Help Main Page Return to landholding Return to Domesday data
An antecessor was the Anglo-Saxon from whom a Norman 'inherited' his land and rights.
William the Conqueror claimed to be the legitimate heir of Edward the Confessor and promised to observe the laws and customs of his predecessor. Hence, in theory, succession to land after the Conquest was governed by inheritance unless the land itself were forfeited for rebellion or similar cause. Since the bulk of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy was disinherited during the course of his reign, the Conqueror disregarded the spirit of his promise. He did, however, pay lip service to it by designating Normans as heirs to many of the English landowners he disinherited. Such heirs enjoyed all the lands and rights of their predecessors. There are scores of references to predecessors in Great Domesday, and even more in Little Domesday; but the number of actual antecessores was far greater than the use of the word itself would indicate, as the tabulation of the estates of Anglo-Saxon lords and the Normans who succeeded them would reveal in most counties.
Succession by inheritance in this manner, however, was not the only method by which the estates of the disinherited Anglo-Saxons were transferred to their conquerors. In some areas - along the Welsh marches and much of the south coast; in Lancashire; in large parts of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire; and in pockets elsewhere - territorial blocks were created in which one tenant-in-chief controlled all, or virtually all, of the non-ecclesiastical estates. In some areas this not only obliterated Anglo-Saxon tenurial patterns but even dismembered many individual holdings, the classic example being the Rapes of Sussex.
It has also been claimed that much land was acquired by simple violence, and that the Conquest established a kleptocracy which had helped itself to almost half the land which changed hands after the Conquest. This, however, has been disputed and is difficult to reconcile with the known character of the Conqueror, 'stern beyond measure to those who opposed his will', so violent that 'no one dare oppose him', as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded.
For more detail on the much-debated question of succession, see Peter H. Sawyer, '1066-1086: a tenurial revolution?', Domesday Book: a reassessment, edited by Peter H. Sawyer (1985), pages 71-85; Robin Fleming, 'Domesday Book and the tenurial revolution', Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 9 (1987), pages 87-102; George Garnett, 'Coronation and propaganda: some implications of the Norman claim to the throne of England in 1066', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, vol. 36 (1986), pages 91-116; Robin Fleming, Kings and lords in Conquest England (1991); Ann Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest (1995); and John J.N. Palmer, 'Great Domesday on CD-ROM', in Domesday Book: new directions, edited by E. Hallam-Smith and David Bates (London, 2001).