Twenty years after the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror ordered the Domesday Inquest. At his Christmas court at Gloucester, he 'had great thought and very deep conversation with his council about this country, how it was occupied, and with what sort of people.' The outcome of this deep conversation was recorded, somewhat dyspeptically, by the English chronicler:
'then he sent his men all over England, into every county, and had them find out how many hundreds of hides there were in the county, or what land or livestock the king himself had in the land, or what dues he ought to have each year. He also had recorded how much land his archbishops, bishops, abbots and earls possessed, and - though I grow long-winded - what or how much each landowner in England had in land or livestock, and how much money it was worth. He had all this investigated so very thoroughly that ... not one ox nor one cow nor one pig was left unrecorded,'
a shameful act in the chronicler's opinion. Nevertheless, he thought the Inquest to be one of the Conqueror's major achievements, worthy of a significant place in his obituary.
The chronicler recorded that 'all the writings were brought to him' after the Inquest, almost certainly before he left England for the last time in the late summer of 1086. The colophon to Little Domesday Book recorded that 'This survey was made in the 1086th year since the Incarnation of the Lord, and in the 20th of the reign of William not only through these three counties but also through the others.'
V.H. Galbraith, The making of Domesday Book (1961), has been the standard work on the Domesday Inquest for the past generation and remains the best introduction to the subject though many of its conclusions have recently been challenged by David Roffe, Domesday: the Inquest and the Book (2000).
The procedures of the Domesday Inquest, and the major sources generated by the survey, are described under the following headings: