A guide to the Domesday Book, one of the most fascinating set of records from the Middle Ages.
In the year 1085, King William I who had ruled England for almost twenty years after his victory at the Battle of Hastings, was holding a meeting his officials and the bishops. According to the words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ‘the king had great thought, and very deep conversation with his council about this land; how it was occupied, or with which men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out “How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what livestock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.” Also he commissioned them to record in writing, “How much land his archbishops had, and his bishops, and his abbots, and his earls;” and though I tell at too great length, “What or how much, each man had, who was an occupier of land in England, either in land or in livestock, and how much money it were worth.” He had it investigated so very narrowly that there, was not one single hide, nor a yard of land, not even an ox, not one cow, not one pig was there left, that was not set down in his record.’
The record the chronicle spoke of is the Domesday Book, a great survey carried out by the officials of the Norman king, which allowed him to understand which land and resources he owned, and what was owed to him by other landowners and people. Two volumes were produced, providing over 832 folios of information that is astonishingly comprehensive for its time.
In parts of it you do learn about the landowners and the lands in England, where they explain what property was being held, down to the number of oxen and pigs one had. You also learn about over thirteen thousand places, including castles, markets, monasteries and towns. Some portions of the work are more detailed than others, and some places, like London and sections of northern England are not included in the records.
Still, for any historian of medieval England, the Domesday Book is an invaluable resource, which can be used to study the economics and social history of the period, how the royal government operated, and understand how various nobles built up their fortunes. For many places in England, the Domesday Book is the first mention of their existence, a starting point for their history.
PASE Domesday Project Website – online database of the Domesday Book, launched in 2010
Domesday: Britain’s Finest Treasure – from the National Archives website
David Roffe – website of one of the leading historians on the Domesday Book. Includes a large amount of online material.
Domesday Book: The most important document in English history? – by Robert Bartlett
The Purpose of Domesday Book: a Quandary – by William Kapelle
The Domesday Economy of England, 1086 - by John Mcdonald
Domesday Book and the Malets: patrimony and the private histories of public lives – by K.S.B Keats-Rohan
The Domesday Book castle LVVRE – by Keith Briggs
National Income in Domesday England – by James T. Walker
The Domesday Book – by Victoria King, History Magazine
Here are some recent books about the Domesday Book, along with links to their pages on Amazon.com
Domesday Book: A Complete Translation – Domesday Book has been described as ‘the most valuable piece of antiquity possessed by any nation.’ But a complete translation has never been available before at an affordable price. Penguin’s edition will change that. Compiled in a matter of months in 1086 at the behest of William the Conqueror, Domesday quickly established itself as document of immense legal importance. It was last consulted for legal precedent in 1982. It is also the most remarkable portrait of England in thelate eleventh century. The publication of a complete translation of Great and Little Domesday is already being eagerly anticipated by historians.
Decoding Domesday – The Domesday Book is one of our major sources for a crucial period of English history; yet it remains difficult to interpret. This provocative new book proposes a complete re-assessment, with profound implications for our understanding of the society and economy of medieval England. In particular, it overturns the general assumption that the Domesday inquest was a comprehensive survey of lords and their lands, and so tells us about the economic underpinning of power in the late eleventh century; rather, it suggests that in 1086 matters of taxation and service were at issue and data were collected to illuminate these its concerns. What emerges from this is that Domesday Book tells us less about a real economy and those who sustained it than a tributary one, with much of the wealth of England being omitted. The source, then, is not the transparent datum that social and economic historians would like it to be. In return, however, the book offers a richer understanding of late eleventh-century England in its own terms; and elucidates many long-standing conundrums of the Domesday Book itself.
The Survey of the Whole of England: Studies of the documentation resulting from the survey conducted in 1086 – The manuscript which eventually came to be called “Domesday Book” is a product of the enterprise originally known as the “Descriptio totius Angliae”, the survey carried out in 1086, twenty years after the Norman Conquest, by order of King William I. This manuscript does not stand alone. It is the latest of four successive versions of the written record of the survey. Intrinsically the least valuable, it has gained in value over time, as the earlier versions have dropped out of existence. But they have not disappeared completely. Part of the immediately preceding version survives as the companion volume to “Domesday Book”; part of the version preceding that survives, for some unknown reason, in the library of Exeter Cathedral, even though it was, without any doubt, written in the king’s treasury at Winchester. The earliest version of all – the only version in which the data were recorded cadastrally, county by county, hundred by hundred, village by village, manor by manor – has been entirely lost in the original; yet for most of one county a copy survives, in a late twelfth-century manuscript from Ely. This book begins with a sequence of chapters which analyse some aspects of the manuscript evidence, from a new angle, or in closer detail than before, working backwards from the latest version towards the earliest. The last two chapters reassemble the evidence to create a new picture of the conduct of the survey, in both its fieldwork and its post-fieldwork phases.
The Story of Domesday Book – Domesday Book, first published in 1086, has attracted intense scrutiny particularly since the ninth centenary celebrations and the publication of new editions and modern translations by both Alecto Historical Editions and Phillimore. Facsimiles, translations, maps and apparatus are now readily available on CD-ROM. Never before has it been possible to explore the intricacies of this infinitely detailed text so deeply, nor to extract from it such a wealth of information about medieval England. The Story of Domesday Book is a richly rewarding collection of special studies relating to Domesday Book by outstanding Domesday scholars of our time. The Story of Domesday Book throws new light on the dark corners of this extraordinary Survey, and is an indispensable aid to further understanding England’s most important public record.
Domesday: The Inquest and the Book – Domesday Book is the oldest and most precious of the public records, but historians still disagree on its purpose. In arguing that the writing of Domesday Book was no part of the Domesday survey, this book proposed a solution to a riddle that will change our perception of the Norman Conquest and Norman kingship.
Domesday People: A Prosopography of Persons Occurring in English Documents 1066-1166 I: Domesday Book – This is the first of two volumes offering for the first time an authoritative and complete prosopography of post-Conquest England, 1066-1166. Based on extensive and wide-ranging research, the two volumes contain over eight thousand entries on persons occurring in the principal English administrative sources for the post-Conquest period —- Domesday Book, the Pipe Rolls, and Cartae Baronum. Continental origin is a major focus of the entries, as well as the discussion of family and descent of fees which characterise the whole work; genealogical tables are included. An introduction discusses Domesday prosopography; an appendix gives the Latin texts of the Northamptonshire and Lindsey surveys.
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