What is "The Doomsday [Domesday] Book"?
I'm watching Foyle's War, a TV series from the UK, and in the episode I just saw, there was a farmer who said to a policeman that a plot of land had been in his family since the "doomsday book was written". What the heck is a doomsday book? [ed note: it's not called the "doomsday book", but rather the "domesday book", but I'll get into that in a minute]
To explain what the Domesday Book was, we'll need to go back in time a bit. About 1000 years, actually, to early English history...
In the year 1066 William The Bastard of Normandy invaded England in what became known as the Battle of Hastings. Defeating the English, he took the crown and was named William I of England. You probably know him better as William the Conquerer, however. Same guy, just a bunch of different titles.
Twenty years after the invasion, it appears that King William was sitting with some of his royal advisors, complaining about taxes (yeah, even a thousand years ago The Man was looking for tax revenue!) when this transpired:
"After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out 'How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire."(that quote is from the introduction to the book itself).
And, oh yes, there really is a book:
So basically the book is the very first census report, and it proves a hugely important historical document because it lets us see how land was allocated and who owned what all those centuries ago.
The BBC has a nice mini-site about the Domesday Book, where it explains, in a rather Brit-centric manner:
"It is our earliest public record, the foundation document of the national archives and a legal document that is still valid as evidence of title to land.The previous picture doesn't give you a great sense of the contents, but if you look at the image on the right, you can see a photograph of the frontpiece. Quite impressive!
Wondering what these early census takers were asking the land owners? Here's the list of questions:
What I find so amazing about this is how contemporary so much of this seems. Remember, it was compiled ten centuries ago. That's a lotta time!
So in the terrific series Foyle's War, the character is basically saying "this land has been in our family for hundreds of years, all the way back to the survey of 1086". Make sense now?
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