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Domesday Book

Domesday Book
The National Archives, Kew, London
"Domesday Book": an engraving published in 1900. The image shows Great Domesday (the larger volume) and Little Domesday (the smaller volume) in their 1869 bindings, lying on their older "Tudor" bindings.
Also known as The Great Survey; Liber de Wintonia
Date 1086
Place of origin England
Language(s) Medieval Latin

The Domesday Book ( or US ;[1][2] Latin: Liber de Wintonia "Book from Winchester")[3] is a manuscript record of the "Great Survey" of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 by order of King William the Conqueror. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states:

While spending the Christmas time of 1085 in Gloucester, William had deep speech with his counsellors and sent men all over England to each shire to find out what or how much each landholder had in land and livestock and what it was worth.
It was written in Medieval Latin and was highly abbreviated and included some vernacular native terms without Latin equivalents.[4] The survey's main purpose was to determine what taxes had been owed during the reign of King Edward the Confessor.

The assessors' reckoning of a man's holdings and their values, as recorded in the Domesday Book, was dispositive and without appeal. The name Domesday Book (Middle English for Doomsday Book) came into use in the 12th century.[5] As Richard FitzNigel wrote circa 1179 in the Dialogus de Scaccario:[6]

for as the sentence of that strict and terrible last account cannot be evaded by any skilful subterfuge, so when this book is appealed to ... its sentence cannot be quashed or set aside with impunity. That is why we have called the book 'the Book of Judgement' ... because its decisions, like those of the Last Judgement, are unalterable.

The manuscript is held at The National Archives at Kew, London. In 2011 the Open Domesday site made the manuscript available online.[7]

The book is an invaluable primary source for modern historians and historical economists. No survey approaching the scope and extent of Domesday Book was attempted again until the 1873 Return of Owners of Land (sometimes termed the "Modern Domesday")[8] which presented the first complete, post-Domesday picture of the distribution of landed property in the British Isles.[9]


  • Content and organization 1
  • Survey 2
  • Purpose 3
  • Subsequent history 4
    • Custodial history 4.1
    • Binding 4.2
    • Publication 4.3
  • Importance 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Content and organization

A page of Domesday Book for Warwickshire
Great Domesday in its "Tudor" binding: a wood-engraving of the 1860s

The Domesday Book encompasses two independent works: "Little Domesday" (covering Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex) and "Great Domesday" (covering much of the remainder of England and parts of Wales—​except for lands in the north which later became Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, and the County Palatine of Durham). No surveys were made of the City of London and Winchester, probably due to their tax-exempt status, and some other towns. (Other areas of modern London were then in Middlesex, Kent, Essex, etc., and are included in the Domesday Book.) Most of Cumberland and Westmorland are missing because they had yet to be conquered. County Durham is missing because the Bishop of Durham (William de St-Calais) had the exclusive right to tax it; in addition, parts of northeast England were covered by the 1183 Boldon Book, listing areas liable to tax by the Bishop of Durham. The omission of the other counties is not fully explained.

Little Domesday was named for being in a physically smaller format than its companion, but this survey is the more detailed, down to numbers of livestock. It may have represented the first attempt, resulting in a decision to avoid such level of detail in what was called Great Domesday.

Both volumes are organized by fiefs (manors, under the names of the landholders—​tenentes—​who held the lands directly of the crown in fee) rather than by geography (e.g. by hundred or by township). As a review of taxes owed, it was highly unpopular.[10]

Each county's list opened with the king's holdings (which had possibly been the subject of separate inquiry). Holdings of churchmen and religious houses followed, in hierarchical order; then lay tenants-in-chief (aristocrats—​again in approximate order of status); and lastly the king's serjeants (servientes), and English thegns who retained land.

In some counties, one or more principal towns formed the subject of a separate section: in some the clamores (disputed titles to land) were also treated separately. This principle applies more specially to the larger volume: in the smaller one, the system is more confused, the execution less perfect.

Domesday names a total of 13,418 places.[11] Apart from the wholly rural portions, which constitute its bulk, Domesday contains entries of interest concerning most of the towns, which were probably made because of their bearing on the fiscal rights of the crown therein. These include fragments of custumals (older customary agreements), records of the military service due, of markets, mints, and so forth. From the towns, from the counties as wholes, and from many of its ancient lordships, the crown was entitled to archaic dues in kind, such as honey. (In a parallel development, around 1100 the Normans in southern Italy completed their Catalogus Baronum based on Domesday Book.)


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that planning for the survey was conducted in 1085, and the colophon of the book states the survey was completed in 1086. It is not known when exactly Domesday Book was compiled, but the entire copy of Great Domesday appears to have been copied out by one person on parchment (prepared sheepskin), although six scribes seem to have been used for Little Domesday. Writing in 2000, David Roffe argued that the inquest (survey) and the construction of the book were two distinct exercises. He believes that the latter was completed, if not started, by William II following his assumption of the English throne; he quashed a rebellion that followed and was based on, though not consequent on, the findings of the inquest.[12]

Most shires were visited by a group of royal officers (legati), who held a public inquiry, probably in the great assembly known as the shire court. These were attended by representatives of every township as well as of the local lords. The unit of inquiry was the Hundred (a subdivision of the county, which then was an administrative entity). The return for each Hundred was sworn to by twelve local jurors, half of them English and half of them Norman.

What is believed to be a full transcript of these original returns is preserved for several of the Cambridgeshire Hundreds and is of great illustrative importance. The Inquisitio Eliensis is a record of the lands of Ely Abbey.[13] The Exon Domesday (named because the volume was held at Exeter) covers Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and one manor of Wiltshire. Parts of Devon, Dorset and Somerset are also missing. Otherwise this contains the full details supplied by the original returns.

Through comparison of what details are recorded in which counties, six Great Domesday "circuits" can be determined (plus a seventh circuit for the Little Domesday shires).

  1. Berkshire, Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex
  2. Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire (Exeter Domesday)
  3. Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex
  4. Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire
  5. Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire — the Marches
  6. Derbyshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire


Three sources discuss the goal of the survey:

  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells why it was ordered:
After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out 'How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.' Also he commissioned them to record in writing, 'How much land his archbishops had, and his diocesan bishops, and his abbots, and his earls;' and though I may be prolix and tedious, 'What, or how much, each man had, who was an occupier of land in England, either in land or in stock, and how much money it were worth.' So very narrowly, indeed, did he commission them to trace it out, that there was not one single hide, nor a yard of land, nay, moreover (it is shameful to tell, though he thought it no shame to do it), not even an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine was there left, that was not set down in his writ. And all the recorded particulars were afterwards brought to him.
  • The list of questions asked of the jurors were recorded in the Inquisitio Eliensis.
  • The contents of Domesday Book and the allied records mentioned above.

The primary purpose of the survey was to ascertain and record the fiscal rights of the king. These were mainly:

  • the national land-tax (geldum), paid on a fixed assessment,
  • certain miscellaneous dues, and
  • the proceeds of the crown lands.

After a great political convulsion such as the Norman conquest, and the following wholesale confiscation of landed estates, William needed to reassert that the rights of the Crown, which he claimed to have inherited, had not suffered in the process. His Norman followers tended to evade the liabilities of their English predecessors. The successful trial of Odo de Bayeux at Penenden Heath less than a decade after the conquest was one example of the Crown's growing discontent at the Norman land-grab of the years following the invasion. Historians believe that the survey was to aid William in establishing certainty and a definitive reference point as to property holdings across the nation, in case such evidence was needed in disputes over Crown ownership.[14]

The Domesday survey therefore recorded the names of the new holders of lands and the assessments on which their tax was to be paid. But it did more than this; by the king's instructions, it endeavoured to make a national valuation list, estimating the annual value of all the land in the country, (1) at the time of Edward the Confessor's death, (2) when the new owners received it, (3) at the time of the survey, and further, it reckoned, by command, the potential value as well. It is evident that William desired to know the financial resources of his kingdom, and it is probable that he wished to compare them with the existing assessment, which was one of considerable antiquity, though there are traces that it had been occasionally modified. The great bulk of Domesday Book is devoted to the somewhat arid details of the assessment and valuation of rural estates, which were as yet the only important source of national wealth. After stating the assessment of the manor, the record sets forth the amount of arable land, and the number of plough teams (each reckoned at eight oxen) available for working it, with the additional number (if any) that might be employed; then the river-meadows, woodland, pasture, fisheries (i.e. fishing weirs), water-mills, salt-pans (if by the sea) and other subsidiary sources of revenue; the peasants are enumerated in their several classes; and finally the annual value of the whole, past and present, is roughly estimated.

