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The Domesday Book

Updated on August 15, 2010

The Domesday Book was commissioned in December of 1085 by William the Conqueror. The first draft was complete by August, 1086 and held records for 13,418 towns and villages of England. The Domesday survey covered all of England as it existed in 1086, including parts of Cumbria and Wales, but excluding present day Northumbria.

Major cities, like London itself and Winchester, were excluded.

This book is an extensive record of landholders, tenants, and serfs. The acreages of farmland, woodland, and meadow; fish, plows on the land, any buildings, castles, churches, salthouses or mills were recorded. It wasn't a census. It was intended to be a complete survey of taxable assets.

During the final years of the reign of William the Conqueror, he was running out of money. The greatest threat to his reign came from the North--King Canute IV of Denmark and King Olaf III of Norway both threatened to invade England, and were bought off by paying huge bribes, called Danegeld. William paid; it was the price of keeping peace in his realm while he unified England.

The king sent out his royal commissioners to complete this survey. They were thorough . One observer wrote:

"There was no single hide nor yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out."

The grand and comprehensive scale of this survey, and the irrevocable record it produced, led people to compare it to Doomsday, as in the Bible, when a person's deeds are written in the Book of Life and put before God for the Final Judgement. This name was given to the survey in the late 12th century, and at that time in England, "Doomsday" was spelled "Domesday". I have seen in print references to this book as "The Doomsday Book", but the English convention is to spell it "The Domesday Book".

From "The Ely Inquest", a 1086 publication:

"...they (the Royal Commissioners) inquired what the manor was called; who held it at the time of King Edward; who holds it now; how many hides there are; how many ploughs in demesne (or, held by the lord of the manor), and how many belonging to the men; how many villagers; how many cottagers; how many slaves; how many freemen; how many sokemen (farmers who had tenure and paid a fixed rent of either labor, money or goods annually to the lord of the manor); how much woodland; how much meadow; how much pasture; how many mills; how many fisheries; how much had been added to or taken away from the estate; what it used to be worth altogether, and what it was worth now;how much each freeman and sokeman has.

All this to be recorded thrice, namely, as it was in the time of Kind Edward, as it was when King William gave it, and as it is now. And it was also to be noted whether more could be taken than is now taken (in taxes)."

 

This mass of data was written in Latin. It was compiled in Latin--it was sorted into counties, landholders, and manors.

The main volume, the Great Domesday, is written on sheep-skin parchment using black and red ink. It was compiled by a sole scribe. William the Conqueror died before the scribe could complete the compilation, so the uncompiled remainder is the Little Domesday. The three counties in the uncompiled Little Domesday are Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and the Little Domesday book is 475 pages. The Great Domesday, covering all the rest of medieval England, is 413 pages, so we can see how much detail was left out in compiling.

It's a fascinating piece of history, so rich in detail. It gives us a wonderfully specific picture of life in medieval England.

This book was used in courts of law for a century after its creation to determine a person's status--whether free or serf. It was the consulted authority to determine the landholdings of the aristocracy for many, many years.

And now it's a sparkling gem in the crown of recorded history.

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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting hub, especially about Canute/Knut IV and Olaf III. I didn't know they came into the picture. I knew about the threat in AD1085 from King Canute/Knut II 'the Holy' of Denmark (it might be him you were thinking of, because William died in AD1087), who planned an invasion in AD1085 but was murdered in Odense Cathedral because his nobles didn't want to attack William with his cavalry (such was his reputation). There is a new theory that William had Domesday (or 'Demesde', the book of the Domain) compiled to 'keep tabs' on his nobles - that they didn't get above themselves - or native landholders. Did you forget about 'Exon Domesday', the south-western counties that weren't included in the main survey?

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      The reason for the Domesday book was to record all the assets of the people, for tax purposes. William the Conqueror was broke from successfully waging war against the incursions of other peoples.

    • profile image

      juan 

      6 years ago

      what affected normans in the domesday survey ? what was the conflict paradise 7 ? i will wait your answer

    • Ivona Poyntz profile image

      Ivona Poyntz 

      6 years ago from UK

      Very thorough and sympathetic rendition of a great moment in British history

    • profile image

      Epic 

      7 years ago

      How many pages r there in the book?

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Knell63. I've read your hubs, too, on English history, and enjoyed them VERY MUCH!

    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 

      8 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Its great to read through, especially if you have a connection to the UK as you can look at the villages around where you now live and see how its has changed. There are normally less ploughs and serfs these days. Nice Hub Paradise.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Welcome Dolores. Yes, I can just see that, too. These people, especially out in the countryside, must have wondered and worried about the taxes.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Incredible information laid down for history. But I can just picture the people of the day complaining - who the heck does he think he is butting into everybody's business, asking all those questions. What about our privacy!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      How 'bout that, Storyteller. I wasn't familiar with the Connie Willis book. It's funny how people's frames of reference are different.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 

      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      This is so interesting, I had no idea there was a Doomsday Book. I thought this would be a review of Connie Willis's sci fi book with the same title. Her book is a time travel where scientists go back to the time of the Black Plague and get stuck. It is very intense, but one of few books written about that period-- at least from my searches. I was very interested in this time frame several years back and did a google search. It is so cool that this is written on sheepskins! I had no idea that skins were used as parchment, either though now that you mention it, this seems very logical. Thanks for all the information!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Loveofnight, good to see you here. Glad you find this interesting.

      Zsuzy Bee, you could get it off this site from Amazon for only about $20. I'm thinking of ordering it, myself. I've ordered a couple other books and movies from people's hubs, and it works ok. I ordered one from a Sweetie Pie book review hub, and also the Planet X book. It could save you some trouble. However, the monthly shopping spree sounds like fun, something to look forward to, and a good way to budget your money!

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Great hub that's for certain. I love to read that era in history, I think I will put this book onto my to-buy-list for when I next go to the city for my monthly book shopping spree.

      regards Zsuzsy

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 

      9 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      very interesting

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      I think so, Duchess. It's a complete translation as far as the Great and Little Domesday books go, but there's a LOT of material that were source records for the orginal compilation which still exist but are not in the Penguin translation. However, look at it this way--there is such a thing as TOO much information.

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 

      9 years ago

      I'm not sure I'd be able to read this one in one sitting like I like to do, but it certainly would be interesting. So, do you know, are both the books translated into this one?

    • advisor4qb profile image

      advisor4qb 

      9 years ago from On New Footing

      Interesting hub!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Oh, yes, Duchess. You can get the Penguin Classic complete translation for $16.14 US from the above link to Amazon. I think it'd be great to read, was thinking of ordering it myself. That language, and how the people lived.

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 

      9 years ago

      Wow! What a treasure trove for genealogists. I'd love to have that kind of history available to me today! Do you know if it has been translated from latin at all?

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