Domesday Book is the record of the great
survey of England completed in
1086, executed for William I of
England, or William the Conqueror. While spending the
Christmas of 1085 in Gloucester, William "had deep speech with his counsellors and
sent men all over England to each shire to find out what or how
much each landholder had in land and livestock, and what it was
One of the main purposes of the survey was to determine who held
what and what taxes had been liable under Edward the Confessor
; the judgment of
the Domesday assessors was final—whatever the book said about who
held the material wealth or what it was worth, was the law, and
there was no appeal. It was written in Latin
although there were some vernacular words inserted for native terms
with no previous Latin equivalent, and the text was highly
abbreviated. The name Domesday
comes from the Old English
(of which the
Modern English doom
descended), meaning accounting
, or doomsday
, is literally a day of
reckoning, meaning that a lord takes account of what is owed by his
subjects. . Richard FitzNigel
writing c. 1179, stated that the book was known by the English as
'Domesday', that is the Day of Judgement "for as the sentence of
that strict and terrible last account cannot be evaded by any
skilful subterfuge, so when this book is appealed to ... its
sentence cannot be put quashed or set aside with impunity. That is
why we have called the book 'the Book of Judgement' ... because its
decisions, like those of the Last Judgement, are
2006, a complete online version of Domesday Book was made available
for the first time by the UK's National
The Domesday Book
The Domesday Book
is really two independent works. One,
known as Little Domesday
, covers Norfolk
. The other, Great
Domesday, covers the rest of England, except for
lands in the north that would later become Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland and County
Durham. There are also no surveys of London, Winchester and some other towns.
The omission of these
two major cities is probably due to their size and complexity. Most
of Cumberland and Westmorland are missing because they were not
conquered until some time after the survey, and County Durham
is lacking as the Bishop of Durham
(William de St-Calais
) had the exclusive
right to tax Durham; parts of the north east of England were
covered by the 1183 Boldon Book
listed those areas liable to tax by the Bishop of Durham. The
omission of the other counties has not been fully explained.
Despite its name, Little Domesday
was actually larger — as
it is far more detailed, down to numbers of livestock. It has been
suggested that Little Domesday
represents a first attempt,
and that it was found impossible, or at least inconvenient, to
complete the work on the same scale for Great
For both volumes, the contents of the returns were entirely
rearranged and classified according to fief
rather than geographically. Instead of appearing under the Hundred
holdings appear under the names of the landholders ('tenentes'),
i.e. those who held the lands directly of the crown in fee
In each county, the list opened with the holdings of the king
himself (which had possibly formed the subject of separate
inquiry); then came those of the churchmen and religious houses in
order of status (for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury
listed before other bishops); next were entered those of the lay
approximate order of status (aristocrats
); and then king's
) and English thegns
In some counties, one or more principal towns formed the subject of
a separate section; in some the clamores (disputed titles to land)
were similarly treated separately. This principle applies more
specially to the larger volume; in the smaller one the system is
more confused, the execution less perfect.
Domesday names a total of 13,418 places. Apart from the wholly
rural portions, which constitute its bulk, Domesday
contains entries of interest concerning most of the towns, which
were probably made because of their bearing on the fiscal rights of
the crown therein. These include fragments of custumals (older
customary agreements), records of the military service due, of
, and so forth. From the
towns, from the counties as wholes, and from many of its ancient
Lordships, the crown was entitled to archaic dues in kind, such as
The information of most general interest found in the great record
is that on political, personal, ecclesiastical and social history,
which only occurs sporadically and, as it were, by accident. Much
of this was used by E. A. Freeman
his work on the Norman
From the Anglo-Saxon
it is known that the planning for the survey was
conducted in 1085, and from the colophon
of the book it is known that
the survey was completed in 1086. It is not known when exactly
was compiled, but the entire work appears to
have been copied out by one person on parchment (prepared
sheepskin). Writing in 2000, David Roffe
argued that the inquest (the survey) and the construction of the
book were two distinct exercises; the latter being completed, if
not started, by William II
following his assumption of the English throne and quashing of the
rebellion that followed and based on, though not consequent on, the
findings of the inquest.
Each county was visited by a group of royal officers
), who held a public inquiry, probably in the great
assembly known as the county court, which was attended by
representatives of every township as well as of the local lords.
The unit of inquiry was the Hundred (a subdivision of the county,
which then was an administrative entity), and the return for each
Hundred was sworn to by twelve local jurors, half of them English
and half of them Normans
What is believed to be a full transcript of these original returns
is preserved for several of the Cambridgeshire
Hundreds and is of great
illustrative importance. The Inquisitio Eliensis, the
Exon Domesday (so called from the preservation of the
volume at Exeter), which
covers Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, and the second volume of Domesday Book,
also all contain the full details supplied by the original
Through comparison of what details are recorded in which counties,
six "circuits" can be determined.
