Domesday Book

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.

Domesday Book

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).

More than one

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.

The importance of the book

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.

Interesting facts about the Domesday Book

  • As far late as the 1960s, the Domesday Book was used as evidence in a dispute over ancient lands.
  • It wasn’t just the land of nobles King Edward wanted to know about. He also wanted to know how much land was owned by the Church officials, namely the archbishops, the diocesan bishops, and the abbots.
  • The survey that led to the books was started in 1085 and completed in 1086, but the actual date the books were compiled isn’t exactly known.
  • The first time the documents are actually mentioned as the “Domesday Book” is in an official document in 1221.
  • The books are now in kept in the national archives in Kew, along with the iron-bound chest that has been used to store them in the 17th and 18th century.
  • The books were moved several times due to conflict. The first was in World War I and the second time in World War II. Both were taken to prisons to safeguard them.
  • In 1986 the BBC released the results of a survey similar to the one carried out 900 years earlier.
  • The book has also been used as a geneaological guide as it detailed who was descended from whom in the landlord class.

Who carried out the surveys?

The surveys were carried out by royal officers called legati.

How were these surveys carried out?

These legati would visit the localities they were assigned to and held a public inquiry as to who owned what particular land.

What language is the book written in?

The text in the book is mostly in medieval Latin but also has some terms in old English.

How long were the books in official use?

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.

Who wrote the Domesday Books?

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.