seminar we shall analyse debates about the concept of the state and state formation, in the context of the key challenges facing early modern government, and the diversity of approaches to these challenges within Europe. We will explore the change and continuity in early modern political thought and institutions, questioning the purpose of framing such studies through contrast with modern political states. During the class you will be asked to work in groups to present on three key challenges facing early modern government, and how different forms of government approached these issues.

Essential reading:

Chittolini, Giorgio, ‘The "Private," the "Public," the "State"’ in The Origins of the State in Italy, 1300-1600, ed. Julius Kirshner, (Chicago, 1996), pp. 34-61.

Viroli, Maurizio, 'Machiavelli and the Republican idea of Politics', in G Bock, Q. Skinner and M Viroli, Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge, 1990)

Darling, Linda, ‘Political Change and Political Discourse in the Early Modern Mediterranean World’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 38 (2008), pp. 505-535.

Read one of the following:

H. Elliott, 'A Europe of Composite Monarchies', Past and Present, 137 (1992), pp. 48-71.


B. Collins, 'State Building in Early-Modern Europe: The Case of France', Modern Asian Studies, 31 (1997) pp. 603-633.

Whilst reading, try to make a note of the different forms of government, some of the key challenges they faced, and the ways in which these systems approached those issues.


  • What was the early modern state and where was it located?
  • To what extent is a comparison between early modern and modern states useful?
  • What forms of early modern state existed and how differently did they function?
  • Did the early modern state monopolise power?

Further Reading:

Amirell, S. E., et al. (eds), Persistent Piracy: Maritime Violence and State-Formation in Global Historical Perspective Link opens in a new window(Basingstoke, 2014)

Barbalet, Jack, 'Violence and Politics: Reconsidering Weber's "Politics as a VocationLink opens in a new window’", Sociology (2020)

Boes, Maria R., Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Germany: courts and adjudicatory practices in Frankfurt am Main, 1562-1696 Link opens in a new window(Farnham, 2013)

Bonney, Richard, (ed.) The Rise of the Fiscal State in Europe, c.1200-1815 (Oxford, 1999)

Braddick, Michael, State Formation in Early Modern England, 1550-1700Link opens in a new window (Cambridge, 2000)

Carroll, Stuart, ed., Cultures of Violence: Interpersonal Violence in Historical PerspectiveLink opens in a new window (Basingstoke, 2007)

Davis, Ann E., 'Bringing Politics Back In: Violence, Finance, and the StateLink opens in a new window', Journal of Economic Issues 47:1 (2014), 219-246.

Elliott, J. H., Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830Link opens in a new window(New Haven, 2006)

Elliott, J. H., 'A Europe of Composite MonarchiesLink opens in a new window', Past and Present 137 (1992), 48-71

Friedland, Paul, Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France (Oxford, 2012)

Glete, Jan, War and the State in Early Modern Europe: Spain, the Dutch Republic and Sweden as Fiscal-Military States, 1500-1660Link opens in a new window (London, 2002)

Hughes, Steven C., 'Soldiers and Gentlemen: The Rise of the Duel in Renaissance ItalyLink opens in a new window', Journal of Medieval Military History 5 (2007), 99–152.

Kadare, Ishmail, Broken April (London, 1990)

Kollmann, Nancy, Crime and Punishment in Early Modern RussiaLink opens in a new window (Cambridge, 2012)

Lane, F. C., 'Economic Consequences of Organized ViolenceLink opens in a new window', Journal of Economic History 18 (1958), 401-17.

Lane, F. C., Profits from Power: Readings in Protection Rent and Violence-Controlling Enterprises (Albany, 1979)

Lidman, Satu, 'Violence or justice? Gender-specific structures and strategies in early modern EuropeLink opens in a new window', The History of the Family 18 (2013), 238-60.

Merback, Mitchell B., The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance EuropeLink opens in a new window (London, 2001)

Poggi, Gianfranco,The Development of the Modern State (London, 1978), Chapters 2-4.

Povolo, Claudio, 'Liturgies of Violence: Social Control and Power Relationships in the Republic of Venice between the 16th and 18th Centuries', in Eric R. Dursteler (ed.), A Companion to Venetian History 1400-1797Link opens in a new window (Leiden, 2013), pp. 513-42.

Roberts, Penny, 'The Kingdom's Two Bodies? Corporeal Rhetoric and Royal Authority during the Religious Wars', French History, 21 (2007), 147-64.

Rowbotham, Judith, et al. (eds), Shame, Blame, and Culpability: Crime and Violence in the Modern StateLink opens in a new window (London, 2014)

Ruff, Julius R., Violence in Early Modern Europe 1500-1800Link opens in a new window (Cambridge, 2001), Chapters 2 and 3.

Sandberg, Brian, War and Conflict in the Early Modern World: 1500-1700Link opens in a new window (London, 2016)

Sandberg, Brian, Warrior Pursuits: Noble Culture and Civil Conflict in Early Modern FranceLink opens in a new window (Baltimore, 2010)

Skinner, Quentin,‘The State’ in Political Innovation and Conceptual Change, ed. Terence Ball et al., (Cambridge, 1989), Chapter 5.

Thomson, Janice, E., Mercenaries, Pirates, and Sovereigns: State-Building and Extraterritorial Violence in Early Modern EuropeLink opens in a new window (Princeton, N.J, 1994)

Tilly, Charles, Coercion, Capital, and European States, A.D.990-1992, rev. ed. (Oxford, 1992)

Tilly, Charles, ‘War-Making and State-Making as Organized CrimeLink opens in a new window’, in Peter B. Evans et al., eds, Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 169-191

Tlusty, B. Ann, The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany: Civic Duty and the Right of ArmsLink opens in a new window (Basingstoke, 2011)

Weber, Max, 'Politics as VocationLink opens in a new window', in Max Weber's Complete Writings on Academic and Political Vocations, ed. John Dreijmanis, trans. Gordon C. Wells (New York, 2008), pp. 126-166

Yun-Casalilla, Bartolomé, and Patrick O'Brien, eds., The Rise of Fiscal States: A Global History, 1500-1914Link opens in a new window (Cambridge, 2012)

You might also like this transcript of a lecture by Quentin Skinner

Jacques Callot, L'estrapade (1633) (detail)

Jacques Callot, L'estrapade (1633) (detail)