The Domesday Book was a comprehensive record of England and Wales. It was commissioned under William the Conqueror following the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The book helped King William understand land ownership and the amount of resources available in England. With this information, the King would levy taxes.
The book was compiled by a number of commissioners appointed by King William. England was divided into seven regions or circuits. Then 3 or 4 commissioners were sent into each region with a set of questions.
These commissioners visited all the counties and shires, met with barons and villagers, and took stock of the cattle, fish catch, land ownership and others resources in every county.
They then brought this information back to the court, cross-matched with existing records from the Anglo-Saxon days and merged the two to create the book.
Domesday Book came to be called so because it contained virtually all details of ownership across England. Like the Last Judgment, it didn’t miss out any details. In a court of law, the book was also relied upon as a definite and undisputable source of information.
This also contributed to the perception of the book and its name. The book was initially known as simply the ‘charter’ or the ‘roll’. It was only in the 13th century that the name ‘Domesday Book’ became popularly associated with it. The book has also been termed ‘the Book of Judgment’ for some part of the history.
When compiling the book, the commissioners would first note down all the information and then abbreviate it into a single larger volume. This larger volume is known as the ‘Great Domesday’.
This volume contained abbreviated details of all counties except Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. A separate volume known as the ‘Little Domesday’ contained the records of these three countries. However, the records in the Little Domesday are unabbreviated.
The Domesday Book was written in 1086. The survey which was conducted to compile this book had begun in 1085 and took nearly a year to complete. By 1086, the commissioners had returned with the needed information and the book came into being.
The book was compiled so that the new Norman King of England, William the Conqueror, could levy suitable taxes. William had just conquered England and wasn’t sure about the land rights and material resources of the country.
So the Domesday Book provided him a detailed view of the land or stock owned by all the people across England. It also gave him an idea of the lands that had been previously owned by the King.
The Domesday Book was important because it was a one-of-its-kind book at the time. A survey at such a scale had never been conducted in England until this book was written. The details contained in this book are also unparalleled, which made them relevant for English law and crown for centuries to come.