'Domesday Book' is a statistical survey of England in 1086 AD. It is a census of the population and productive resources of the country, of their value and of who held them. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance to local historians and archaeologists of the availability of a cheap edition of this fundamental source, for the first time in 900 years.
The Domesday survey is far more than just a physical record though. It is a detailed statement of lands held by the king and by his tenants and of the resources that went with those lands. It records which manors rightfully belonged to which estates, thus ending years of confusion resulting from the gradual and sometimes violent dispossession of the Anglo-Saxons by their Norman conquerors. It was moreover a 'feudal' statement, giving the identities of the tenants-in-chief (landholders) who held their lands directly from the Crown, and of their tenants and under tenants.
The questions that were asked are as follows:
- The name of the place. Who held it, before 106, and now?
- How many 'hides'? How many ploughs, both those in lordship and the men's?
- How many villagers, cottagers and slaves, how many free men and Freemen?
- How much woodland, meadow and pasture? How many mills and fishponds?
- How much has been added or taken away? What the total value was and is?
- How much each free man or Freeman had or has? All threefold, before 1066, when King William gave it, and now; and if more can be had than at present?
The text has only once been set and printed, in 1783, in an edition of 1250 copies, many of which have not survived, so that extant examples are expensive and relatively inaccessible. Translations of differing forms and accuracy have been published for most counties, but many are out of print and others are only available as part of large and costly volumes, usually with many technical terms and untranslated.
The present edition corrects the few errors detected in the 18th century setting of the Latin text and provides a parallel, uniform, modern England translation; with a map, indexes and an explanation of the technical terms for each county. 'Domesday Book' was unmatched in Europe for many centuries, the product of a sophisticated and experienced English administration.