Most references to the king's barons in Domesday Book occur in a judicial context, either in relation to the Domesday Inquest or to other judicial matters. Occasionally the term is used in the more general sense of the king's greater landowners. Curiously, all of these in Great Domesday occur in entries for boroughs (Bath, Wareham, Warwick). The word is used once in this sense in Little Domesday, but with reference to the greater Anglo-Saxon lords.
The later characteristics of baronial rank and tenure are not apparent in Domesday Book or in other contemporary sources. It is impossible to determine who might have been regarded as of baronial status in 1086, or if indeed that concept were yet current. Historians nevertheless sometimes use the term baron to refer to those tenants-in-chiefallocated their own individual fiefs in Domesday Book (as opposed to the sergeants grouped in collective fiefs). Domesday, however, is not consistent in separating the two groups from each other, so this is at best a crude distinction. As with much of the feudal terminology in Domesday Book, the classic feudal meanings of these terms had yet to evolve.
For further information, see Sidney Painter, Studies in the history of the English feudal barony (1943); F.M. Stenton, The first century of English feudalism (second edition, 1961); English baronies: a study of their origin and descent, 1086-1327, edited by I.J. Sanders (1960); Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (1994); and Judith A. Green, The aristocracy of Norman England (1997).