The legal material in Domesday Book is of great interest and has been the subject of a considerable amount of recent research. Professor Fleming in particular has argued that 'Domesday Book can and should be read as a legal text', emphasising 'just how much was in dispute' in 1086. Given the volume and interest of this material it is, as Professor Fleming observes, astonishing that it has been so little used until recently.
The codes employed here fall into six groups:
D1: disputes between subjects of the king, either implied or explicit. This category includes among other things those cases where free men were absorbed into manors where there was no reference to a claim, and no named second party, but where the implication of illegality seems clear
D2: The code for disputes to which the king was a party, either implied or explicit
D3: The code for allegations against officials, either implied or explicit
D4: The code for materials bearing upon the title to a manor, often implying some doubt as to its validity. In a certain sense, Domesday Book refers to title in the overwhelming majority of entries, simply by stating the name of the Anglo-Saxon who had held the manor before the Conquest. This information was not recorded in the spirit of detached historical inquiry. It was there for its potential bearing upon the situation in 1086, to warrant by what title the estate was held at that date. This was particularly the case when the statement of Anglo-Saxon ownership was elaborated in any way, by referring to the nature of the tenure before the Conquest. To code all such entries, however, would be self-defeating since few would be excluded. Some aspects of tenure are, in any case, coded separately. This code is used only for entries where the statement of title - or challenge to it - is emphatic: references to royal writs, gifts, sales, predecessors, family relationships, forfeitures, illegalities, etc
D5: The code for the Returns made by landowners, apparent illegalities of an uncertain nature, or declarations of ignorance by jurors
D6: The code for references to laws and customs; judicial matters; pleas; legal process
For further information, see Patrick Wormald, 'Domesday lawsuits: a provisional list and preliminary comments', England in the eleventh century, edited by Carola Hicks (1992), pages 61-102; Robin Fleming, Domesday Book and the Law: society and legal custom in early medieval England (Cambridge, 1998); and Patrick Wormald, The making of English law: King Alfred to the twelfth century, I: legislation and its limits (Oxford, 1999).
For the use of codes in searching the text, see properties and property searching.