Hinde, Thomas (ed). The Domesday Book: England’s Heritage Then and Now.

NY: Crown, 1985.

Domesday Book (often misspelled “Doomsday”) has fascinated me for a long time, both as an historian with a particular interest in the early medieval period, and as an archivist with a love of old documents. There is simply nothing else like it in existence, in any Western country.

The original book itself is very difficult to read since it’s an inventory, not a narrative, and the Latin is extremely abbreviated and compressed, to save space. Nor does it cover the whole of England; the city of London is missing, as is Winchester. Westmorland, Cumberland, and Northumberland were not surveyed because they were still in the process of being conquered by the Normans, and Durham was omitted because the Bishop had sole rights to collect taxes there — and Domesday is, first and foremost, a database for recording the collection of the royal revenues. But this book is not actually a study of Domesday, though it has a good, rather brief introduction on the purpose, process, and subsequent history of the survey. Rather, it’s a selective gazetteer of the 13,000 locations Domesday covered, organized by county, each section being handled by a specialist in local history. Each chapter provides detailed coverage of a few towns and smaller communities, selected to show the area’s geographical and social diversity, followed by an alphabetical list (under modern place names, fortunately), noting major landholders and industrial/agricultural descriptions taken from Domesday. (All of this is based on the 35-volume Phillimore translation.) Maps for each county show how settlements were dispersed, and there are a large number of high-quality photos. The result is a very interesting, though highly selective, overview of England as it was in the late 11th century. I know where most of my own 17th century immigrants to New England came from, and nearly all those towns are included in Domesday. In that connection, it’s interesting to see that the tiny farm village of Winestead, in the East Riding, belonged to the Archbishop of York, while Birdsall (also in Yorkshire) was still largely in the possession of Ulchil, the pre-Conquest holder of the land. But the index covers only the main text and the major entries, of course, not the brief gazetteer listings, so if you want to track every manor owned by Hugh de Montfort or William de Warenne, you’re out of luck. If you want a proper history of Domesday, I recommend Elizabeth Hallam’s Domesday Book Through Nine Centuries, but this is a useful volume in which to browse.

Published in: on 25 May 2012 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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