The organization of the returns on a feudal basis, enabled the Conqueror and his officers to see the extent of a baron's possessions; and it also showed to what extent he had under-tenants, and the identities of the under-tenants. This was of great importance to William, not only for military reasons, but also because of his resolve to command the personal loyalty of the under-tenants (though the "men" of their lords) by making them swear allegiance to hims. As Domesday Book normally records only the Christian name of an under-tenant, it is not possible to search for the surnames of families claiming a Norman origin. Scholars, however, have worked to identify the under-tenants, most of whom have foreign Christian names.

The survey provided the King with information on potential sources of funds when he needed to raise money. It includes sources of income but not expenses, such as castles, unless they needed to be included to explain discrepancies between pre-and post-Conquest holdings of individuals. Typically, this happened in a town, where separately-recorded properties had been demolished to make way for a castle.

Subsequent history

Domesday chest, the German-style iron-bound chest of c.1500 in which Domesday Book was kept in the 17th and 18th centuries

Custodial history

Domesday Book was preserved from the late 11th to the beginning of the 13th centuries in the royal Treasury at Winchester (the Norman kings' capital). It was often referred to as the "Book" or "Roll" of Winchester.[15] When the Treasury moved to the Palace of Westminster, probably under King John, the book went with it. In the Middle Ages, the Book's evidence was frequently invoked in the law-courts. Even in the 21st century, its information is referred to in certain cases.

The two volumes (Great Domesday and Little Domesday) remained in Westminster until the 19th century, being held at different times in various offices of the Exchequer (the Chapel of the Pyx of Westminster Abbey; the Treasury of Receipts; and the Tally Court).[16] On many occasions, however, the books were taken around the country with the Exchequer: for example to York and Lincoln in 1300, to York again in 1303 and 1319, to Hertford in the 1580s or 1590s, and to Nonsuch Palace, Surrey, in 1666, following the Great Fire of London.[17]

From the 1740s onwards they were held, with other Exchequer records, in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey.[18] In 1859 they were placed in the new Public Record Office, London.[19] They are now held at The National Archives at Kew. The ancient Domesday chest, in which they were kept in the 17th and 18th centuries, is also preserved at Kew.

In modern times, the books have been removed from London on only a few exceptional occasions: in 1861–3 they were sent to Southampton for photozincographic reproduction;[20] in 1918–19, during World War I, they were evacuated (with other Public Record Office documents) to Bodmin Prison, Cornwall; and similarly in 1939–45, during World War II, they were evacuated to Shepton Mallet Prison, Somerset.[21][22]


The volumes have been rebound on several occasions. Little Domesday was rebound in 1320 (the older oak boards were re-used). Both volumes appeared to gain new covers in the Tudor period. In modern times, they were rebound in 1819; again in 1869, by the binder Robert Riviere. They were rebound in 1952, when their physical makeup was examined in greater detail. They were rebound in 1986 for the survey's ninth centenary. On this occasion Great Domesday was divided into two physical volumes, and Little Domesday into three volumes.[23][24]


Entries for Croydon and Cheam, Surrey, in the 1783 edition of Domesday Book

The project to publish Domesday was begun by the government in 1773, and the book appeared in two volumes in 1783, set in "record type" to produce a partial-facsimile of the manuscript. In 1811, a volume of indexes was added. In 1816 a supplementary volume, separately indexed, was published containing

  1. The Exon Domesday—for the south-western counties
  2. The Inquisitio Eliensis
  3. The Liber Winton—surveys of Winchester late in the 12th century.
  4. The Boldon Buke—a survey of the bishopric of Durham a century later than Domesday

Photographic facsimiles of Domesday Book, for each county separately, were published in 1861–1863, also by the government. Today, Domesday Book is available in numerous editions, usually separated by county and available with other local history resources.

In 1986, the BBC released the BBC Domesday Project, the results of a project to create a survey to mark the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book. In August 2006 the contents of Domesday went online, with an English translation of the book's Latin. Visitors to the website are able to look up a place name and see the index entry made for the manor, town, city or village. They can also, for a fee, download the relevant page.


