Domesday Book (/ˈduːmzdeɪ/ or US: /ˈdoʊmzdeɪ/; Latin:
Liber de Wintonia "Book of Winchester") 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
Then, at the midwinter , was the king in
Gloucester with his
council ... . 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."
It was written in Medieval Latin, was highly abbreviated, and included
some vernacular native terms without
Latin equivalents. The
survey's main purpose was to determine what taxes had been owed during
the reign of King Edward the Confessor, which allowed William to
reassert the rights of the Crown and assess where power lay after a
wholesale redistribution of land following the Norman conquest.
The assessors' reckoning of a man's holdings and their values, as
recorded in Domesday Book, was dispositive and without appeal. The
name "Domesday Book" (
Middle English for "Doomsday Book") came into
use in the 12th century. As
Richard FitzNeal wrote in the Dialogus
de Scaccario (circa 1179):
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.
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 in Britain until the 1873 Return of
Owners of Land (sometimes termed the "Modern Domesday") which
presented the first complete, post-Domesday picture of the
distribution of landed property in the British Isles.
1 Content and organisation
5 Subsequent history
5.1 Custodial history
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Content and organisation
A page of
Domesday Book for Warwickshire
Great Domesday in its "Tudor" binding: a wood-engraving of the 1860s
Domesday Book encompasses two independent works (in, originally, two
physical volumes). These were "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, Winchester, or some other towns, probably due to their
tax-exempt status. (Other areas of modern London were then in
Middlesex, Kent, Essex, etc., and are included in Domesday Book.) Most
Westmorland are missing.
County Durham is missing
Bishop of Durham
Bishop of Durham (William de St-Calais) had the exclusive
right to tax it; in addition, parts of north-east England were covered
by the 1183 Boldon Book, listing areas liable to tax by the Bishop of
Durham. The omission of the other counties and towns is not fully
explained, although in particular
Westmorland had yet
to be fully conquered.
"Little Domesday" – so named because its format is physically
smaller than its companion's – is the more detailed survey, down to
numbers of livestock. It may have represented the first attempt,
resulting in a decision to avoid such level of detail in "Great
Both volumes are organised into a series of chapters (literally
Latin caput, "a head") listing the fees (knight's
fees or fiefs, broadly identical to manors), held by a named
tenant-in-chief of the king (who formed the highest stratum of Norman
feudal society below the king), namely religious institutions,
Bishops, Norman warrior magnates and a few Saxon thegns who had made
peace with the Norman regime. Some of the largest such magnates held
several hundred fees, in a few cases in more than one county. For
example, the chapter of the
Domesday Book Devonshire section
Baldwin the Sheriff
Baldwin the Sheriff lists 176 holdings held in-chief by
him. Only a few of the holdings of the large magnates were held in
demesne, most having been subinfeudated to knights, generally military
followers of the tenant-in-chief (often his feudal tenants from
Normandy) which latter thus became their overlord. The fees listed
within the chapter concerning a particular tenant-in-chief were
usually ordered, but not in a systematic or rigorous fashion, by the
Hundred Court under the jurisdiction of which they were situated, not
by geographic location. As a review of taxes owed, it was highly
HIC ANNOTANTUR TENENTES TERRAS IN DEVENESCIRE ("Here are noted (those)
holding lands in Devonshire"). Detail from Domesday Book, list forming
part of first page of king's holdings. There are 53 entries, including
the first entry for the king himself followed by the
Book tenants-in-chief. Each name has its own chapter to follow.
Each county's list opened with the king's demesne lands (which had
possibly been the subject of separate inquiry). It should be borne in
mind that under the feudal system the king was the only true "owner"
of land in England, under his allodial title. He was thus the ultimate
overlord and even the greatest magnate could do no more than "hold"
land from him as a tenant (from the
Latin verb teneo, "to hold") under
one of the various contracts of feudal land tenure. Holdings of
Bishops followed, then of the abbeys and religious houses, then of lay
tenants-in-chief and lastly the king's serjeants (servientes), and
Saxon thegns who had survived the Conquest, all in hierarchical order.
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. 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
southern Italy completed their
Catalogus Baronum based on Domesday
The manuscripts do not carry a formal title. The work is referred to
internally as a descriptio (enrolling), and in other early
administrative contexts as the king's brevia (writings). From about
1100, references appear to the liber (book) or carta (charter) of
Winchester, its usual place of custody; and from the mid-12th to early
13th centuries, to the
Winchester or king's rotulus (roll).
