Domesday coming to the British Library
The National Archives will loan Domesday, the most famous and earliest surviving public record, to the British Library for its landmark exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.
Commissioned by William the Conqueror at Christmas 1085, Domesday documents the huge upheaval of life as the Anglo-Saxon kingdom gave way to Norman rule which helped shape the foundations of the nation that we know today.
Domesday is a record of the highly-detailed survey of lands held by William the Conqueror and his tenants-in-chief 20 years after the Conquest. By recording details of the same lands before and at the time of the invasion, it gives us an insight into the enormous upheavals in society. It includes an astonishing level of detail – not just the taxable value of lands, but resources such as livestock, castles, vineyards, quarries, mills, potteries, fisheries and more. It also records information on the people living on the lands including, in some cases, slaves.
Domesday was originally kept with the royal treasury at Winchester but from the early 13th century it was housed in Westminster: first in the Palace and then in the Abbey. From about 1600 it was kept in a large iron-clad chest. The chest had three different locks, the keys to which were divided between three officials so that it could only be opened by consent of all three. Since 1859 it has been in the custody of the Public Record Office, now known as The National Archives.
Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper at The National Archives, commented:
“Even though Domesday is a familiar name to us all, this remarkable document can still inspire wonder and provides unparalleled insight into our shared history at such a pivotal moment. Domesday has been at the heart of our nation for more than 900 years and is the most significant loan The National Archives can make. We are excited to give people an opportunity to see it in the context of the impressive collection assembled for the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.”
Dr Claire Breay, curator of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and Head of Ancient, Early Modern and Medieval Manuscripts at the British Library, said of the Domesday loan:
“We are thrilled that The National Archives have generously agreed to loan Domesday to the British Library for this exhibition. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms will be the most spectacular exhibition to date of manuscripts and related objects covering the whole Anglo-Saxon period. The evidence preserved uniquely in Domesday plays a crucial role in the telling of that story. This is an incredible and rare opportunity for visitors to the British Library to see it on display.”
Dr Jessica Nelson, Head of Medieval and Early Modern Collections at The National Archives, added:
“Domesday gives us a unique window through which we can see the medieval world and the enormous changes the Norman Conquest brought about in society, politics and economics. From castles, vineyards, water mills, potteries, fisheries rendering lamphreys, eels and even porpoises, it gives an extraordinary level of detail of all the lands held by the king and his tenants-in-chief. And they weren’t all men with around 20 women among the 190 people being named as landowners.”
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms opens on 19 October 2018 until 19 February 2019 and will encompass the history, art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England, across six centuries from the eclipse of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest.
Highlights from the British Library’s outstanding collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts will be presented in the exhibition alongside a large number of exceptional loans, including Domesday, major objects from the Staffordshire Hoard and Codex Amiatinus, one of three giant single-volume Bibles made in the north-east of England in the early eighth century, returning to England for the first time in more than 1300 years.
Tickets for Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms are now on sale from the British Library’s website.
See also A Guide to the Domesday Book