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The hide was a unit used in assessing land for liability to "geld", or land tax, in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th to the 11th centuries. It continued in use for some time after the Norman Conquest of England, notably in the Domesday Survey: the hide was not a fixed area of land.

Development as a unit of taxation

Originally the hide seems to have represented an amount of land sufficient to support a peasant and his household, but it became the basis of an artificial system of assessment of land for purposes of taxation. Many details of the development of the system remain obscure. According to Sir Frank Stenton, "Despite the work of many great scholars the hide of early English texts remains a term of elusive meaning." By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period it was a measure of 'the taxable worth of an area of land', but it had no fixed relationship to its acreage, the number of ploughteams working on it, or its population; nor was it limited to the arable land on an estate. According to Bailey, "It is a commonplace that the hide in 1086 had a very variable extent on the ground; the old concept of 120 acres cannot be sustained."

A hide was made up of four virgates. The geld would be collected at a stated rate per hide. A similar measure was used in the northern Danelawmarker, known as a carucate, consisting of eight bovate, and Kentmarker used a system based on a "sulung", consisting of four "yokes", which was larger than the hide and on occasion treated as equivalent to two hides.

The hundred was sometimes assumed to consist of one hundred hides. In areas added to Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (such as Devonmarker added to Wessex) the hidation will be later than in other areas.


County assessments

The total number of hides in a given area was imposed from above. In later Anglo-Saxon England, each county was assigned a round number of hides, for which it would be required to answer. For instance, at an early date in the 11th century, Northamptonshiremarker was assigned 3,200 hides, while Staffordshire was assigned only 500. This number was then divided up between the hundred in the county. Theoretically there were 100 hides in each hundred, but this proportion was often not maintained, for example because of changes in the hundreds or in the estates comprising them or because assessments were altered when the actual cash liability was perceived as being too high or too low or for other reasons now unknown.

The hides within each hundred were then divided between villages, estates or manors, usually in blocks or multiples of 5 hides, though this was not always maintained. Differences from the norm could result from estates being moved from one hundred to another, or from adjustments to the size of an estate or alterations in the number of hides for which an estate should answer.

Tribal Hidage

The principle of an assessment imposed on a community from above, leaving the members of the community to decide how the liability should be divided between themselves, goes back to a very early date, as is shown by the document known as the Tribal Hidage. This is a very early list thought to date possibly from the 7th century, but known only from a later and unreliable manuscript. It is a list of tribes and small kingdoms owing tribute to an overlord and of the proportionate liability or quota imposed on each of them. This is expressed in terms of hides, though we have no details as to how these were arrived at nor how they were converted into a cash liability.

Burghal Hidage

Hide assessments could also be used for the apportionment of other obligations to which a community was liable, not only a pecuniary liability. The Burghal Hidage (early 10th century) is a list of boroughs giving the hide assessments of neighbouring districts which were liable to contribute to the defence of the borough, each contributing to the maintenance and manning of the fortifications in proportion to the number of hides for which they answered.

The County Hidage (early 11th century) lists the total number of hides to be assessed on each county, an earlier view of the system existing at the time of the Norman Conquest.

The Domesday Book

Finally, Domesday Book, recording the results of the survey made on the orders of King William I in 1086, states in hides (or carucates or sulungs as the case might be) the then current assessed values of estates throughout the area covered by the survey together with the corresponding figures for the reign of King Edward the Confessor. By that date the assessments showed many anomalies.

Later Norman period

See Geld after the Norman Conquest


As each local community had the task of deciding how its quota of hides should be divided between the lands held by that community, different communities used different criteria, depending on the type of land held and on the way in which an individual's wealth was reckoned within that community, therefore it is self-evident that no single comprehensive definition is possible.



  1. Stenton, p. 279
  2. Bailey, p. 5
  3. Stenton, pp. 281-2, 647
  4. Stenton, p. 646.
  5. Stenton, pp.644-6; Darby, pp.1-12.
  6. Stenton p.295. See also Cyril Hart: The Tribal Hidage in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th series Vol.21 (1971)
  7. Stenton p.265. See also David Hill & A.R.Rumble (edd): The Defence of Wessex - The Burghal Hidage (1996)
  8. See for example Darby, pp. 106-8, and Bailey.

Books referred to in the Notes

  • Bailey, Keith, 'The Hidation of Buckinghamshire', in Records of Buckinghamshire, Vol.32, 1990 (pp.1-22)
  • Darby, Henry C., Domesday England, Cambridge University Press, 1977
  • Stenton, Frank M., Anglo-Saxon England (3rd edn.), Oxford University Press, 1971

Further reading

Much work has been done investigating the hidation of various counties and also in attempts to discover more about the origin and development of the hide and the purposes for which it was used, but without producing many clear conclusions which would help the general reader. Those requiring more information may wish to consult the following works in addition to those quoted in the Notes:

  • 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, Graeme 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. 247-51
  • 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

External links

  • "Hide" on - a highly detailed description but in part outdated and lacking modern references

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