Great and Little Domesday

Domesday Book is preserved in The National Archives (TNA), previously named the Public Record Office. Until it was rebound in 1986, Domesday Book consisted of two volumes, distinctive in appearance and content, each of different origin. Little Domesday contained the three counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. It was produced by local scribes working for the royal commissioners charged with gathering the data for East Anglia and Essex. It was never subjected to a final editing process, nor reduced to the standard format of Great Domesday. It is not known why Little Domesday was left unfinished, though the complexity of the information it contains, or the death of the Conqueror before his project was complete, are the most likely explanations.

Great Domesday contains the remaining 31 counties of Domesday England, abbreviated from a much larger body of data gathered by the Domesday Inquest. Palaeographers are confident that it is almost entirely the work of a single scribe. It is written to a reasonably standard - and very distinctive - format. Most counties begin on a new folio, each folio recording the name of the county by a running head in red ink. Every county is preceded by a numbered index of the fiefs of the great landowners, and each fief is signalled in the text by a chapter heading in bold capitals, struck through in red. Within each fief, the names of Hundreds and place-names are normally capitalised and lined in red. The beginning of each entry is usually emphasised by a large initial capital and the use of colour.

These and other calligraphic conventions make Great Domesday easy to consult for those matters of interest to the king, in particular anything related to the lands held from him by his most wealthy and powerful subjects, his tenants-in-chief.

For the manuscript and scribe of Great Domesday, see Alexander R. Rumble, 'The palaeography of the Domesday manuscripts', Domesday Book: a reassessment, edited by Peter H. Sawyer (1985), pages 28-49, and 'The Domesday manuscripts: scribes and scriptoria', Domesday studies, edited by J.C. Holt (1987), pages 79-99; Michael Gullick and Caroline Thorn, 'The scribes of Great Domesday Book: a preliminary account, Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol. 8 part 1 (1986), pages 78-80; and Michael Gullick, 'The Great and Little Domesday manuscripts, Domesday Book: studies, edited by Ann Williams and R.W.H. Erskine (1987), pages 93-112.