Domesday Facts & Fictions

Some twenty years after the Norman Conquest, at His Christmas Court at Gloucester in 1085, William the Conqueror ordered the Domesday Inquest 'after very deep conversation with his council about this land, how it was occupied, or with which men ... and how much land each man had ... and how much it was worth'.

The Inquest was begun and completed in 1086

From the earliest times, Domesday Book was kept under lock and key in the Royal Treasury with the king's most valuable possessions; today it is in the Public Record Office, now the UK National Archives.

Domesday Book is superbly organised for easy reference and the business of government. Its utility has guaranteed both its fame and its long life. Some 900 years after it was written, it has been cited as evidence in legal proceedings.

There have been some curious notions about its contents. It has been seen as:

  • The Last Judgement

  • a guarantee of peasant freedom

  • a record of royal tyranny

  • evidence of English dominion of the seas

  • a repertory of colourful tales

In the fourteenth century, many peasants claimed their freedom on the basis of Domesday Book. In the seventeenth century, Domesday Book was seen as evidence of the Norman Yoke, the root of royal absolutism and tyranny. Samuel Pepys sought evidence of English "dominion of the sea" in Domesday.

The reputation of Domesday Book reached even the rural backwaters of the Mississippi valley where, 800 years later, Huck Finn told the tale of Henry VIII and his many wives recorded there.

Sources on the Crown lands of Charles I have been called a Domesday of Crown Lands, or Oliver Cromwell's surveys. In 1910, Chancellor Lloyd George ordered a New Domesday survey; but he was eventually compelled to abandon the effort by opposition from the landed interest. No new Domesday Book was compiled, and many of the records of the survey have been dispersed and lost.

In 1986, on the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Inquest, the BBC undertook a new Domesday survey. In 1997 Chancellor Gordon Brown ordered a Register of National Assets, dubbed Domesday Book II by the press. There was resistance from other branches of government. After more than four years, no publication has occurred.

See also: Welcome, Domesday Book, Bibliography, Links