1902 Encyclopedia > Domesday Book

Domesday Book




DOMESDAY BOOK, or simply DOMESDAY, is, in its commonest use, the name applied to the Liber cle Win-tonia, or Exchequer Domesday, a very ancient record containing a survey of all the lands of England, made in the time of William the Conqueror. It consists of two volumes—a greater and a less. The first is a large folio, written on 382 double pages of vellum, in a small but plain character, each page having a double column. Some of the capital letters and principal passages are touched with red ink, and some have strokes of red ink run across them, as if scratched out. This volume contains the description of the following counties :—Kent, Sussex, Surrey, South-ampton, Berks, Wilts, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Middlesex, Hereford, Bucks, Oxford, Gloucester, Worcester, Hereford, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Bedford, Northampton, Leicester, Warwick, Stafford, Salop, Cheshire, Derby, Notts, York, and Lincoln, together with the anomalous districts of Rutland and the land " inter Ripan et Mer-sham." The second volume is in quarto, written upon 450 double pages of vellum, but in a single column, and in a large but very fair character. It contains the counties of Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk. This second volume, together with the Exon Domesday, which contains the fuller reports of the western counties, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon-shire, and Cornwall, and the Inquisitio Eliensis, which relates to the lands of the abbey of Ely, seems to be the original record of the survey itself, which appears in the first volume of the Exchequer Domesday in an abridged form. " In both volumes of the Exchequer Domesday," writes Mr Freeman in his History of the Norman Conquest, "each shire is commonly headed with a list of the chief landowners in it. The king comes first, then the great ecclesiastical, and then the great temporal proprietors, followed in many cases by the smaller pro-prietors lumped in classes ' servientes regis,' ' taini regis,' ' eleemosynarii regis,' and the like, the list being num-bered, and forming an index to the survey itself, which follows. Lastly, in several shires come the 'Clamores,' the records of lands which were said to be held unjustly, and to which other men laid claim." Then follows th« survey itself. The lands of the king or other landowner are arranged under the hundreds in which they were placed, and the necessary particulars of which the survey was to be a record are put down under each manor or other holding.

The northern shires are not described in the survey, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Durham are conspicuous by their absence. Lancashire does not appear under its proper name ; but Furness and the northern part of the county, as well as the south of Westmoreland, with a part of Cumberland, are included within the West Eiding of Yorkshire. That part of Lancashire which lies between the rivers Kibble and Mersey is subjoined to Cheshire; and part of Rutland is described in the counties of Northampton and Lincoln. The reasons which led to the omission of these northern counties from Domesday are not difficult to be understood. Durham and Northumberland had been laid waste by the merciless hand of conquest. The devastations of the Conqueror himself in the winter of 1069-1070, the various inroads of Malcolm, and the venge-ance taken by Odo after the murder of Bishop Walcher in 1080, must have left very little in those districts worth the surveying. Lancashire did not then exist as a separate couuty. Cumberland and Westmoreland had no being as English shires,—their southern portions then formed part of Yorkshire, and they are surveyed in Domesday as such ; whilst their northern portions did not become part of the kingdom of England till the reign of William Rufus, hav-ing been held by the Scottish kings as a fief ever since the grant by Edmund the Magnificent, on the final overthrow of the old kingdom of Strathclyde. The notion that the northern portions of Cumberland and Westmoreland were conquered in 1072 by William I. is derived from a careless blunder in the work of Matthew of Westminster, who has confounded William Rufus with his father.

The exact time of the commencement of this survey is variously stated. The Red Book of the Exchequer has been quoted as fixing the date at 1080 ; whereas the Bed Book merely states that the survey was undertaken at a time subsequent to the total reduction of the island to the authority of the Conqueror. From the memorandum of the completion of the survey at the end of the second volume, it is evident, however, that Domesday was finished in 1086. Matthew Paris, Robert of Gloucester, the Annals of Waverley, and the Chronicle of Bermondsey give 1083 as the date of the record; Henry of Huntingdon places it in 1084; the Saxon Chronicle in 1085 ; Simeon of Durham, Florence of Worcester, Roger Hoveden, and Hemingford in 1086 : whilst the Ypodigma Neuslrim and Diceto state 1087 as the year.
The reason given for taking this survey, as assigned by several ancient records and historians, was that every man should be satisfied with his own right, and not usurp with impunity what belonged to another. But besides this, it is stated by others that all those who possessed landed estates now became vassals to the king, and paid him so much money by way of fee or homage, in proportion to the lands they held. According to the false Ingulphus, the sur-vey was made in imitation of the policy of Alfred, who, at the time he divided the kingdom into counties, hundreds, and tithings, had an inquisition taken and digested into a register, which was called, from the place in which it was deposited, the Roll of Winchester. But the compilation of such a survey in the time of Alfred may be more than doubted ; for, with the exception of the statement of Ingulphus, no chronicler alludes to the existence of this register, nor is any mention of it to be found in the records of the time or in those of a subsequent period. Had it been extant in the century immediately preceding the Norman Conquest, it would have prevented the necessity of giving those minute descriptions of land so common among the later of the Saxon charters. Again, the separa-tion of counties is known to have been a division long anterior to the time of Alfred. The confusion in all pro-bability has arisen from a similarity in the title of the two works. The survey of the Conqueror was called Domesday Book ; the register of Alfred had the name of Dome-boc ; but the Dome-boc, instead of being a territorial analysis as is Domesday Book, was in reality the code of Saxon laws.





