Domesday Book

The Domesday Book was a survey designed to record everything that people owned in England. It was ordered by William the Conqueror (the winner of the recent Battle of Hastings) so that William could determine how much money in taxes he could raise and give William a better sense of the territory he had just conquered.

William the Conqueror with the Domesday Book

Domesday Book Facts For Kids

  • The Domesday Book was written in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror.
  • It’s a record of land, people, and wealth in England.
  • The book’s name means “Day of Judgment” in Old English.
  • The survey took less than a year to complete.
  • It listed over 13,000 places in England and parts of Wales.
  • The book helped the king understand who owned what land.
  • It’s handwritten in Medieval Latin, not English.
  • It’s one of the oldest surviving public records.
  • The original book is kept at the National Archives in London.
  • It has two volumes: “Great Domesday” and “Little Domesday”.

William the Conqueror

The Domesday Book, a revolutionary record of wealth, resources, and populace within William the Conqueror’s kingdom, was commissioned in 1086. This comprehensive document not only established William’s power by illustrating his ability to command such an exhaustive account from his subjects but also served as an instrumental tool for control and taxation.

It offered an unparalleled level of detail concerning the land, its proprietors, and its yield. The Domesday Book stands as a symbol of the remarkable administrative efficiency and the relentless pursuit of comprehensive knowledge of his kingdom’s assets during William’s reign.

Its significance persists today as it provides a vital source for comprehending the socio-economic dynamics of England in the 11th century.

Norman Conquest of England

Commissioned by William the Conqueror in the wake of the Norman Conquest of England, the Domesday Book is a pivotal historical document that sheds light on the realities of 11th-century England.

By 1086, two decades post-invasion, the book was finalized as a comprehensive survey or census, recording in detail over 13,000 places, their respective landowners, properties, resources, and corresponding property values.

The primary objective of the Domesday Book was to establish a framework for taxation and to serve as a basis for feudal law. As such, it stands as a testament to the meticulousness of the Norman administration and its unwavering resolve to document and exert control over its new territories.

Medieval English Landholding Systems

The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086 under the auspices of William the Conqueror, serves as a remarkable record of the Medieval English Landholding system, effectively functioning as a comprehensive census and landholding inventory.

The book not only enumerates the resources of the realm, including land, livestock, and population, but also distinctly identifies three main categories of landholders: the king, the church, and the so-called tenants-in-chief, a new class of affluent nobles who held their lands directly from the king. The document further illuminates the intricate subtenancy system, where these tenants-in-chief would lease portions of their land to lower-ranking nobles.

The Domesday Book, thus, provides a clear depiction of the hierarchical feudal landholding structure, with the king at the apex and a cascade of nobles beneath him, which shaped the socio-economic fabric of medieval England.

Anglo-Saxon England

The Domesday Book, commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085, stands as a historical document of great importance, painting a vivid picture of Anglo-Saxon England’s socio-economic landscape in the late 11th century.

This exhaustive survey, which meticulously chronicles land ownership, resources, population numbers, and tax obligations across the kingdom, epitomizes the shift from Anglo-Saxon to Norman rule. It illuminates the profound transformations in governance, land allocation, and societal structure that occurred during this period.

Its name, ‘Domesday’, symbolizes its ultimate authority, drawing comparisons to the Last Judgement or ‘Doomsday’ in Christian eschatology. Presently, the Domesday Book is an invaluable primary source for historians exploring the Norman Conquest and its subsequent effects on England.

Feudal System in England

The Domesday Book is a crucial document that offers unparalleled perspectives into England’s Feudal System under William the Conqueror’s rule. This thorough census recorded the nation’s wealth, inhabitants, and resources, delivering a lucid illustration of property ownership, service duties, and resource allocation throughout the kingdom.

Essentially, it chronicled the feudal hierarchy, showcasing the intricate network of connections between the king, his primary tenants (nobles and church officials), and their subtenants, which constituted the Feudal System’s core. Consequently, the Domesday Book stands as a testament to the structure and function of 11th century England’s feudalism.

English Historical Documents

The Domesday Book serves as an invaluable window into the social and economic matrix of late 11th-century England, making it often regarded as the country’s oldest public record. This comprehensive survey, initially known as ‘the description of England’, meticulously chronicles the landholdings, resources, and value of each estate, thereby providing a rich cache of data for historians examining the Norman Conquest.

The document not only illustrates Norman’s administrative acumen but also illuminates the feudal system that defined medieval England. It was not until the 12th century that it acquired its current name, the ‘Domesday Book’, which underscored its pivotal role in mapping England’s historical terrain.

