Domesday Book: The most important document in English history?
By Robert Bartlett
BBC History Magazine, July 2010
Introduction: What is the background to Domesday Book?
In 1085, William the Conqueror faced the greatest crisis of his life. This of course came two decades after his famous invasion and conquest of 1066. For the next 20 years he and his Norman followers colonised England, but then in the 1080s William’s position as king began to look vulnerable. His eldest son, Robert, was in rebellion and courting allies in northern France for an attack on Normandy, and King Cnut of Denmark was preparing to invade England in alliance with the count of Flanders.
William’s response was characteristically vigorous. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he mobilised the largest “force of mounted men and infantry” ever seen in England, compelled his vassals “to provision the army each in proportion to his land,” and scorched the coastline to prevent his enemies from gaining a foothold − as his own army had done in 1066. The atmosphere of England in 1085 must have resembled 1588 with the Armada on its way, or 1940 with Hitler’s forces poised for invasion.