The Doomsday Book the earliest and most famous surviving public record of the 11th century. It is a detailed survey and evaluation of the King’s lands. It also show documentation of the chief tenants land and all the natural resources of the land. This was a remarkable achievement and there was nothing in comparison till the 19th century.
In 1066 the newly kinged William, Duke of Normandy, after defeating Harold II for the crown. In 1085, William was threatened by another England invasion by Denmark and hired a army to defend his keep. So in doing this he needed to know how much money, resources, and military he had. So that very year he commenced a survey to see what was taxable and what his resources were.
Domesday is just a nickname that comes from Biblical day of Judgment, or “doomsday”. When Christ will return and judge the living and the dead. The doomsday book has the final word and no one can speak out against it. It was call Domesday till the late 12th century, and was called the Winchester Roll or King’s Roll, and Book of the Treasury.
The meaning of this text is:The King (William) holds in demesne Earley (in lordship – that is, by and for himself; he has not let it out to a sub-tenant). Almar (an Anglo-Saxon) held it in alod (freehold) from King Edward. Then (in 1066, it was assessed for tax purposes) at 5 hides, now (in 1086 it is assessed) for (the equivalent of) 4 hides. (There is) Land for use by 6 ploughs. In demesne (on the lord’s land there is land for) 1 plough and (there are) 6 villans (villagers) and 1 bordar (smallholder) with 3 ploughs. There (are) 2 slaves (owned by the King) and 1 site (or close) in Reading (presumably owned by or part of the manor) and (there are) 2 fisheries worth (rendering) 7s and 6d (per year) and 20 acres of meadow. (There is) Woodland for (feeding) 70 pigs. At the time of King Edward (1066) it was worth 100s, and afterwards (when William acquired the manor) and now (1086) it is worth 50s.
The king sent people to every town in England to survey the people. The king had absolute power in the middle ages. Today that is not always true. They were to evaluate every persons land. They were also supposed to record all property.
This book was the first of its kind that has been kept on record. It wouldn’t be done again until a while later. Documented for the king to see what resources he had for military benefits. King William I had to pay off war debt. He needed to know the financials to his land.
This new land had just been conquered by William I. The land was divided between the Normans and the church mostly. The king used land to settle differences. The survey was a way of the king to get to know his newly conquered land.