Surveying Techniques in the Middle Ages

The Domesday Book provides a comprehensive account of the land, properties, resources, and population of England and parts of Wales during the Middle Ages. Notably, it utilized rudimentary but effective surveying techniques, relying on simple visual assessments and local knowledge from jurors in each area rather than sophisticated equipment.

Despite its simplicity, this approach resulted in an extensive breakdown of regional landholdings and resources, marking the first documented systematic land survey in England. As such, the Domesday Book not only offers a glimpse into medieval society’s resourcefulness and ingenuity in land management but also sets the stage for future cadastral surveys and land management practices.

Manor System in Medieval Europe

Commissioned by William the Conqueror the Domesday Book serves as a comprehensive record of England’s landholdings, offering a wealth of knowledge about the Manor System prevalent in Medieval Europe.

This invaluable resource provides an in-depth understanding of the Manor System, including the unique responsibilities and entitlements of lords and serfs, the allocation of land, and the types of economic activities pursued. It chronicles the details of over 13,000 manors, exposing a complex web of land ownership, feudal commitments, and labor duties characteristic of the Manor System.

The Domesday Book underlines the pivotal role of the Manor System in shaping the social and economic framework of Medieval Europe, as it formed the bedrock for agricultural production, taxation, and local governance.

Norman Administration of England

As a cornerstone, the Domesday Book was a significant historical artifact. Commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1086, it was an exhaustive survey that chronicled land ownership across England, offering an in-depth account of the nation’s wealth and resources.

The Normans harnessed this data to establish an efficient system of taxation and governance. This artifact didn’t only serve as an administrative tool, it also legitimized Norman land claims by offering a detailed record of their newly acquired territories.

Consequently, the Domesday Book represented not only a tool for administrative control but also a symbol of the new Norman regime’s authority and thoroughness.

Medieval English Economy

The Book paints a detailed and unique picture of medieval England’s economic makeup. As an intricate record of landholding patterns, resources, and wealth during the late 11th century, it provides invaluable insights into the economic power dynamics across different regions and social classes.

Its extensive documentation of every manor’s assets and liabilities unveils a predominantly agrarian economy, with arable farming as the prevalent occupation. However, the noted existence of mills, fisheries, salt works, and vineyards suggests some level of industrial activity.

The Book also mirrors the economic structure of the feudal system, where lands and resources were essentially traded for services to either the king or a superior lord. This manuscript, therefore, serves as a crucial resource for comprehending the complexities and regional disparities within the medieval English economy.

Little Domesday

The “Little Domesday” is the less famous but more detailed sibling of the “Great Domesday,” part of the original Domesday Book. It covers two eastern English counties—Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk—in greater depth. Little Domesday is so named not because of its size— it’s actually longer than the Great Domesday—but because its contents weren’t summarized. It offers us a more intricate view of the social and economic structure of 11th-century England, documenting smaller plots of land, down to the level of individual peasant holdings.

Arable Land

The Domesday Book provides an invaluable snapshot of medieval farming and land use in England, especially arable land—land used for growing crops. It detailed the ownership, value, and use of arable land, painting a picture of the agricultural practices of the 11th century. The survey indicated who held the land, how many ploughs were in use, and even the amount of woodland, meadow, and pasture available. This detailed record offers historians crucial information about the rural economy of the time, helping us understand more about England’s past.

Feudal Land Tenure

The Book is a significant record of feudal land tenure in England. The survey organized by William the Conqueror identified all the landholders and their tenants, clearly outlining the feudal system. The book classified people into categories based on their feudal status—like King, tenant-in-chief, and under-tenant. Each entry revealed the chain of landholding from the king down to the lowest tenant. This feudal structure shaped medieval society, and the Domesday Book provides an incredibly detailed view of it during the late 11th century.

English Thegns

The Domesday Book sheds light on the status of English thegns, who were noble servants of the king before the Norman Conquest. Thegns often held land directly from the king and were elevated in society due to their military service. After the Norman Conquest, many thegns lost their lands to Norman lords. The Domesday Book documents this shift in land ownership and societal structure. Some thegns were able to retain their lands by pledging allegiance to the new king, William, and these cases are also documented in the Domesday survey.

Local English Families

The survey documented the holdings of landowners, great and small, providing a glimpse of where families lived, what assets they had, and their societal rank. It showed how the Norman Conquest affected these families, often displacing them from their lands. The book, however, does not include much information about lower-class families, as it focused mainly on landholders. Despite this, the Domesday Book remains a vital source for understanding medieval English family life.

Lay Tenants

These were non-clerical individuals who held land under various forms of feudal tenure from the king or other lords. The book details who these tenants were, where their lands were located, and the obligations they had to their lords. This systematic recording demonstrates the hierarchies and complexities of the feudal system. It also reflects how the Norman Conquest led to a significant reshuffling of these lay tenancies, with many English tenants replaced by Norman ones.




