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boroughs
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Latin, burgus.

The so-called
Articles of Inquiry do not include questions about boroughs or towns, confirming the testimony of contemporaries and of Domesday Book itself that the Domesday Inquest was principally concerned with rural manors and rural society.

This is not an indication that towns were unimportant but rather that they were complex, less easy to reduce to common formulae. There are many internal indications of the problems they caused the
commissioners and the Domesday scribe, the clearest being the omission of London and Winchester (though space was left for their descriptions). Another indication is the way in which they were classified. The scribe evidently found it as difficult to answer the question 'what is a town?' as modern historians have done. Most boroughs are described in separate sections at the beginning of their counties; but others with equal claim to urban status - Coventry, St Albans, Sandwich, the towns in Sussex - are included among the rural manors.

It is improbable that this is because some towns had
borough status and others did not, if only because some of those described among the rural manors are called boroughs. It has even been denied that the term borough had any legal or constitutional status in Domesday Book. Towns, therefore, are best defined by their urban characteristics: large populations, specialised occupations, commercial characteristics, tolls, mints, markets, etc. By these criteria, H.C. Darby counted 112 towns, 100 of them in Great Domesday.

Given their complexity, the descriptions of Domesday towns are far more varied, and far less consistent, than those of rural manors. Statistics relating to all aspects of urban communities are therefore suspect. Their one certain characteristic is that they understate whatever can be counted.

Whatever its uncertainties, however, Domesday Book does reveal several significant features about towns: they were intimately connected to the surrounding countryside; were badly damaged by the Norman Conquest; contributed significantly to royal revenues; accounted for something like 10% of the population; and included more than 30 places with populations over 1,000 inhabitants.

For more detail, see H.C. Darby, Domesday England (1977); Susan Reynolds, 'The Domesday town', Domesday studies, edited by J.C. Holt (1987), pages 295-310; and Robin Fleming, 'Rural elites and urban communities in late Saxon England', Past & Present, vol. 141 (1993), pages 3-27.