The Domesday Book was a detailed and comprehensive record of all individual ownership in terms of land or stock across England. The book was commissioned by William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England following his 1066 invasion.
A survey across England and most of Wales was conducted in 1085 and the book came into being in the light of the findings of the survey.
It was completed in 1086 and comprised of two books – the Great Domesday and the Little Domesday. The book remained in use through the subsequent centuries and the original manuscript still exists today in the National Archives in Kew.
For King William, the Domesday Book had an immense importance. William had commissioned the king with one key purpose: to be able to levy taxes effectively. He needed to know the landowners and their assets before he could decide upon the right amount of taxes.
The Domesday Book provided him with this important information. At the same time, William was also able to know exactly how many men each lord or baron had under him. This allowed him to keep a good estimate of each lord’s power while also seeking to gain the direct allegiance of these men.
For landowners as for the King, the Domesday Book was of vital importance. Once it had been compiled, it became the most important consultative source on issues pertaining to landownership, land rights and land income.
On one hand, the courts and the King would use the book’s record to consult land disputes between landowners. On the other hand, the Treasury would impose taxes on landowners based on the basis of the details of their land ownership and income estimates as included in the book. Landowners would also dread as its judgment was considered definite and final.
In 1066, the Normans invaded England and effectively replaced the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. Very few historical sources tell us exactly what happened during and after this tumultuous period. One of the precious few sources of the period is the Domesday Book.
The book details many cultural customs, incidents, details at the county-level and other information that is immensely enlightening in the historical sense. It contains the names of more than 13,000 villages, names of lords and their ownerships, the location of the castles and other details.
The Domesday Book came about as a result of an exceptional survey. This survey was historically named ‘Great Survey’ conducted in most of Wales and all of England. Commissioners were sent to visit all corners of the land and take a full stock of the barons, peasants, tenants, movable property, land, and income sources.
The commissioners would verify this information in public sessions attended by barons and villagers alike. The scope and nature of this survey made it an unparalleled feat in medieval history. Within one year, all movable and immovable property, income and human resource had been recorded in the annals of history through this survey.