The Reign of William the Conqueror

Domesday Book

Extract from the Domesday Book. [Public Record Office]In 1085 England was threatened by King Cnut II of Denmark which prompted William the Conqueror to order a survey of the resources of the kingdom which could be taxed to fund his forces. This survey led to the compilation of the Domesday Book which people compared to the Last Judgement, the day of doom, in the Bible.

The Norman church at Healaugh (Yorkshire, West Riding)The basic unit of landholding referred to in the Domesday Book is the manor. This could be a great estate, a village or a few farms. Domesday Book lists the holder and value of each manor in King Edward the Confessor’s day and at the time of the survey as well as its tax liability, resources such as ploughs and woodland, and, sometimes, livestock.  The landholdings of each county are listed beginning with those of the king and then those of the chief landowners in such a way as to give a picture of the social structure of Norman England.

Diagram of the social structure of Anglo-Norman England as revealed by the Domesday BookThe Domesday Book surveyAlthough some written estate records were used, Domesday Book was largely compiled by using statements from local people sworn under oath in the courts of the shires and lesser local government units, the hundreds and wapentakes. For administrative convenience England (except Cumberland, Durham and Northumberland) was divided into seven or eight assessment ‘circuits’ which were visited by teams of commissioners, barons from a different part of the country to that being assessed. The information was written up in standardised form at Winchester and stored in the Treasury.

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