Great Domesday Book

Great Domesday Book – Alecto Historical Editions – E 31/2/1 and E 31/2/2 – National Archives (London, United Kingdom)

Winchester (United Kingdom) β€” 1086–1087

Not the "Last Judgment," but the creation of a tax base: the extensive records for William the Conqueror concerning his subjects and their properties

  1. King William the Conqueror (ca. 1028–1087) commissioned a survey of his newly acquired kingdom in 1085

  2. The King’s men combed the length and breadth of England to determine the tax burden of the country's towns and villages

  3. The name commonly applied to the manuscript first appeared in 1221 and is an allusion to the Last Judgement

Great Domesday Book

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Great Domesday Book

Twenty years after he won the Kingdom of England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror ordered a census of his new realm that would not be surpassed in scope and detail until the late 19th century. The massive tome was used by the kings of England to determine the taxes owed to them. Its name β€œDomesday” is a reference to the Apocalypse, indicating that the contents of the book are as final as the Last Judgement. The census and the resulting manuscript were completed in 1086 and helped the Normans to create the wealthiest and best organized kingdom of the High Middle Ages.

Great Domesday Book

β€œThen, at the midwinter [1085], was the king in Gloucester with his council ... . 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 β€˜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’.”
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

This famous tome was completed in 1086 at the behest of King William the Conqueror (ca. 1028-1087) in order to record the findings of the β€œGreat Survey” described above. This was used by William and his successors to determine what taxes and other dues they could expect, and the extent of royal land holdings. It is written in Latin, with some vernacular where Latin equivalents did not exist. An invaluable source on medieval England for modern historians and economists, no other survey approaching the scope and extent of the Domesday Book was made in Britain for nearly 800 years until the 1873 Return of Owners of Land, referred to as the β€œModern Domesday”.

A Working Document

Neatly written in black ink with red flourishes, corrections were made by crossing the words out with red ink and replacing them with text written in red. Most villages and towns in England are listed – 13,418 place names in total – save for those cities with tax exempt status, like London, areas in the North not yet under royal control, or territories where the local bishop had the exclusive right to taxation. It originally consisted to two volumes that were later combined: the β€œLittle Domesday” covering much of Southern England, physically smaller but more detailed, and the β€œGreat Domesday” covering the rest of England with less detail but more systematically.

As Final as Judgment Day

The name commonly applied to the manuscript first appeared in 1221 and is an allusion to the Last Judgement, i.e. doomsday or β€œdomesday” according to contemporary English. This was, according to Richard FitzNeal (ca. 1130-98), royal treasurer to William the Conqueror’s grandson King Henry II (1133-89) because:
β€œThe book is metaphorically called by the native English, Domesday, i.e., the Day of Judgement. For as the sentence of that strict and terrible last account cannot be evaded by any skillful subterfuge, so when this book is appealed to on those matters which it contains, its sentence cannot be quashed or set aside with impunity. That is why we have called the book "the Book of Judgement", ... not because it contains decisions on various difficult points, but because its decisions, like those of the Last Judgement, are unalterable.”


Alternative Titles
Das große Buch vom Jüngsten Tag
Book of Winchester
King's Roll
Book of the Treasury
The Great Survey
Liber de Wintonia
Size / Format
826 pages / 36.7 Γ— 25.8 cm
Census and land survey of the year 1086
William the Conqueror

Available facsimile editions:
Great Domesday Book – Alecto Historical Editions – E 31/2/1 and E 31/2/2 – National Archives (London, United Kingdom)
Alecto Historical Editions – Salisbury, 2000
Limited Edition: 450 copies
Detail Picture

Great Domesday Book


At the time of the survey, the royal estates in Sussex included two manors: one of which was the present-day village of Bosham. The short passage describes it as a very wealthy possession, including over 56 hides of land, a church, eight mills, two fisheries, and a wood "for six pigs" - pigs were herded through woods in the Middle Ages to feed on acorns and the like. This manor was farmed by 39 villans in feudal dependence, 50 bordars in serfdom and 17 slaves with a total of 25 ploughs, 6 of which were the property of the king. The estate also included an enclosure in Chichester, five miles away. The value of the property and the taxes paid by the mills and fisheries, for example, are always included.

Great Domesday Book – Alecto Historical Editions – E 31/2/1 and E 31/2/2 – National Archives (London, United Kingdom)
Single Page

Great Domesday Book

Map of England in 1086/87

This and other maps have been included with the facsimile in order to make clear just how comprehensive the survey ordered by William the Conqueror was. Commissioned twenty years after he seized the throne of Anglo-Saxon England, ushering in a new epoch of Norman rule, it allowed William to take stock of his new kingdom and the taxes owed to him as sovereign.

There are over 13,000 brown dots indicating all identifiable villages and manors recorded in the manuscript. 114 red dots identify boroughs, which are defined by the presence of burgesses, freemen who were largely from the merchant class. 49 blue crosses mark all of the monastic house while 15 bishops’ sees, i.e. cathedral towns, are marked by a blue cross with a red dot in the middle.

Great Domesday Book – Alecto Historical Editions – E 31/2/1 and E 31/2/2 – National Archives (London, United Kingdom)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Great Domesday Book – The Millennium Edition

Alecto Historical Editions – Salisbury, 2000

Publisher: Alecto Historical Editions – Salisbury, 2000
Limited Edition: 450 copies
Binding: Both facsimile volumes have a brown calfskin binding, based on the earliest known 12th century binding of the original manuscripts. The facsimile edition also comes with a matching cassette containing modern land survey maps with the results of the Great Domesday Book entered for comparison.
Commentary: 3 volumes
Language: English

The two-volume translation follows the original manuscript and facsimile line by line.
The facsimile edition also contains a separate volume with an index of relevant persons and places.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
You might also be interested in:
Little Domesday Book – Alecto Historical Editions – E 31/1/1, E 31/1/2, and E 31/1/3 – National Archives (London, United Kingdom)
Little Domesday Book
Royal Chancery, Winchester (England) – 1086

The counterpart to the famous Great Domesday Book: not a doomsday proclamation, but amazingly detailed records on the lands of Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk as well as their inhabitants

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