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Domesday is written in Latin. It is easy to read, but not so easy to understand as there are many abbreviations. The documents mention ranks in society, jobs that no longer exist, place names and measurements that are no longer used. However, despite all this, Domesday gives us an insight into life in England 900 years ago.
The survey split the country into seven areas, each visited by three or four royal commissioners. One bishop toured the Worcester circuit with his assistants, questioning both rich and poor at the county courts. People had to declare the value of their holding.
First there was a list of the county’s main towns and landholders (which were mostly all men; the only women landholders were mainly great ladies ie Queen Edith (Edward the Confessor’s wife) and the wife of King Harold). Then came a description of its estates, starting with the king’s. Church estates came next, followed by the lands of barons, knights and ordinary people. This pecking order mirrors Norman England’s feudal society. The king owned all the land (but held around 17%), he let the rest of the land (fiefs) to his chief warriors (barons) in return for military service. Barons leased land to knights and knights to farmers and villagers (villeins), who owed various duties and payments in return. At the bottom of the heap were slaves (who made up around a tenth of the population).
Domesday assessed what a manor was worth to its lord each year in money (taxes) and kind (crops, animals, etc) from his peasants. Dues from a mill or a mine on his land were added; and the number of pigs kept, eels caught, and so on, all had to be included.
Source: Secrets of the Domesday Book – The Pitkin Guide
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