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Domesday An overview of the Greater Domesday Book and Little Domesday Book

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An overview of the Greater Domesday Book and Little Domesday Book

The Domesday Book, otherwise known as Doomsday Book, Book of Judgement, Liber de Wintonia, Scriptura Thesauri Regis, Liber Judiciarius, and many other English and Latin variants, is one of the most enduring legal and cultural artefact in British history. It was the culmination of a great survey of lands, taxes and lords commissioned by William the Conqueror around Christmas of 1085. Although the preliminary results of the survey were completed around August the following year, the final production of the Great Domesday book was only completed in early 1088.

Contrary to common perception, the Domesday Book actually consists of two manuscripts. The first book, typically referred to as the Great Domesday Book, was written by a single writer and contains the final result of the survey for all counties south of the rivers Tees and Ribble. The second book, referred to as the Little Domesday, includes surveys for three counties, namely, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. There are no clear reasons why the surveys for the latter counties were not included in the first book.

The surviving copies of the Domesday Book are currentlyon displayin the National Archives in south west London. An interactive copy of the Domesday map is also available online courtesy of the University of Hull.

More information about the Domesday Book

Volume one of the Domesday Book, the Great Domesday Book, is a fifteen by eight inches, 764 pages (382 folios) manuscript containing information about 31 of the 34 shires of medieval England.

The second volume, the Little Domesday Book, contains information about three counties cited above. Although it contained more pages - 900 pages (450 folios) -, the size of the paper used is considerably smaller at eleven by eight inches.

The content of the books are written in complex shorthand Medieval Latin, in the Carolingian minuscule (small caps calligraphy) typeface developed by Benedictine monk Corbie Abbey in the eighth century. The texts are formatted into two neat columns, and emphasis or throughlining are made using red ink (rubrication method). However, the Little Domesday Book is generally considered to be less neatly compiled compared to the Great Domesday Book.

Domesday Book also took some information from earlier and smaller surveys which were documented in manuscripts such as the Inquisitio Comitatus, Inquisitio Eliensis , Liber Exoniensis, and Crowland Domesday - particularly on lists of place names. However, it should be noted that none of these surveys, or any other for that matter, come even remotely near the breadth and detail of the Domesday Book.

Function of the Domesday Book

The Domesday Book’s primary content, namely the compendium of landholders as well as the estates and manors they owned, is the chief source used in most tenurial, legal, administrative and geographic matters for centuries after publication.

The particulars for each property and landholdings typically include the tax assessment, number of employees (peasants and tenants), farm equipment (especially ploughs) and livestock. These records also include the estates’ estimated cumulative value on the year of publication (1806).

Its role as a de facto registrar of titles involving property ownership and landholding details became the primary dispute resolution mechanism in English courts. For counties, taxation assessment often relied of the book. For the rest, the Domesday Book became the definitive source of any dispute whose details are covered in its texts.