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

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How the publication of the Domesday Book triggered an evolution of the country’s socioeconomic system

Soon after his conquest of England in 1066, King William the Conqueror began dismantling the existing Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and economic structure in an effort to strengthen his grip on the nation. One of his most aggressive policies is the redistribution of landholdings and wealth from more than 4,000 English lords to less than 200 Norman and French nobilities from across the channel. Other disruptive high profile policies include the expulsion of locals from high government and ecclesiastical offices. Some scholars suggest that by 1073, there were only two English bishops left in positions of authority.

Not content with that, the King also established a great survey in the winter of 1085 which paved the way for the publication of the Domesday Book. The massive survey, which was meant to ensure a more efficient geld (tax) collection, enumerated the ownership details of reportedly every major piece of landholdings in the land, including livestock count, farming machineries (such as ploughs), estimated farm revenues, and number of peasants and tenants under the control of individual manors or lords. In turn, every landholding was ultimately under the ownership of the crown.

No one at the time could have predicted that the Domesday Book would eventually become the model of modern internal revenue code system.

Social changes from the Domesday Book

Data from the Domesday Book also allowed the conquering Normans to rebuild the existing administrative framework of hundreds and shires, as well as the shire courts and shire-reeves system. By focusing judicial, political, administrative and economic units under individual ‘manors’ or lords, the central governmental were able to kept a tighter reign of the country. Since the rights to lands and property were technically held by the King, the government were able to swiftly strip off grants, titles and even religious houses from uncooperative or rebellious barons or bishops based on data from the Domesday Book.

Security and law and order post Domesday Book

The administrative reorganisation also compelled all landholders and clergymen to contribute either men or money to the King to maintain national security and domestic law and order. Under the Anglo Saxon kings, responsibility for domestic law and order were the responsibility of each estate holders, while national military support were provided on a case by case basis, often using a combination of threats and/or potential monetary reward or estates.

Even craftsmen, tradesmen and specialised workers, such as millers, masons, and blacksmiths, were tallied in the Domesday Book. At times of emergency or crisis, these human resources may be reallocated at the discretion of the King – not unlike the modern draft system currently practiced around the world.

To put it simply, data from the Domesday Book allowed the fledgling Norman government of King William to create a new governing model of England, which would be adopted by subsequent rulers and governments over the next millennia.

It is also worth noting that the efficient centralised tax collection system allow the central government to create long term development plan for the country. Some historians believe that government infrastructural spending in the first 50 years following the publication of the Domesday Book helped the economy grow three times larger than the pre-conquest period. This created massive new wealth for the country, and helped England grow to become a regional power.