is the Domesday book?
The Domesday Book is perhaps our earliest public
record. It was created as a result of a survey of land holdings and
resources in late 11th century England ordered by King William
No other country in Europe produced anything to
match the breadth of this undertaking until several hundred years later.
So how did the Domesday Book come about? Well, to
find out we need to go back to 1066 and all that..............
In January 1066, King Edward the Confessor died
childless. To die childless as a King was a major problem as there could be
no "natural succession" from his family.
Edward had been only too aware of this and had made
plans about who should succeed him. Although he was only related indirectly
to him, Edward made Duke William of Normandy his heir in 1051. At the time,
powerful opposition to this move was voiced by leading Saxon nobles Earl
Godwin and his heir Earl Harold Godwin.
Earl Harold Godwin acted as an emissary from Edward
the Confessor to the court of William of Normandy in 1064, during which time
he allegedly swore an oath of "fealty to William, relinquishing any personal
claim to the throne". This oath, which may have been given lightly, or
possibly under duress, would figure directly in William's own claim, two
years later. He would claim that the promise Harold made to him had been
broken, giving William the right to challenge Harold in a battle for the
On Edwards' death, the Witan (an Anglo-Saxon name
for a council or meeting of nobles) approved Earl Harold Godwin as the new
King. He became, as every school child knows, King Harold.
Well, Duke William did not let it end there, he
fully expected to be made King of England as per the agreement with Edward.
He set about creating an invasion force and sought Papal approval (which he
got) for his taking the crown by force.
William invaded and on October 14 1066 his army
defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. William became King William
the First of England. Why the
Domesday survey was made
The Domesday survey is essentially the product of
the will and curiosity of King William. Nevertheless it could not have been
made without the comparatively advanced administration system that William
had inherited from his Anglo-Saxon predecessors.
By the year 1000, most of England was already
divided up into the shires that continued with little change until 1974.
Government was far from possessing the centralised powers of the modern
state but the Kings exercised considerable authority over local magnates.
This was true both in Danelaw, those areas in East Anglia and Northern parts
where Danish laws and customs prevailed since the time of Alfred the
Great, and the other Anglo-Saxon regions.
English Kings had been able to mint a coinage
controlled from the centre. They were also powerful enough to gather
substantial amounts of silver from the tax known as Danegeld, a name
originally used for money raised to buy off marauding Danish armies.
The silver was a sign of England's wealth, probably
founded on its wool trade. With such resources and the means for a ruler to
tap them, England was one of the great prizes of North West Europe.
One of the most important near contemporary
accounts of the making of the Domesday Survey is contained in the
Anglo-Saxon chronicles. It tells us that his 1085 Christmas Court in
"had much thought and very deep discussion about
this country - how it was occupied and or with what sorts of people. Then he
sent his men all over England into every shire and had them find out how
many hundred hides there were in the shire or what land and cattle the King
himself had in the country, or what dues he ought to have in twelve months
from the shire. Also he had a record made of how much land his archbishops
and his abbots and his Earls and ... what or how much everybody had who was
occupying land in England, in land or cattle and how much money it was
worth. So very narrowly did he have it investigated that there was no single
hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed (it is a shame to relate but it seemed
no shame to him to do) one ox nor one cow nor one pig which there was left
out and not put in his record; and all these records were brought to him
This passage hints at the dismay and apprehension
later expressed in the naming of the survey as Domesday because of the
association with The Day of Judgement, that terrible verdict against which
there was no appeal.
Another description of the survey was written a few
years after its completion by Robert, Bishop of Hereford. The King's men, he
"made a survey of all England, of the lands in
each of the counties, of the possessions of each of the magnates, their
lands, their habitations, their men both bond and free, living in huts or
with their own houses and lands, of ploughs, horses and other animals, of
the services and payments due from each and every estate. After these
investigations came others who were sent to unfamiliar counties to check the
first description and to denounce any wrongdoers to the king. And the land
that was troubled with many calamities arising from the gathering of royal
King William proceeded quickly with the survey.
Notes in one of the volumes indicate that the initial stages were completed
in 1086. The mass of evidence was written in Latin. The material was sorted
and resorted until the final format was produced under county, landholders,
hundreds and manors - a phenomenal achievement given the task.
Sompting and the
Seizing the country in 1066, King William
reorganised Sussex into geographical regions called rapes. Sussex had six
rapes, each with a river, castle and forest.
The Rape of Bramber, in which Sompting, was given
to William de Braose. In Domesday, the listing for Sompting is
In 1066 Sompting was held by Lewin of King
Edward. By 1086 11½ hides there were held of William de Braose by Ralph,
from whom an unnamed knight held 1½ hide. Another Ralph held a further 2
hides there of William ...
