The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The Domesday Book, 1086
One of the most remarkable documents generated by the new circumstances King William
faced in England was Domesday Book, a veritable treasure trove on information for King
William (as well as for the modern historian!). The following documents explain some of
the chief features of the survey.
The Genesis of the Survey, 1086
The king spent Christmas with his councillors at Gloucester, and held his court there
for five days, which was followed by a three-day synod held by the archbishop and the
clergy. At this synod Maurice was elected bishop of London and William bishop of Norfolk
and Robert bishop of Cheshire: they were all chaplains of the king. After this the king
had important deliberations and exhaustive discussions with his council about this land
and how it was peopled, and with what sort of men. Then he sent his men all over England
into every shire to ascertain how many hundreds of 'hides' of land there were in each
shire. He also had it recorded how much land his archbishops had, and his diocesan
bishops, his abbots and his earls, and--though I may be going into too great detail--and
what or how much each man who was a landholder here in England had in land or live-stock,
and how much money it was worth. So very thoroughly did he have the inquiry carried out
that there was not a single 'hide,' not one virgate of land, not even--it is shameful to
record it, but it did not seem shameful for him to do--not even one ox, nor one cow, nor
one pig which escaped notice in his survey. And all the surveys were subsequently brought
William the Conqueror Assessed
If anyone would know what manner of man King William was, the glory that he obtained, and
of how many lands he as lord, then will we describe him as we have known him, we who had
looked upon him and who once lived at his court. This King William...was a very wise and
great man, and more honored and more powerful than any of his predecessors. He was mild to
those good men who loved God, but severe beyond measure to those who withstood his will.
He founded a noble monastery [Battle Abbey] on the spot where God permitted him to conquer
England., and he established monks in it, and he made it very rich. In his days the great
monastery at Canterbury was built, and many others also throughout England; moreover, this
land was filled with monks who lived after the ule of St. Benedict; and such was the state
of religion in his days that all who would, might observe that which was prescribed by
their respective orders.
King William was also held in much reverence. He wore his crown three times every year
when he was in England: at Easter he wore it at Winchester, at Pentecost at Westminster,
and at Christmas at Gloucester. And at these times all the men of England were with him,
archbishops, bishops, abbots and earls, thanes and knights. So also was he a very stern
and wrathful man, so that none durst do anything against his will, and he kept in prison
those earls who acted against his pleasure. He removed bishops from their sees and abbots
from their offices, and he imprisoned thanes, and at length he spared not his own
[half-]brother Odo. This Odo was a very powerful bishop in Normandy. His see was that of
Bayeux, and he was foremost to serve the king. He had an earldom in England, and when
William was in Normandy he [Odo] was the first man in this country, and him did William
cast into prison.
Amongst other things, the good order that William established is not to be forgotten. It
was such that any man...might travel over the kingdom with a bosom full of gold
unmolested; and no man durst kill another, however great the injury he might have received
from him. He reigned over England, and being sharp-sighted to his own interest, he
surveyed the kingdom so thoroughly that there was not a single hide of land throughtout
the whole of which he knew not the possessor, and how much it was worth, and this he
afterward entered in his register. The land of the Britons [Wales] was under his sway, and
he built castles therein; moreover he had full dominion over the Isle of Man; Scotland was
also subject to him...; the land of Normandy was his by inheritance, and he possessed the
earldom of Maine, and had he lived two years longer, he would have subdued Ireland by his
prowess, and that without a battle.
Truely there was much trouble in these times, and very great distress. He caused castles
to be built and oppressed the poor. The king was also of great sterness, and he took from
his subjects many marks of gold, and many hundred pounds of silver, and this, either with
or without right, and with little need. He was given to avarice and greedily loved gain.
He made large forests for the deer, and enacted laws therewith, so that whoever killed a
hart or a hind should be blinded. As he forbade killing the deer, so also the boars; and
he loved the tall stags as if he were their father. He also commanded concerning the
hares, that they should go free. The rich complained and the poor murmured, but he was so
sturdy that he took no notice of them; they must will all that the king willed, if they
would live, or keep their lands,...or be maintained in their rights. Alas that any man
should so exalt himself.... We have written concerning him these things, both good and
bad, that virtuous men may follow after the good, and wholly avoid the evil, and may go in
the way that leadeth to the kingdom of heaven.
[from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub anno 1086, as it appears in F. A. Ogg, A
Source Book of Medieval History (New York, 1907)]
from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub anno 1085, as it appears in J. H. Robinson, Readings
in European History (Boston: 1904)
This text is part of the Internet
Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No
permission is granted for commercial use.
Paul Halsall, July 1998