In 1986, memorial plaques were installed in settlements mentioned in Domesday Book

The Domesday Book is critical to understanding the period in which it was written. As H. C. Darby noted, anyone who uses it

can have nothing but admiration for what is the oldest 'public record' in England and probably the most remarkable statistical document in the history of Europe. The continent has no document to compare with this detailed description covering so great a stretch of territory. And the geographer, as he turns over the folios, with their details of population and of arable, woodland, meadow and other resources, cannot but be excited at the vast amount of information that passes before his eyes.[25]
The author of the article on the book in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica noted, "To the topographer, as to the genealogist, its evidence is of primary importance, as it not only contains the earliest survey of each township or manor, but affords, in the majority of cases, a clue to its subsequent descent."

Darby also notes the inconsistencies, saying that "when this great wealth of data is examined more closely, perplexities and difficulties arise."[26] One problem is that the clerks who compiled this document "were but human; they were frequently forgetful or confused." The use of Roman numerals also led to countless mistakes. Darby states, "Anyone who attempts an arithmetical exercise in Roman numerals soon sees something of the difficulties that faced the clerks."[26] But more important are the numerous obvious omissions, and ambiguities in presentation. Darby first cites F. W. Maitland's comment following his compilation of a table of statistics from material taken from the Domesday Book survey, "it will be remembered that, as matters now stand, two men not unskilled in Domesday might add up the number of hides in a county and arrive at very different results because they would hold different opinions as to the meanings of certain formulas which are not uncommon."[27] Darby says that "it would be more correct to speak not of 'the Domesday geography of England', but of 'the geography of Domesday Book'. The two may not be quite the same thing, and how near the record was to reality we can never know."[26]

See also


  1. ^ "Domesday Book". Merriam-Webster Online. 
  2. ^ "Domesday Book". 
  3. ^ Wintonia being the mediaeval Latin name for the See of Winchester, as for example the traditional signature style of the Bishop of Winchester per Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.1160; Probably because it was formerly kept in the custody of the Bishops of Winchester, who traditionally performed the present function of Chancellor of the Exchequer)
  4. ^ Note: One of the commonest abbreviations was TRE, short for the Latin Tempore Regis Eduardi, "in the time of King Edward (the Confessor)", meaning the period immediately before the Norman conquest
  5. ^ The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: English Traits, Volume 5, p. 250 n. 65.15 (notes by Robert E. Burkholder, Harvard University Press, 1971).
  6. ^ Johnson, C., ed. (1950). Dialogus de Scaccario, the Course of the Exchequer , and Constitutio Domus Regis, the King's Household. London. p. 64. 
  7. ^ Cellan-Jones, Rory (13 May 2011). "Domesday Reloaded project: The 1086 version". BBC News. 
  8. ^ Hoskins, W.G., A New Survey of England, Devon, London, 1954, p.87
  9. ^ "Return of Owners of Land, 1873, Wales, Scotland, Ireland". Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  10. ^ Palmer, Alan (1976). 'Kings and Queens of England", p.15. Octopus Books Limited, Great Britain.ISBN 0706405420
  11. ^ "The Domesday Book". History Magazine. October 2001. Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  12. ^ Roffe, David: Domesday; The Inquest and The Book, pages 224–249. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  13. ^ "Inquisitio Eliensis". Domesday Explorer. Retrieved 24 April 2010. 
  14. ^ Alan Cooper, "Extraordinary privilege: the trial of Penenden Heath and the Domesday inquest," The English Historical Review, 1 November 2001
  15. ^ Hallam 1986, pp. 34–5.
  16. ^ Hallam 1986, p. 55.
  17. ^ Hallam 1986, pp. 55–6.
  18. ^ Hallam 1986, pp. 133–4.
  19. ^ Hallam 1986, pp. 150–52.
  20. ^ Hallam 1986, pp. 155–6.
  21. ^ Hallam 1986, pp. 167–9.
  22. ^ Cantwell, John D. (1991). The Public Record Office, 1838-1958. London: HMSO. pp. 379, 428–30.  
  23. ^ Hallam 1986, pp. 29, 150–51, 157–61, 170–72.
  24. ^ Forde, Helen (1986). Domesday Preserved. London: Public Record Office.  
  25. ^ Darby, Domesday England (Cambridge: University Press, 1977), p. 12
  26. ^ a b c Darby, Domesday England, p. 13
  27. ^ Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond (Cambridge, 1897), p. 407


  • Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. London: Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0-14-143994-7.
  • Darby, Henry C. Domesday England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-521-31026-1
  • Hallam, Elizabeth M. Domesday Book through Nine Centuries. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1986.
  • Keats-Rohan, Katherine S. B. Domesday People: A Prosopography of Persons Occurring in English Documents, 1066–1166. 2v. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1999.
  • Holt, J. C. Domesday Studies. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1987. ISBN 0-85115-263-5
  • Lennard, Reginald. Rural England 1086–1135: A Study of Social and Agrarian Conditions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959. ISBN 0-19-821272-0
  • Maitland, F. W. Domesday Book and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-521-34918-4
  • Roffe, David. Domesday: The Inquest and The Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-820847-2
  • Roffe, David. Decoding Domesday. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84383-307-9
  • Vinogradoff, Paul. English Society in the Eleventh Century. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1908.
  • Wood, Michael. The Domesday Quest: In Search of the Roots of England. London: BBC Books, 2005. ISBN 0-563-52274-7
  • Wikisource: 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: Domesday Book

Further reading

  • Bridbury, A. R. (1990). "Domesday Book: a re-interpretation". English Historical Review 105: 284–309.  
  • Darby, Henry C. (2003). The Domesday Geography of Eastern England. Domesday Geography of England 1 (revised 3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Darby, Henry C.; Terrett, I. B., eds. (1971). The Domesday Geography of Midland England. Domesday Geography of England 2 (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Darby, Henry C.; Campbell, Eila M. J., eds. (1961). The Domesday Geography of South-East England. Domesday Geography of England 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Darby, Henry C.; Maxwell, I. S., eds. (1977). The Domesday Geography of Northern England. Domesday Geography of England 4 (corrected ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Darby, R. Welldon; Finn, eds. (1979). The Domesday Geography of South West England. Domesday Geography of England 5 (corrected ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Finn, R. Welldon (1973). Domesday Book: a guide. London: Phillimore.  
  • Snooks, Graeme D.; McDonald, John (1986). Domesday Economy: a new approach to Anglo-Norman history. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  
  • Hamshere, J. D. (1987). "Regressing Domesday Book: tax assessments of Domesday England". Economic History Review. n.s. 40: 247–51.  
  • Leaver, R. A. (1988). "Five hides in ten counties: a contribution to the Domesday regression debate". Economic History Review. n.s. 41: 525–42.  
  • McDonald, John; Snooks, G. D. (1985). "Were the tax assessments of Domesday England artificial?: the case of Essex". Economic History Review. n.s. 38: 352–72.  
  • Sawyer, Peter, ed. (1985). Domesday Book: a reassessment. London: Edward Arnold.  
  • Volumes of the Phillimore series, one for each county (e.g. Thorn, C. et al. (eds.) (1979) Cornwall. Chichester: Phillimore) which contain the Latin in facsimile with an English translation.

External links

  • Commercial Site selling Domesday Book on The National Archives website, home of Domesday Book. Search facilities are free of charge. Downloads are chargeable.
  • Electronic Edition of Domesday Book, complete text available at the UK Data Archive.
  • Searchable index of landholders in 1066 and 1087, Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) project.
  • Focus on Domesday, from Learning Curve. Annotated sample page.
  • Secrets of the Norman Invasion Domesday analysis of wasted manors.
  • Domesday Book place-name forms All the original spellings of English place-names in Domesday Book (link to pdf file).
  • Domesday Book Online Simple to use directory with interactive map of England in Norman times
  • Commercial site with extracts from Domesday Book Domesday Book entries including translations for each settlement.
  • Open Domesday Interactive map, listing details of each manor or holdings of each tenant, plus high-resolution images of the original manuscript. Site by Anna Powell-Smith, Domesday data created by Professor J.J.N. Palmer, University of Hull.
  • In Our Time - the Domesday Book. BBC Radio 4 program available on iPlayer
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