Domesday Book

What did it record?

The Domesday Book recorded who owned the land (the landowners) as well as the size of the land that they owned. In addition, it looked at how the land was used. It recorded how much of the land was used for farming, how much was woodlands and even recorded whether there were fish ponds on the land. The survey also looked at the number of workers on the land as well as the number of animals. The survey also counted the number of buildings on the land and what they were being used for.

The Domesday Book did not survey all of England. Some important places were left out. Northumberland, Durham, and Cumbria were left out as was most of north-west England which was not completely under Norman control.

Information on some major cities, such as London and Winchester, has not been found but this may be because it was lost and not that the survey wasn’t completed in these cities.

Why was it done?

The exact reasons for the survey being done may never be known, but most scholars believe it was done in order to figure out how much tax the government could get from the populace. At the time the survey took place (1085–1086), England was under pressure from King Olaf of Norway and King Canute of Denmark. In addition, there were also threats from France, Normandy, and Scotland. William needed money to put toward defending the country.

Another reason for the survey may have been so that William could enforce his rights as a feudal overlord. As the feudal overlord, William could call on his vassals for military support and also had the right to take over an estate where there were no heirs.

Another reason may have been that William wanted to disperse the burden of paying for the mercenaries William employed in the war more evenly. Another possible reason is simply that William wanted to learn about the country he had just conquered.

How was it done?

The survey was initially conducted through lists. All landowners had to submit information regarding their holdings. The only thing that really made the whole survey possible was the excellent administration that had been set up by the Anglo-Saxons. William kept this administration in place when he conquered the country and used it for his survey.

Once the lists were received, the information was compiled into one book. Then groups of officials would travel to different parts of England to gather even more information if necessary. These groups were made up of bishops, dukes, and other high-ranking officials.

What was asked?

A list of questions that were used for the survey in the territory of Cambridgeshire (called the Ely Inquest since it was found in the Ely Cathedral) still survives. These same questions were probably asked throughout England.

The questions found in the Ely Inquest are as follows:

  1. What is the manor called?
  2. Who held it in the time of King Edward (in 1066)?
  3. Who holds it now (in 1086)?
  4. How many hides are there (what is its tax assessment)?
  5. How many plows (teams)s on the demesne (local lord’s own land) and among the men (rest of the village)?
  6. How many free men, sokemen (freemen who had to attend their lord’s court), villains (unfree peasants who farmed the land for themselves and their lord), cottars or cottagers (unfree peasants who owned less land than villains), slaves?
  7. How much woodland, meadow, pasture, mills, fisheries?
  8. How much has been added to or taken away from the manor?
  9. How much was the whole worth (1066) and how much now (1086)?
  10. How much had or has each Freeman and each Sokeman?
  11. And whether more can be had than is had (in other words, can the manor raise more tax revenue)?
    The answers to these questions were given three different times. Answers were required for the time during Edward the Confessor’s reign when William gave the land to the landowner, and what it is worth now (1086).

Why is it called the Domesday Book?

When it was first commissioned, the survey was not called the Domesday Book. It became known as Domesday because of a play on words relating it to doomsday, the day of final judgment in the Christian religion. The information that the survey collected was so complete that it was compared to the information and judgment made on doomsday.

Why is it important?

The Domesday Book gives a lot of information about Norman England. It shows how the country changed twenty years after the Norman Invasion. The Domesday Book shows how Normans came to dominate the country and how less than 250 Normans controlled the whole country. William granted most of the land to Normans and only two Anglo-Saxons who had land during the time of Edward the Confessor were able to keep their land.

The number of people recorded in the book adds up to approximately one and a half million people. The book doesn’t give a lot of names and only three women are mentioned: Queen Matilda, William’s wife; Queen Edith, Edward the Confessor’s wife; and Judith, Countess of Northumbria and Huntingdon.

The book also mentions a number of towns (13,418) and some of these towns still exist today. The book also describes how society was organized in different areas of England. For example, in the Danelaw counties (the area where the law of the Danes was observed), there were a lot of freemen while in the West Midlands, there were a lot of slaves. The book also mentions various occupations such as beekeepers, a vine dresser (someone who grows vines), and a female jester.

How many books were there?

There are actually two books: the Great Domesday Book and the Little Domesday Book. The Great Domesday book is the biggest and covers the most territory. The Little Domesday Book covers the territory of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. The information from the Little Domesday Book may not have been included in the main book because William died before it could be done.

The Little Domesday Book’s entries actually contain more information than the entries in the Great Domesday Book which highlights the amount of information that had to be cut out in order to complete the book.