By 1086 Ralph had 11½ hides there, enough for
5 plough-teams. There were 2 demesne plough-teams and 5 servi, and the 19
villani and 16 bordars had 9 teams. There was 30 a. of demesne meadow. One
and a half hide of Ralph's land was held by a knight and worked by 2 villani
and 4 bordars with one team, and there were 2 a. of meadow there. A further
2 hides, held by another Ralph, were worked by 4 villani and one bordar with
½ plough-team, although there was land enough for a whole team. That estate
had 2 a. of meadow. Of the two estates at Cokeham in 1086, one had one
demesne plough-team, 8 a. of meadow, and 5 bordars, the second half a
demesne ploughteam and half a villein team, 1 villanus, 3 bordars, and 2 a.
of meadow. Woodland for one pig was also recorded. The Cokeham lands had
maintained their 1066 value but that of the others had fallen slightly
GLOSSARY OF WORDS USED IN THE LANCING (LANCINGES)
ENTRY TO THE DOMESDAY SURVEY IN ORDER OF USAGE ABOVE
A unit of
measurement for assessment of tax, theoretically 120 acres, although it
could vary between 60 and 240 acres. By custom it was the land that
could be cultivated by one eight ox plough in one year.
The perch or rod, as it was also known, was a traditional
Saxon land measure and survives in twentieth century. It had originally
been defined as the total length of the left feet of the first sixteen
men to leave church on Sunday morning.
The main tax owed
to the King. Normally due as a number of pence per
The area of
arable land capable of being tilled by one plough team. Equivalent to
The part of
the lord's manorial lands reserved for his own use and not allocated to
his serfs or freeholder tenants. Serfs worked in the demesne for a
specified number of days per week. The demesne could either be
scattered among the serfs' land, or be a separate area, the latter being
more common for meadow and orchard lands. (Pronounced
class of peasant. They usually cultivated 20-40 acres of land,
often in isolate strips.
Middle ranking peasant, farming less than a villein
money used for accounting purposes and equal to 12 old pennies. Until
modern times, there was no actual coin. (Now replaced by 5 new pence.)
A building or place
where salt is made by boiling or by evaporation; salt works
Administrative unit containing about 5 to 10 Hides and
inhabitants. Equivalent to the secular parish. The vill
usually contained several manors
holding, typically 1200-1800 acres, with its own court and
probably its own hall, but not necessarily having a manor house. The
manor as a unit of land was generally held by a knight (knight's fee) or
managed by a bailiff for some other holder. In later years, the
power of the manor declined progressively in favour of the
The William mentioned in the extract is William de
Braose and the Robert was Robert le Sauvage, Lord of Broadwater.
There were some anomalies within the Domesday
survey. For example neither Winchester or London, both important places in
the 11th century are featured. However 13,418 places were visited and
Sussex features quite extensively. Historians
delight in the information as it gives details of the immediate effect of
the Norman Invasion and Battle of Hastings on the area. The Bayeux Tapestry
also shows Sussex buildings and homes being put to the torch by the triumphant
Norman army. This is reflected in the values before and after 1066 of places
within Sussex. See the table to the right for the comparisons.
King William's place in English History
Everyone seems to know a little about King William,
especially about the Battle of Hastings. However, William is often named as
being "French" when he was in reality a Norman, descended from the Viking
warriors. Indeed, he spent a lot of his life fighting against the French. He
died on September 9, 1087 from complications to a wound he received in a
siege on the town of Mantes.
William certainly did change our history, not all
of it for the worse.
The writers of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles summed it
all up very well
"His anxiety for money is the only thing on
which he can deservedly be blamed; . . .he would say and do some things and
indeed almost anything . . .where the hope of money allured him."
links to related websites
The Domesday Book on-line
Scene of the Battle of Hastings
sources for this article
1066 The Year of the Three Battles by
Frank McLynn Pimlico Books 1998. A History of Lancing by R G P
Kerridge Phillimore Books 1979. The Domesday Book, England's Heritage
Then and Now, Tiger Books 1995
King William 1st
The Battle of Hastings as depicted in the
Below. Instructions given to those collecting
details for the survey
Here is subscribed the
inquisition of lands as the barons of the king have made inquiry into
them; that is to say by the oath of the sheriff of the shire, and of all
the barons and their Frenchmen, and the whole hundred, the priests,
reeves, and six villains of each manor; then, what the manor is called,
who held it in the time of king Edward, who holds now; how many hides,
how many plows in demesne, how many belonging to the men, how many
villains, how many cottars, how many serfs, how many free-men, how many socmen, how much woods, how much meadow, how many pastures, how many
mills, how many fish-ponds, how much has been added or taken away, how
much it was worth altogether at that time, and how much now, how much
each free man or soeman had or has. All this threefold, that i8 to say
in the time of king Edward, and when king William gave it, and as it is
now; and whether more can be had than is had.
The Domesday volumes have been stored in this
chest, to be carefully removed every few centuries or so
when they need re-binding
Little remains today of William de Braose's castle at Bramber
Farming in 11th century England
Detail from the Domesday