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Abstract This article addresses one under-studied aspect of Charles I’s finances during his Personal Rule: the licensing of tobacco retailers. While it was ultimately a failed project, the tobacco retail licence project was fiscally successful before the transformative events of the 1640s triggered its demise. The project enabled tobacco retail licensees to establish commercial outlets for the marketing of tobacco throughout England and Wales, and cooperation with pre-existing officeholders contributed to the apprehension of unlicensed retailers. Ultimately, the geographic breadth of tobacco licences translated into much-needed royal revenue which, when added to other projects and patents, contributed to the king’s financial survival. The evidence presented here suggests that we may want to rethink some of our assumptions for how the process of state formation worked and that earlier seventeenth-century ‘prototypes’ of taxation were more fiscally successful than previously recognized.