Conversion tables

One of the Domesday satellite texts - the Yorkshire Summary - suggests that Inquest officials may have prepared conversion tables to enable them to switch between geographically and feudally organised formats for the material they gathered in each county. The Summary itself is organised geographically, by Wapentake and vill. But the name of the tenant-in-chief is interlined above each holding in red. This emphasis (see the Facsimile) makes it a simple clerical task to list the holdings under the name of each tenant-in-chief, thus converting the geographical arrangement of the data into a feudal one.

Surprisingly, the suggestion that conversion tables may have been one of the bureaucratic tools which made the Domesday Inquest so speedy and so efficient has received little attention. If accepted - and it is very plausible - then much of the debate about the 'making of Domesday Book' over the past century has been beside the point. For that debate has centred upon the view - accepted by most scholars - that 'if we knew how Domesday was made, we should know why it was made'. But if the Domesday material could be re-structured with ease, the hypothesis is unfounded.

For more detail, see H.B. Clarke, 'The Domesday satellites', in Domesday Book: a re-assessment edited by Peter H. Sawyer (1985), pages 50-70.