The Domesday Book offers a glimpse of England from a thousand years ago. The breadth and scope of this monumental project is simply unrivalled among all pre-industrialised societies around the world. However, to most Britons, the Domesday Book is just another footnote in history, and its grandeur and impact on the modern world is long forgotten. If you would like to get reacquainted with one of the most influential documents in the history of the world, we’ve compiled below a brief FAQ that will greatly help you along your way.
The Domesday Book is basically a written record of a great survey held throughout England between late 1085 and mid-1086. It contained a detailed account of all landholdings in the country as well as the estates, property, peasants and tenants. In addition, the book also recorded a forecast of production revenues for the following year as well as the estimated geld (tax) payment.
Based on handwriting analysis, a single unnamed person, probably a clergyman, wrote the Domesday Book. However, the creation of the great survey which resulted in the book is credited to King William I, or William the Conqueror.
The great survey was gradually over a period of less than a year between 1805 and 1806. County commissioners gradually sent the data they collected to Winchester, and the writing began immediately after. However, the Domesday Book was only officially completed and published in 1088.
As part of his strategy to contain the unrest of the newly conquered country, King William stripped off the landholdings of about 4,000 Anglo-Saxon aristocrats and redistributed them to about 200 Norman and French nobilities from France. His purge of high ranking English officials and bishops also crippled the administration of the country. With the destruction of the socioeconomic sector, King William basically had to record the properties owned by the new noble class he created as well as taxes payable to him. Without the great survey, and thereafter, the Domesday Book, King William and subsequent rulers would struggle to collect the taxes and gelds due to the crown.
The great survey, as well as the manuscript documenting the survey, had no official name. Unofficially, they were referred to as descriptio (survey) and volumen (volume), among others. However, decades after the publication of the Domesday Book, it was used for a new purpose by shire courts and the royal court – it was utilised as a reference to settle tax, property, land and boundary disputes. The book was deemed to be infallible, and all judgements rest solely on what was written in the book. Owing to this, the populace began to use a new moniker for the book, Domesdei or Doomsday, in reference to the Day of Judgment depicted in the Book of Revelation. Over time, the moniker morphed into the official name of the Domesday Book.
Do you have any other questions about the Domesday Book? Then continue reading the website to gain a more thorough understanding of the book.