- Berkshire, Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex
- Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire (Exeter Domesday)
Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex
- Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire
- Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire — the
- Derbyshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire
For the object of the survey, we have three sources of information:
- The list of questions which the jurors were asked, as preserved
in the Inquisitio Eliensis
- The contents of Domesday Book and the allied records
Although these can by no means be reconciled in every detail, it is
now generally recognised that the primary object of the survey was
to ascertain and record the fiscal rights of the king. These were
- the national land-tax (geldum), paid on a fixed
- certain miscellaneous dues, and
- the proceeds of the crown lands.
After a great political convulsion such as the Norman conquest, and
the wholesale confiscation of landed estates which followed it, it
was in William's interest to make sure that the rights of the
crown, which he claimed to have inherited, had not suffered in the
process. More especially was this the case as his Norman followers
were disposed to evade the liabilities of their English
predecessors. The successful trial of Odo de Bayeux at Penenden Heath less than a decade after the conquest was one
example of the growing discontent at the Norman land-grab that had
occurred in the years following the invasion.
The survey has
since been viewed in the context that William required certainty
and a definitive reference point as to property holdings across the
nation so that it might be used as evidence in disputes and
purported authority for crown ownership.
The Domesday survey therefore recorded the names of the new holders
of lands and the assessments on which their tax was to be paid. But
it did more than this; by the king's instructions it endeavoured to
make a national valuation list, estimating the annual value of all
the land in the country, (1) at the time of Edward the Confessor
's death, (2) when
the new owners received it, (3) at the time of the survey, and
further, it reckoned, by command, the potential value as well. It
is evident that William desired to know the financial resources of
his kingdom, and it is probable that he wished to compare them with
the existing assessment, which was one of considerable antiquity,
though there are traces that it had been occasionally modified. The
great bulk of Domesday Book
is devoted to the somewhat
arid details of the assessment and valuation of rural estates,
which were as yet the only important source of national wealth.
After stating the assessment of the manor
, the record sets forth the amount of
, and the number of plough
teams (each reckoned at eight oxen) available for working it, with
the additional number (if any) that might be employed; then the
river-meadows, woodland, pasture, fisheries (i.e. fishing weirs
(if by the sea) and other
subsidiary sources of revenue; the peasants are enumerated in their
several classes; and finally the annual value of the whole, past
and present, is roughly estimated.
It is obvious that, both in its values and in its measurements, the
survey's reckoning is very crude.
The rearrangement, on a feudal basis, of the original returns
enabled the Conqueror and his officers to see with ease the extent
of a baron's possessions; but it also had the effect of showing how
far he had engaged under-tenants, and who those under-tenants were.
This was of great importance to William, not only for military
reasons, but also because of his firm resolve to make the
under-tenants (though the "men" of their lords) swear allegiance
directly to himself. As Domesday Book
only the Christian name of an under-tenant, it is not possible to
search for the surnames of families claiming a Norman origin; but
much has been done, and is still being done, to identify the
under-tenants, the great bulk of whom bear foreign Christian
To a large extent, it comes down to the king's knowing where he
should look when he needed to raise money. It therefore includes
sources of income but not sinks of expenditure such as castles,
unless their mention is needed to explain discrepancies between
pre-and post-Conquest holdings. Typically, this happened in a town,
where separately-recorded properties had been demolished to make
way for a castle.
Domesday Book was originally
preserved in the royal treasury at Winchester (the Norman kings' capital).
originally referred to as the Book of Winchester
refers to itself as such in a late edition. When the treasury
moved to Westminster, probably under Henry II, the book went with it.
In the Dialogus de scaccario
(temp. Hen. II.) it is spoken
of as a record from the arbitrament of which there was no appeal
(from which its popular name of Domesday
is said to be
derived). In the Middle Ages its evidence was frequently invoked in
the law-courts; and even now there are certain cases in which
appeal is made to its testimony.
remained in Westminster until the days of Queen Victoria, being
preserved from 1696 onwards in the Chapter
House, and only removed in special circumstances, such as when
it was sent to Southampton for photozincographic
reproduction. Domesday Book was eventually placed
in the Public
Record Office, London; it can be now seen in a glass case in the
museum at The National Archives, Kew, which is
in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames in South West London.
In 1869 it received a
modern binding. Most recently, the two books were rebound for its
ninth centenary in 1986, when Great Domesday
into two volumes and Little Domesday
was divided into
three volumes. The ancient Domesday chest, in which it used to be
kept, is also preserved in the building at Kew.
