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Decoding Domesday

Decoding Domesday

David Roffe
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 394
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  • Book Info
    Decoding Domesday
    Book Description:

    The Domesday Book is one of our major sources for a crucial period of English history; yet it remains difficult to interpret. This provocative new book proposes a complete re-assessment, with profound implications for our understanding of the society and economy of medieval England. In particular, it overturns the general assumption that the Domesday inquest was a comprehensive survey of lords and their lands, and so tells us about the economic underpinning of power in the late eleventh century; rather, it suggests that in 1086 matters of taxation and service were at issue and data were collected to illuminate these concerns. What emerges from this is that Domesday Book tells us less about a real economy and those who sustained it than a tributary one, with much of the wealth of England being omitted. The source, then, is not the transparent datum that social and economic historians would like it to be. In return, however, the book offers a richer understanding of late eleventh-century England in its own terms; and elucidates many long-standing conundrums of the Domesday Book itself. DAVID ROFFE is an honorary research fellow at Sheffield University. He has written widely on Domesday Book and edited five volumes of the Alecto County Edition of the text.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-531-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. 1 Domesday Past and Present
    (pp. 1-28)

    It is unlikely that Domesday Book will ever join the Bible and Shakespeare as an indispensable companion of the castaway marooned on a desert island. Nonetheless in one way or another it is a cultural icon of equal power in English consciousness. For many today that power is all but subliminal. ‘Domesday’ is nowadays most often used as a tabloid term for any comprehensive list with pretensions to permanent record. We have had the BBC Domesday of 1986 (sadly unreadable after twenty years of technological advance),¹ a Domesday of the government art collection, a Domesday of village greens, even a...

  8. 2 The Domesday Texts
    (pp. 29-61)

    It is no doubt the iconic status of Domesday Book in the medieval period that has ensured the survival of a mass of documentation from the Domesday process. No fewer than thirty-three texts can be directly related to the enterprise. Of these the three largest are contemporary manuscripts. Exon is a composite document. The bulk of it is a series of accounts, fee by fee, of the lands of the king and his tenants-in-chief in Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall with a single Wiltshire entry. Interspersed are geld accounts, related to aninquisitio geldi, lists ofterre occupate, that is...

  9. 3 The Inquest and the Book
    (pp. 62-108)

    Domesday Book was clearly abbreviated from the documentation of the Domesday inquest, but it is another matter to claim that inquest and book were conceived of as an integrated process. There is nothing in the texts themselves that necessarily demands such a conclusion. It is as well, then, first to consider what an inquest of the Domesday type was and what sorts of records it commonly produced. This is easier said than done. In the last fifty years or so it has become increasingly clear that the inquest was not a Norman importation. Something like the jury of presentment is...

  10. 4 The Domesday Boroughs
    (pp. 109-143)

    There were 120 or so settlements in Domesday Book that can be categorized as in some sense urban. Fifteen are called cities (civitas), the remainder, either directly or by implication, boroughs (burgus). ¹Civitastranslates OEcæster, ‘city, walled town, fortification’, and refers to former Roman settlements.Burgus, representing OEburh, ‘stronghold’, had less specific connotations.² There was many a borough, even major ones like Derby, that had never been defended.³ By the eleventh centuryburgushad come to mean something like the modern ‘town’, and as such embraced all settlements of the kind, including cities. A vibrant urban economy...

  11. 5 Lordship, Land, and Service
    (pp. 144-182)

    Lordship was central to Domesday Book and clearly important in the Domesday inquest. Its nature both before and after the Conquest has been a major concern of politicians and historians alike from at least the mid thirteenth century when Matthew Paris opined ‘here the manifest oppression of England began’.¹ Various notions have collided in the debate: the free Saxons and the Norman yoke, anarchy and reason, native and foreign, innocence and experience.² Steering a course through the minefield is one of the greatest challenges in Anglo-Norman history. All agree that King William replaced the Old English aristocracy with his followers,...

  12. 6 The Vill and Taxation
    (pp. 183-209)

    While personal service as an attribute of land tenure is no longer perceived as an exclusively Norman phenomenon, it is generally still seen as the antithesis of taxation. Gentlemen fought for their lords, while peasants paid their taxes. This dichotomy is again artificial. Tax and service were closely inter-linked exactions. At first sight this may surprise. It is clear from the records of the geld inquest in the South West that the demesne of GDB held by tenants-in-chief (but not their tenants) did not pay geld. In hundred after hundred the non-gelding land can be equated with the landin...

  13. 7 The Economy and Society
    (pp. 210-256)

    In the transition from lordship and tax assessment to stocking and value, the Domesday entry appears to move from the ineffable to the real. And as such, with a collective sigh of relief, have economic and social historians tended to treat the details of the lord’s demesne, his ploughs, the population of the manor, and its resources in ploughs, meadow, woodland, pasture, churches, mills and the like, and finally value. None would now espouse the nineteenth-century view that Domesday is an exhaustive survey of communities, but it is widely assumed that it provides a comprehensive picture of the economic underpinning...

  14. 8 The Communities of the Shire
    (pp. 257-279)

    It is, of course, a truism to assert that Domesday Book is about lords and manors. The GDB scribe made a half-hearted attempt to enter boroughs as settlements, but otherwise communities hardly get a look-in. However, the same cannot be claimed for the earliest stage of the Domesday inquest. Tenants-in-chief as holders of land were, of course, major participants in the process throughout, but it was local communities — the vill, the hundred, the riding, the shire — that presented and validated the evidence that they provided. In the initial sessions local communities were even its subject. The geld inquest waspar...

  15. 9 The Beyond of Domesday
    (pp. 280-305)

    Domesday Book incorporates history into its very fabric. It may not have been compiled to document the Norman Conquest and settlement, but it does so because ‘the day on which King Edward was alive and dead’ was set as the term of the assize for the changes which the Domesday inquest wished to document. This perspective has, perhaps, been one of the most important characteristics that have ensured a continuing fascination with the record. From early on in its history Domesday has been used to reconstruct Old English society, becoming, as we have seen, first a pawn in successive political...

  16. 10 Domesday Now
    (pp. 306-319)

    In the preceding pages I have been at pains to argue that the abandonment of the concept of a single purpose for the Domesday enterprise provides a better basis for understanding Domesday data. Once released from the necessity of thinking in black and white terms, it is possible to perceiveprocesses(as opposed to quantities) that make better sense of the often apparently contradictory evidence. The result has been glimpses of a very different Anglo-Norman society and economy. In this chapter these perceptions are summarized and put into the wider context of the evolution of England from a tributary society...

  17. Appendix: The main entry forms of GDB
    (pp. 320-322)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-348)
  19. Index
    (pp. 349-374)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 375-375)