The Domesday Book, also called the Book of Winchester, is the name given to the documents produced after a survey of England and Wales was finished in 1086.
The survey was called for by Edward the Confessor, king of England from 1042 to 1066, to keep track of what lands the kingdom owned, what lands other landowners owned and how much taxes could be collected from them.
The word “Domesday” is archaic version of “Doomsday”. Essentially, the book was likened to the Book of Judgment because its entries could not be changed or appealed. It was also because whoever was mentioned in it could be held accountable.
The names “Domesday Book” also came about long after the book started being used. As official documents, the book actually had no formal name, being only referred to as decriptio (“enrolling” in Latin).
There are actually two Domesday Books, the larger and the smaller volumes. The smaller volume covered the areas of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, while the larger covered practically the rest of England except for lands in the north as well as towns that were tax-exempt.
It was actually the smaller volume that was compiled first. This volume listed the finer details of property such as the number of livestock. However, the officers who conducted the survey must have had so much trouble that details like these were omitted from the larger volume.
Because the books saw frequent use they had to be rebound several times. The smaller volume was first rebound in 1320. Much later, during the 1520s both volumes were rebound and provided new covers. They were again rebound in 1819 and 1869. They were rebound twice in the 20th century. First in 1952 when scholars wanted to take a closer look at their structure and then again in 1986 for the ninth centenary of the survey.
Why is the Domesday Book important? This is because it gives modern scholars a unique look at the economics and workings of the feudal society of 11th century England.
The surveys were carried out by royal officers called legati.
These legati would visit the localities they were assigned to and held a public inquiry as to who owned what particular land.
The text in the book is mostly in medieval Latin but also has some terms in old English.
The books were still being used as official documents as far as 1666. It was the job of the office of the exchequer to bring them around the country.
It isn’t exactly known who. What is known is only one writer copied the entire large volume while four different writers worked on the smaller one.