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The Domesday Book from 1085

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The Domesday Book

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Domesday Book - a Survey of English Towns and Villages

The Domesday Book is a list and survey of English towns, settlements, people, land and animals started in 1085 by William the Conqueror. Following the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the defeat of the English King Harold, William the Conqueror became the new king and took away all the land from the English owners and distributed it amongst his own nobles. It was later when he realised that because of these land ownership changes no proper records existed to show who held the land. So, in order to govern his people properly and to collect the correct amount of taxes he sent men out all over England to find out who held each large area of land. The information they collected was quite thorough as it included how big the land was, how many animals they had, how many serfs lived there and even how many fishponds there were.

All this information was recorded in what is now called the Domesday Book and nobody was permitted to argue against what was in it. It was also extremely difficult to understand as well as being incomplete. For example, there is no entry for County Durham as the Bishop of Durham had the exclusive right to tax the county. One of the biggest issues at the time was that William's men were foreigners and did not know how England was made up - the land was divided up into counties and further divided into 'hundreds'.

The Domesday Book also indicates the order in which William conquered the different parts of England as a lot of towns and villages were destroyed as he marched through. These destroyed areas had to recorded as being worth a lot less than they should have been. One recorded entry for the village of Harbury in Warwickshire shows ''it is wasted by the king's army. It was worth ten shillings a year, now it is worth two shillings'.

The Domesday Book has been kept in many places over the centuries but is now safely stored at the National Archives at Kew together with the Domesday Chest.

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