Unravelling British History: Why Was the Domesday Book the Most Important Historical Document to Ever Be Written?

Fareeha Arshad

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The original Domesday (1086), present in the National Archives, EnglandFlickr

Wiliam the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard, was the first Norman ruler of England. His infamous conquest of 1066 brought him a position and power that were unmatched at that time. However, his authority didn’t remain stable for long. Two decades after coming to power, his son Robert started looking for ways to overthrow his father and become the sole ruler of England. Meantime, Denmark’s King Cnut also planned to destroy the great conqueror.

Seeing the threat to his monarch looming in front of his eyes, King William gathered one of the largest and strongest armies the world had seen. Expecting a similar invasion like he once did in 1066, he strengthened his hold over the land and the coastlines. But, still unsure of his power over the people of England, he ordered his men to conduct a nationwide survey that would hold the record of every single being present in the land. And thus began the compilation of the Domesday Book.

The history of this Domesday Book

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The firs<u>t entry in the Do</u>omsday bookWikimedia Commons

Medieval England was sorted into seven ‘circuits’, each with five ‘shires’. Loyal officials were given few weeks to gather all necessary information regarding the properties and their owners from each of the shires. Every landowner was also asked to provide evidence of their property and from when they owned it. After all the data was gathered, one royal official compiled it into a single document that served as the blueprint of the Great Domesday Book. The entire process could have taken anywhere between few months to a couple of years.

By the time the official book was almost formulated, King William had passed away. This caused the final compilation to pause abruptly. Thus, the Domesday Book is not present as one book. Instead, there are two separate books: the Great Domesday Book and the Little Domesday Book. This book was called with multiple names like the ‘survey of all England’, the ‘king’s book’, or the ‘book of the Exchequer’, among other titles. Because of the high reputation this book held among the people and the royals, it was called the Domesday Book like the ‘Doomsday’ in the Book of Revelation.

The need for the survey

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Counties of England in 1086Wikimedia Commons

Amidst the wars sizzling around his kingdom, why would King William suddenly order to perform a detailed survey of every person in the land and every property they held? Perhaps, the king needed more tax money to strengthen his army and finance wars. The book indeed held all necessary information that would help manage the tax money better and avoid the excessive money flow in the hands of corrupt tax collectors.

With the kind of data the book held primarily for the English rulers, it became the single, most important document in medieval England.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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