For the execution of the survey recorded in Domesday Book, certain commissioners, called the king's justiciaries, were sent into every county and shire, and juries summoned in each hundred, out of all orders of freemen, from barons down to the lowest farmers. These commissioners were to be informed by the inhabitants, upon oath, of the name of each manor and that of its owner, also by whom it was held in the time of Edward the Confessor; the number of hides ; the quantity of wood, of pasture, and of meadow land; how many ploughs were in the demesne, and how many in the tenanted part of it; how many mills and how many fish-ponds or fisheries belonged to it; the value of the whole in the time of King Edward, as well as when granted by King William, and at the time of this survey; and also whether it was capable of improvement or of being advanced in value. They were likewise directed to return the tenants of every degree, the quantity of lands then and formerly held by each of them, what was the number of villains or slaves, and also the number and kinds of their cattle and live stock. These inquisitions, being first methodized in the county, were afterwards sent up to the king's Exchequer. So minute was the survey, that the writer of the contemporary portion of the Saxon Chronicle records—" So very narrowly he caused it to be traced out that there was not a single hide or yardland, not an ox, cow, or hog that was not set down."

By the completion of this survey the king acquired an exact knowledge of the possessions of the Crown. It afforded him the names of the land-holders; it furnished him with the means of ascertaining the military strength of the country; and it pointed out the possibility of in-creasing the revenue in some cases and of lessening the demand of the tax-collectors in others. It was, moreover, a register of appeal for those whose titles to their property might be disputed.

So accurate has Domesday Book been considered that its authority was never permitted to be called in question ; and when it has been necessary to distinguish whether lands were held in ancient demesne or in any other manner, recourse was always had to Domesday, and to it only, in order to determine the doubt. From this definitive authority, from which, as from the sentence pronounced at Domesday, or the Day of Judgment, there could be no appeal, the name of the book is said to have been derived. Stowe indeed assigns another reason for this appellation, namely, that Domesday Book is a corruption of " domus Dei book," a title given it because heretofore it was deposited in the king's treasury in a part of the church of Westminster or Winchester called domus Dei; the name, however, is plainly English. From the great care formerly taken to preserve this survey, we may learn the estimation in which it was held. In the Dialogus de Seaccario it is said, Liber ille (meaning Domesday) sigilli regis comes est individuus in thesauro. It was formerly kept at Westminster with the king's seal by the side of the Tally Court in the Exchequer, under three locks and keys, in the charge of the auditor, the chamberlains, and deputy-chamberlains of the Exchequer, till in 1696 it was deposited among other valuable records in the chapterhouse. It is now carefully preserved beneath a strong glass case in the Public Record Office, and can be consulted without payment of any fee.

Various local Domesdays exist, as those of York, Norwich, Ipswich, Chester, and Evesham. The most notable among them is the Domesday of St Paul's, made in 1181 by the Dean, Ralph de Diceto, and edited by Archdeacon Hale.

In 1783 Domesday Book was published in two volumes, and in 1816 a volume of indices was printed by the Iiecord Commission, to which a very valuable "general introduc-tion was prefixed." During the latter year another volume appeared containing the Exon Domesday, and the Inquisitio Eliensis, already noticed ; the Winton Domesday, com-prising lauds in Winchester between 1107 and 1128 ; and the Boldon Book, or Survey of the Palatinate of Durham in 1183. Within the last few years the whole of Domesday has been issued in parts, each part comprising a county, and printed by the process of photozincography, under the scholarly superintendence of Mr W. B. Sanders, one of the assistant keepers of the Public Records.

See Sir H. Ellis's Introduction and Indexes to Domesday, vol. i. and ii. ; Domesday Book, illustrated by Kelbam ; Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts relative to the early History of Great Britain, vol. ii. ; History of the Norman Conquest, byE.A. Freeman, vol. v.; Our Public Records, by A. C. Ewald. (A. C. E.)






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