When I heard about the “Doomsday Book” many years ago I was intrigued. After all, a book with a title like that sounded positively like something that could be the harbinger of the Apocalypse. Naturally I filed it away for future reference assuming we ever got to a point in our civilisation where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride forth.
My first disappointment was the title. It is called the “Domesday Book” and not “Doomsday” as I always thought it was. In fact you can also buy it on Amazon, and in English too! However, for those who were affected by the book and it’s contents it really was a disaster because from what I have read; once recorded in the book you were really up the creak sans paddle!
The book that I started to explore has its own webpage, quaintly referred to as “The first free online copy of Domesday Book”
To know what the book is about you really need to first read the appropriate Wikipedia page. and there you will find the answer to why it was literally doomsday for the people affected by its compilation. “The assessors’ reckoning of a man’s holdings and their values, as recorded in Domesday Book, was dispositive and without appeal.” By the way dispositive means “relating to or bringing about the settlement of an issue or the disposition of property.”
Now the Domesday Book was not written in English, so it is not the sort of thing you can pick up and read, as it was written in medieval Latin, and if that is not bad enough extensive use of abbreviations seemed to have been used too. The sheer scale of the compilation was an achievement all of its own. Technically somebody visited everybody and wrote down what they saw, it is literally a record of England at the time and the book’s colophon states that the survey was completed in 1086. Once that data had been compiled it is probable that a medieval bean counter then rubbed his hands together and worked out who owed the king/baron/local lord/boss and then had that cast in stone (or written on parchment). Reading between the lines one person was responsible for writing it in parchment, although others may have been involved in the writing thereof. At any rate they certainly did not use Times Roman size 10px as their font.
The nitty gritty.
Naturally I was curious to read what it said about the town where I live, and lo and behold there is an entry for it. I copied this “verbatim” from the Opendomesday website.
- Hundred: Tewkesbury
- County: Gloucestershire / Warwickshire
- Total population: 6.9 households (quite small).
- Total tax assessed: 5.6 geld units (quite large).
- Head of manor: Tewkesbury.
- Taxable units: Taxable value 45 geld units. Taxed on 45.0.
- Value: Value to lord in 1066 £10. Value to lord in 1086 £10.
- Households: 4 villagers. 2 smallholders. 20 slaves. 11 female slaves. 5 freedmen. 13 burgesses.
- Ploughland: 26 ploughlands (were there). 11 lord’s plough teams. 6 men’s plough teams.
- Other resources: Meadow 138 acres. Woodland 1.5 * 1.5 leagues. 2 mills, value 1.0. 2 fisheries. 2 salthouses.
- Lord in 1066: Brictric son of Algar.
- Lords in 1086: Bernard (Pancevolt); Gerard (the chamberlain); Ralph <of Cardiff>; King William.
- Tenant-in-chief in 1086: King William.
- Places mentioned in this entry: Aston [-on-Carrant]; Fiddington;Natton; Pamington; Southwick; Tewkesbury; Tredington; Walton [Cardiff].
- Phillimore reference: 1,24
11 female slaves? It is an interesting question because slavery back then was “normal” but who they were is a mystery; captives from a war perhaps? or children sold to landowners? the local debtor? somebody that angered the church? We will never really know. Actually slavery still exists, the only difference is that it is much more hidden and does involve a people trafficking, drugs and all manner of exploitation. Technically all of those people are buried somewhere around here.
The page looks like this…
Tewkesbury is the listing on the bottom right hand side. The line through a name may be a way to mark a reference, I do not know if was like that originally, or whether it was added by the Open Domesday project.
It is heavy reading, especially if you cannot read medieval Latin (or modern Latin). I suspect if you handed that page to your local pharmacist you could come away with a box of extra strength laxatives, 66000 large yellow pills and a bottle of something green.
For me the fascination is having this glimpse into an era that we cannot even conceive. Conditions were primitive, people worked hard, children died young, men and women were always at the beck and call of those lording it in their expensive estates. As a peasant/working man you were considered to be property rather than humanity. The role of the church was large, and any person who lived in his wattle and daub hut next to his small field would always be in awe of the grand buildings that they would encounter on their visits to the local market/ale house.
In 1087, William the Conqueror gave the manor of Tewkesbury to his cousin, Robert Fitzhamon, who, with Giraldus, Abbot of Cranborne, founded the present abbey in 1092. Building of the present Abbey church did not start until 1102. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tewkesbury_Abbey), That shows the great age of the Abbey and its surrounding settlements too. Vasco Da Gama rounded the Cape in 1497 and by then the Domesday Book was probably no longer in use, but strangely enough it still existed, and is usually housed in the National Archives in Kew. (It may be in at Lincoln Castle. at the moment).
It may be viewed as the oldest ‘public record’ in England.
I am glad I dabbled so briefly in the book because the weight of ages hangs heavily over its pages. It weighed heavily on those who it affected, and of course the fact that it still exists today makes it an immeasurable historical document. I often think that when the monks had completed their task they looked at it with pride, and never considered that many centuries down the line their work would still fascinate us, even though we do not know anything about who they were. Sadly they never signed their name at the end, although I suspect that somewhere in those ancient pages you will find a personal mark left behind; kind of like a medieval easter egg on a DVD or popular game.
I have to admit my curiosity may extend to me buying one of those copies just to have that tangible link to a world that has long gone, and to be able to look back and say “What an amazing book!”
Of course credit is due too, and The Open Domesday Project and the associated images are kindly made available by Professor J.J.N. Palmer. Images may be reused under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.
© DRW 2017. Created 15/08/2017. Image by Professor J.J.N. Palmer and George Slater