The printing of Domesday
, in "record type", was begun by
the government in 1773, and the book was published, in two volumes,
in 1783; in 1811 a volume of indexes was added, and in 1816 a
supplementary volume, separately indexed, containing
- The Exon Domesday—for the
- The Inquisitio
- The Liber Winton—surveys
of Winchester late in the 12th century.
- The Boldon Buke—a survey of
the bishopric of Durham a century later than Domesday.
of Domesday Book
, for each county
separately, were published in 1861-1863, also by the government.
Today, Domesday Book
is available in numerous editions,
usually separated by county and available with other local history
In 1986, the BBC
released the BBC Domesday Project
, the results of a
project to create a survey to mark the 900th anniversary of the
original Domesday Book. In August 2006 the contents of Domesday
, with an English translation of the book's
Latin. Visitors to the website will now be able to search a place
name, see the index entry made for the manor, town, city or village
and, for a fee, download the appropriate page.
Although unique in character and invaluable to the student,
scholars are unable to explain portions of its language and of its
system. This is partly due to its very early date, which has placed
a gulf between Domesday Book
and later records that is
difficult to bridge.
To the topographer, as to the genealogist, its evidence is of
primary importance, as it not only contains the earliest survey of
each township or manor, but affords, in the majority of cases, a
clue to its subsequent descent.
- Domesday book: a complete translation. London:
Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0-14-143994-7.
- Darby, Henry C. Domesday England. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1977. ISBN 0 521 31026 1
- Hallam, Elizabeth M. Domesday Book through Nine
Centuries. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1986.
- Keats-Rohan, Katherine S.
B. Domesday People: A
Prosopography of Persons Occurring in English Documents,
1066–1166. 2v. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1999.
- Holt, J. C. Domesday Studies. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The
Boydell Press, 1987. ISBN 0-85115-263-5
- Lennard, Reginald. Rural England 1086-1135: A Study of
Social and Agrarian Conditions. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1959. ISBN 0-19-821272-0
- Maitland, F. W. Domesday Book and Beyond. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-521-34918-4
- Roffe, David. Domesday: The Inquest and The Book.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-820847-2
- Roffe, David. Decoding Domesday. Woodbridge, Suffolk:
The Boydell Press, 2007. ISBN 978 1 84383 307 9
- Vinogradoff, Paul. English Society in the Eleventh
Century. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1908.
- Wood, Michael. The Doomsday Quest: In Search of the Roots
of England. London: BBC Books, 2005. ISBN 0-563-52274-7
- Darby, Henry C. & Campbell, Eila M. J. (1961) The
Domesday Geography of South Eastern England
- Darby, Henry C. & Maxwell, I. S. (1962) The Domesday
Geography of Northern England
- Darby, Henry C. & Finn, R. Welldon (1967) The Domesday
Geography of South West England
- Darby, Henry C. (1971) The Domesday Geography of Eastern
England, 3rd ed.
- Darby, Henry C. & Terrett, I. B. (1971) The Domesday
Geography of Midland England, 2nd ed.
- McDonald, John & Snooks, G. D. (1985) "Were the Tax
Assessments of Domesday England Artificial?: the Case of Essex",
in: The Economic History Review, New series, Vol. 38, No.
3, [Aug. 1985], pp. 352-72
- Snooks, Graeme D. and McDonald, John. Domesday Economy: A
New Approach to Anglo-Norman History. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1986 ISBN 0198285248
- Hamshere, J. D. (1987) "Regressing Domesday Book: Tax
Assessments of Domesday England, in: The Economic History
Review, New series, Vol. 40, No. 2. [May 1987], pp.
- Leaver, R. A. (1988) "Five Hides in Ten Counties: a
Contribution to the Domesday Regression Debate", in: The
Economic History Review, New series, Vol. 41, No. 4, [Nov.
1988], pp. 525-42
- Bridbury, A. R. (1990) "Domesday Book: a Re-interpretation",
in: English Historical Review, Vol. 105, No. 415. [Apr.
1990], pp. 284-309
Also useful are the volumes of the Phillimore series, one for each
county (e.g. Thorn, C. et al. (eds.) (1979) Cornwall
Chichester: Phillimore) which contain the Latin in facsimile with
an English translation.
- ed. C. Johnson, Dialogus de Scaccario, the Course of the
Exchequer, and Constitutio Domus Regis, the King's Household,
64. London, 1950.
- Roffe, David: Domesday; The Inquest and The Book,
pages 224-249. Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Extraordinary privilege: the trial of Penenden Heath and the
Domesday inquest, by Alan Cooper, The English Historical Review, 1