Domesday Book

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The Domesday Book is the record of the great survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086, executed for William I of England, or William the Conqueror. "While spending the Christmas 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" (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).

One of the main purposes of the survey was to determine who held what and what taxes had been liable under Edward the Confessor; the judgment of the Domesday assessors was final—whatever the book said about who held the material wealth or what it was worth, was the law, and there was no appeal. It was written in Latin, although there were some vernacular words inserted for native terms with no previous Latin equivalent, and the text was highly abbreviated. Richard FitzNigel, writing c. 1179, stated that the book was known by the English as 'Domesday', that is 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 ... its sentence cannot be put 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."[1]

In August 2006 a complete online version of Domesday Book was made available for the first time by the United Kingdom's National Archives.


The Domesday Book

The Domesday[2] Book is really two independent works. One, known as Little Domesday, covers Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. The other, Great Domesday, covers much of the remainder of England and parts of Wales, except for lands in the north that would later become Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland and County Durham. There are also no surveys of London, Winchester and some other towns. The omission of these two major cities is probably due to their size and complexity. Most of Cumberland and Westmorland are missing because they were not conquered until some time after the survey, and County Durham is lacking as the Bishop of Durham (William de St-Calais) had the exclusive right to tax Durham; parts of the north east of England were covered by the 1183 Boldon Book, which listed those areas liable to tax by the Bishop of Durham. The omission of the other counties has not been fully explained.

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