The great majority of Domesday manors were given valuations for 1066 and 1086. In the ten counties of circuits 1 and 3, three valuations were given: for 1066, about 1070, and 1086. In four of the five counties of circuit 5 three valuations were normally given, though not systematically.
This data is potentially of enormous value. For no other period do we have data of this kind on a national or even regional basis for even a single year, let alone two or three years, years moreover which saw enormous changes in English social and economic history. These valuations record violent fluctuations which were unique in medieval history. In some cases, in fact, Domesday records the value as 'nothing', as for instance at Pising, Kent, 'Value before 1066, 100s; later nothing; now £6' (KEN 5,174). The decline in manorial values which followed the Black Death was moderate by comparison to the effect of the Norman Conquest.
Unfortunately, Domesday Book rarely explains why values have fallen; and when it does so, this may well be because the cause was atypical. In the absence of explicit testimony, historians have sought to find patterns of decline and recovery which would indicate their causes. Broadly speaking, where three valuations are provided, the general pattern is of a sharp decline between 1066 and c.1070, followed by a slow recovery by 1086, when values have in most cases almost but not quite recovered to the position 20 years earlier. The pattern is sufficiently pronounced, and sufficiently general, for there to be little doubt that whatever the specific causes of decline and recovery, some feature of the Conquest itself was ultimately responsible, directly or indirectly, in the majority of cases.
In a famous essay written almost a century ago, F.H. Baring claimed to be able to trace 'the Conquerors footsteps' in the trail of devalued manors left in their wake. Although Baring's methodology has recently been criticised, and his claim to be able to plot the precise route of armies rejected, there seems little doubt that the disruptive effects of warfare and civil unrest were the most likely cause of the drastic decline in values recorded in all parts of Domesday England, even though this cannot be proven for any particular manor. If this were so, then military activity and civil unrest must have affected the great majority of English communities in the years following the Conquest.
The valuations present many other problems. They were evidently annual payments, and in the vast majority of cases it seems clear that they were payments to the immediate lord of the manor, the lord of the manorial peasantry. But this leaves many important questions unanswered. Do the valuations, for instance, include the value of the manorial appurtenances - mills, meadow, pasture, woodland, etc - which were separately valued? Are they annual rents paid by the peasants? Are they the total income of the lord from his manor, including receipts from the sale of produce from his home farm? Or are they the net output of the manor - that is, its total economic output less only what was needed to keep the manor stocked and the peasants alive? Historians tend to favour the first of these explanations if only because any other explanation would entail unbelievably high levels of taxation. Domesday Book records a total valuation for the whole country of about £72,000, considerable less than the geld which King Canute levied in 1016.
For the debate on 'the Conqueror's footprints', see F.H. Baring, 'The Conqueror's footprints in Domesday', English Historical Review, vol. 13 (1898), pages 17-25; reprinted with corrections in Domesday tables for the counties of Surrey, Berkshire, Middlesex, Hertford, Buckingham and Bedford and the New Forest (1909); Robin Fleming, Kings and lords in Conquest England (1991); and John J.N. Palmer, 'The Conqueror's footprints in Domesday Book', The medieval military revolution, edited by Andrew C. Ayton and J.L. Price (1995), pages 23-44; and for the debate on the meaning of the values, see A commercialising society, edited by R.H. Britnell and B.M.S. Campbell (1995); J.J.N. Palmer, 'Great Domesday on CD-ROM', in Domesday Book: new directions, edited by E. Hallam-Smith and J.C. Holt (London, 2001), page 145; and David Roffe, Decoding Domesday (2007, pages 240-250.