COMMISSIONED IN 1085
PARTIALLY COMPLETED IN 1086
WILLIAM DIED IN 1087
William used the introduction of the Norman feudal system to punish Saxon rebels, seize their land and property ... and give it out to loyal Normans (and Saxons who would pledge loyalty). Even the great rebel Hereward the Wake eventually became a loyal subject ... AFTER he regained land and property that had been seized from his family. The Domesday Book ensured William had a detailed record of who had wealth, land, property, livestock and so could tax it.
MrHistoryHelp's 3 min guide to the Domesday book
A Commisioner speaks out on behalf of his king...
The Domesday Book is a great land survey from 1086, commissioned by William the Conqueror to assess the extent of the land and resources being owned in England at the time, and the extent of the taxes he could raise. The information collected was recorded by hand in two huge books, in the space of around a year. William died before it was fully completed.
It was written by an observer of the survey that "there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out". The grand and comprehensive scale on which the Domesday survey took place (see How it was compiled), and the irreversible nature of the information collected led people to compare it to the Last Judgement, or 'Doomsday', described in the Bible, when the deeds of Christians written in the Book of Life were to be placed before God for judgement. This name was not adopted until the late 12th Century. (domesdaybook.co.uk)
It was an exercise unparalleled in contemporary Europe, and was not matched in its comprehensive coverage of the country until the population censuses of the 19th century - although Domesday itself is not a full population census, and the names that appear in it are mainly only those of people who owned land.
Providing definitive proof of rights to land and obligations to tax and military service, its 913 pages and two million Latin words describe more than 13,000 places in England and parts of Wales. Nicknamed the 'Domesday' Book by the native English, after God's final Day of Judgement, when every soul would be assessed and against which there could be no appeal ...
In 1066 William Duke of Normandy defeated the Anglo-Saxon King, Harold II, at the Battle of Hastings and became King of England. In 1085 England was again threatened with invasion, this time from Denmark. William had to pay for the mercenary army he hired to defend his kingdom. To do this he needed to know what financial and military resources were available to him.
At Christmas 1085 he commissioned a survey to discover the resources and taxable values of all the boroughs and manors in England. He wanted to discover who owned what, how much it was worth and how much was owed to him as King in tax, rents, and military service. A reassessment of the tax known as the geld took place at about the same time as Domesday and still survives for the south west. But Domesday is much more than just a tax record. It also records which manors belonged to which estates and gives the identities of the King’s tenants-in-chief who owed him military service in the form of knights to fight in his army. The King was essentially interested in tracing, recording and recovering his royal rights and revenues which he wished to maximise. It was also in the interests of his chief barons to co-operate in the survey since it set on permanent record the tenurial gains they had made since 1066. (nationalarchives)