To the English, however, who held the book in awe, it became known as
"Domesday Book", in allusion to the
Last Judgement and in specific
reference to the definitive character of the record. The word
"doom" was the usual
Old English term for a law or judgement; it did
not carry the modern overtones of fatality or disaster. Richard
FitzNeal, treasurer of England under Henry II, explained the name's
connotations in detail in the
Dialogus de Scaccario
Dialogus de Scaccario (c.1179):
The book is metaphorically called by the native English, Domesday,
i.e., the Day of Judgement. 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 on those matters which it contains, its
sentence cannot be quashed or set aside with impunity. That is why we
have called the book "the Book of Judgement", ... not because it
contains decisions on various difficult points, but because its
decisions, like those of the Last Judgement, are unalterable.
The name "Domesday" was subsequently adopted by the book's custodians,
being first found in an official document in 1221.
Either through false etymology or deliberate word play, the name also
came to be associated with the
Latin phrase Domus Dei ("House of
God"). Such a reference is found as early as the late 13th century, in
the writings of Adam of Damerham; and in the 16th and 17th centuries,
antiquaries such as
John Stow and Sir Richard Baker believed this was
the name's origin, alluding to the church in
Winchester in which the
book had been kept. As a result, the alternative spelling
"Domesdei" became popular for a while.
The usual modern scholarly convention is to refer to the work as
"Domesday Book" (or simply as "Domesday"), without a definite article.
However, the form "the Domesday Book" is also found in both academic
and non-academic contexts.
England in 1086
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that planning for the survey was
conducted in 1085, and the book's colophon 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 the
latter was completed, if not started, by William II following his
assumption of the English throne; William II quashed a rebellion that
followed and was based on, though not consequent on, the findings of
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 12 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 - the Cambridge
Inquisition - and is of great illustrative importance. The Inquisitio
Eliensis is a record of the lands of Ely Abbey. 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,
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).
Berkshire, Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex
Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset,
Wiltshire (Exon Domesday)
Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire,
Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire,
Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire,
Worcestershire – the Marches
Derbyshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire
Three sources discuss the goal of the survey:
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 was recorded in the
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
Odo de Bayeux at
Penenden Heath near
Kent 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 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.
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
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 organisation 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 himself.
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
Domesday chest, the German-style iron-bound chest of c.1500 in which
Domesday Book was kept in the 17th and 18th centuries
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. 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. As
recently as the 1960s, it was still referred to in court cases
regarding ancient land and property rights.
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). 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.
From the 1740s onwards they were held, with other
Chapter House of Westminster Abbey. In 1859 they were
placed in the new Public Record Office, London. 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
In modern times, the books have been removed from London on only a few
exceptional occasions. In 1861–3 they were sent to
photozincographic reproduction; in 1918–19, during World War I,
they were evacuated (with other
Public Record Office
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.
The volumes have been rebound on several occasions. Little Domesday
was rebound in 1320, its older oak boards being re-used. At a later
date (probably in the Tudor period) both volumes were given new
covers. They were rebound twice in the 19th century, in 1819 and 1869,
on the second occasion by the binder Robert Riviere. In the 20th
century, they were rebound in 1952, when their physical makeup was
examined in greater detail; and yet again in 1986 for the survey's
ninth centenary. On this last occasion Great Domesday was divided into
two physical volumes, and Little Domesday into three volumes.
Main article: Publication of Domesday Book
Croydon and Cheam, Surrey, in the 1783 edition of Domesday
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
The Exon Domesday—for the south-western counties
The Inquisitio Eliensis
The Liber Winton—surveys of
Winchester late in the 12th century.
The Boldon Buke—a survey of the bishopric of Durham a century later
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 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
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." One problem is that the clerks who compiled this document
"were but human; they were frequently forgetful or confused." The use
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." 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." 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."
BBC Domesday Project
Photozincography of Domesday Book
Publication of Domesday Book
Return of Owners of Land, 1873
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^ Hallam 1986, p. 34.
^ Harvey 2014, pp. 18–19.
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^ "Inquisitio Eliensis". Domesday Explorer. Archived from the original
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^ Hallam 1986, pp. 133–4.
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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
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
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 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
Domesday Book and Cambridgeshire
Norman conquest of England
William the Conqueror
Sweyn II of Denmark
Battle of Fulford
Battle of Stamford Bridge
Battle of Hastings
Odo of Bayeux
Hereward the Wake
Eustace of Boulogne
Eadric the Wild
Robert of Mortain
Ralph de Gael
Roger de Breteuil
Companions of William the Conqueror
Edward the Confessor
Edith the Fair
Malcolm III of Scotland
Matilda of Flanders
Battle, East Sussex
Tower of London
Harrying of the North
Revolt of the Earls
Council of London
Trial of Penenden Heath
Carmen de Hastingae Proelio
William of Poitiers
Taxation in medieval England
Exchequer of the Jews
Scot and lot