Document Number One in the Public Record Office of Britain’s National Archives is the Domesday Book. In 1085, William the Conqueror ordered a survey of his new realm. Over the years, the county-by-county record has been studied by administrators and historians. By Victorian times, Domesday had become a national treasure. Imbued with mythic status, its name known to millions all over the world, yet few of those people have read a word of this document.
How it Started
For 20 years William the Conqueror had been king of England, after winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when the Saxon King Harold lost his life and his lords their lands. In December 1085, in Gloucester, William wanted to know how much revenue he was getting from the people. The resulting survey showed who was entitled to which bit of land. No one was exempt and there was no point in arguing over the details. The records in the Domesday book was final and became legal.
It took about a year for the questioning of landholders and tenants to be completed, however, the royal scribes had not finished writing the final version of the document when William died in September 1087, so work stopped. There were two volumes – Little Domesday, holding the raw results from Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk; and Great Domesday – so called because its pages are bigger than Little Domesday’s – giving the edited, shortened summary of information from all the other English counties (except Northumberland and Durham) and a small part of Wales. There is no coverage of Winchester, where Great Domesday was probably written, or of London. It has been suggested that Winchester, seat of the king’s Treasury, may have been a tax-free zone, while two blank pages in the Middlesex section were possibly intended for London’s entry.
Source: Secrets of the Domesday Book – The Pitkin Guide
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