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

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The historical foundation which led to the creation of the Domesday Book

To understand the origin and advent of the Domesday Book, one must begin more than a century earlier from its publication in 1088. One must look back to 911, when Charles III (Charles the Simple), King of West Francia and Lotharingia,signed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte which allowedGaange Rolf (popularly known as Rollo), leader of a large band of Viking Norsemen, to establish a permanent settlement in Normandy. In return, they were required to repel other Viking invaders and pirates from the coastline of what is now known as Normandy.

Rollo would go on to establish a royal dynasty in the new territory, and the people of the new land were called the Normans, which is a corruption of the old French word, Normant, which literally translates as ‘northman’, a colloquial term for the Vikings.

Emergence and the Conquest of Normandy

Over the next century, the Normans began to establish relationships and alliances, both through marriage and businesses, with neighbouring provinces, including across the channel in England. One of the most important one involves the 1002 marriage between the King of the English, ÆthelredII (The Unready) and Emma of Normandy, the sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy, who was the grandson of Rollo.

Their union produced a son, Saint Edward the Confessor, who became the King of England in 1042. Since Edward had no heir, his death in 1066 triggered a succession crisis which eventually saw his Norman cousin, the second of Duke Normandy, William the Conqueror, laying claim to the throne - with the surprising support of Pope Alexander II.

After fierce battles with the forces of newly-crowned King Harold Godwinson and his brothers, Morcar the Earl of Northumbria and Edwin the Earl of Mercia, as well as King Harald Hardrada of Norway, William the Conqueror prevailed and was crowned King of England on 25 December 1066.

Consolidation of England by William the Conqueror

King William, a renowned swordsman and horsemen, would go on to spend the next decade to consolidate his power over the entire country. Among others, he quelled several rebellions as well as multiple failed foreign invasions, most notably those of Cnut, King of Denmark, and King Olaf of Norway.

William further strengthened his position by stripping titles and confiscating property from the aristocracy and redistributing them to his Norman followers. His aggressive actions effectively destroyed the old English aristocracy which had existed since the establishment of Anglo-Saxons in the land. Subsequent data from the Domesday Book would reveal that only 5% of landholdings were left in English hands!

A secondary effect of this transfer of wealth is the lack of landholding and wealth data, which created massive challenges in establishing an efficient taxation system.King William then convened his royal court (curia regis) in the winter of 1085 to develop a plan to tackle the issue and ensure that his treasury was sufficiently funded. After days of deliberation, the King finally accepted that a great nationwide survey on a scale never seen before had to be conducted to document the landholdings of his subjects across the country. And thus was the Domesday Book born.