The European State Finance Database: An Introduction
(Dr Catherine Casson)

The purpose and aims of the database

The European State Finance Database represents the outcome of an international collaborative research project for the collection, archiving and dissemination of data on European fiscal history across the medieval, early modern and modern periods. This material is available free of charge to academics and students, in order to fulfil three main aims:

  1. To conserve the data underlying previous published and unpublished research, in order that subsequent researchers do not have to re-collect data in order to verify older calculations;
  2. To disseminate this data and in doing so encourage new research;
  3. To continue to preserve new data relating to state finance as it becomes available.

The data available is drawn from the main extant sources of a number of European countries, as the evidence and the existing state of scholarship permit. As contributions are made on a voluntary basis, the ESFD cannot guarantee to provide all data relating to all research conducted in the field of state finance. However it aims to provide as comprehensive coverage as possible. Where there are typographical errors in migrated datasets that also appear in the original published work, for example an incorrect date given in the title of a graph, these have been retained in the enhanced database. However the new graphs produced will have been corrected so that they reflect the correct data span. In the newly deposited datasets the codes are provided in full, whereas the migrated datasets contain abbreviated codes for which a key has then been provided. The newly deposited datasets provide figures in actual units rather than hundreds or thousands of units. Insofar as possible, we would be grateful if new contributors would adhere to these general principles.

The database is structured along the following lines, with each element being described in greater detail later in this introduction:

  • Introduction: A brief introduction to each series of datasets;
  • Database: The list of all the datasets available, by series, and a search engine;
  • Bibliography: A bibliography of secondary sources;
  • New Data Submission: A form for depositing new data.

For each dataset, statistics derived from the primary sources are presented in tabular and graphical form, both of which can be downloaded. Note files outline the primary sources from which the dataset was derived. The ESFDB requires all users to give full and proper acknowledgement (including specific citation) in any resulting scholarly work or publication to the name of the contributing scholar whose files they have used, including the specific filenames. A specific standard citation detail is provided for each dataset.

A history of the project

This version of the ESFD is an enhancement made in 2010 of the original website which was founded in the 1990s. The creation of the original website was directed by Rev. Prof. Richard Bonney with the assistance of Dr. Margaret Bonney. It was first developed as part of a project on ‘The Origins of the Modern State in Europe, 13th to 18th centuries’ which was sponsored by the European Science Foundation. This project ran from 1989 to 1992 and involved seven research groups covering, respectively, the themes of ‘War and Competition between States’, ‘Economic Systems and State Finance’, ‘The Legal Instruments of Power’, ‘Power Elites and State Building’, ‘Resistance, Representation and Community’, ‘The Individual in Political Theory and Practice’ and ‘Iconography, Power and Legitimation’. Each group was responsible for producing an edited volume on their topic. The team of academics in the ‘Economic Systems and State Finance’ group decided that in addition to collecting the data for their volume, they wished to preserve it in order to provide continuity to the project. Because it was not possible to publish all the statistics in the edited volume (Richard Bonney (ed.), Economic Systems and State Finance (Oxford, 1995) ) the ESFD was developed to preserve them. The development of the ESFD was funded two research grants: one from the British Academy (1989-1990) and the second from the Economic and Social Research Council (Award No. R000231968, 1990-1993).

The launch of the ESFD led in turn to a second edited volume on the subject of fiscal history, involving many of the contributors to the original volume. This work, Crises, Revolutions and Self-Sustained Growth, was edited by Richard Bonney, Margaret Bonney and Mark Ormrod, and published in 1999. It contained a series of detailed case studies of different aspects of fiscal history.

The ESFD has remained as a free online resource during and since the publication of these two volumes. In 2009 an enhancement of the database was undertaken, administered by Dr D’Maris Coffman (Centre for Financial History, Newnham College, University of Cambridge) and Dr Anne Murphy (University of Hertfordshire). The aim of the enhancement was to upgrade this valuable academic resource by:

  • adding additional datasets that had been collected since the ESFD was first launched and;
  • facilitating their use in a wide range of statistical software packages and;
  • updating the bibliography.

The enhancement project was supported by a grant from the Conferences and Initiatives Fund of the Economic History Society.

The collection of the data

The data provided by the ESFD has been collected by academics during the course of their research into topics related to fiscal history. The majority of data was collected from primary sources and only a small amount from secondary sources. Details of the sources used accompany the datasets. Many of the publications produced using data deposited in the ESFD are listed in the site’s bibliography.

Most data series were provided in the form of Excel spreadsheets, but in some cases data was transferred into Excel format by the website administrators from published tables. For each dataset a graph is provided, which was again developed by the website administrators.

During the enhancement of the website, the existing contributors were contacted and asked to review their data and, where it was available, to provide any new data they had collected in the past decade. Academics who had entered the field of fiscal history since the formation of the database were also contacted with regards to making new deposits. In particular contributions were sought from the contributors to the volume, Paying for the Liberal State: The Rise of Public Finance in Nineteenth Century Europe edited by José Luís Cardoso and Pedro Lains and published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press.

The contents of the database: An overview

A wide range of countries is covered in the ESFD, including Austria, England, France, the Low Countries, Poland, Prussia, Russia, Spain, Spanish America and Switzerland. Much of the data relates to different types of taxes, but there is also material relating to army size, wool and cloth exports and imports and stock prices.

How to use the database

To examine a particular data series on the database, the following steps should be taken. First, click on the title of the data series, for example ‘Data collected by Dr Marjolein 't Hart, and used in the preparation of her chapter on 'The United Provinces, 1579-1806' in R. J. Bonney (ed.), The Rise of the Fiscal State in Europe, c. 1200-1815 (Oxford, 1999), pp. 309-326’. Next, click on the dataset that you wish to examine, for example ‘Revenue from farmed taxes in the province of Holland, 1624-1713’. You will be provided with a graph and a series of figures. The graph can be changed between line, point, horizontal bar, vertical bar, horizontal stacked bar and vertical stacked bar. Meanwhile, the table can be read by clicking on the ‘page’ numbers in its bottom left hand corner.

Two further functions are provided with the dataset; notes on the data and a function for exporting the data to Excel via a .CSV file (comma de-limited text file). The notes on the data can be downloaded. They typically provide information on the unit of measurement used, the primary sources used, any missing years of data and, where appropriate, how the data was calculated.

There is also the potential to search the ESFD for data on particular countries and periods. A search for data on England in the period 1200-1300, for example, can be conducted by typing ‘England’ in the search field and then ‘1200’ in the from field and ‘1300’ in the to field. This search will bring up all data series that contain data relating to that period, namely ‘Data on the geographical distribution of taxable wealth in England, 1291-1535, supplied by Dr R. S. Schofield’, ‘Data prepared on English revenues, 1485-1815, by Professors P. K. O’Brien and Dr P. A. Hunt’ and ‘Miscellaneous published and unpublished data, mostly concerning English revenues (especially those from indirect taxation), supplied by Professor W. M. Ormrod’. It is also possible to search for data on a particular theme, such as indirect tax.

How to add to the database

New contributions to the database are always welcome in the form of statistics relating to state finance, commodities data and data relating to the operation of financial markets. Electronic deposits of data are increasingly considered to be on par with article publication, and can be used to illustrate to funding councils that research has been disseminated.

A form for making deposits is provided on the database. If you would like to make a deposit of data please provide it in the form of an Excel file, accompanied by a brief list of the primary sources used and the details of any publications in which the data has been discussed.