Areas covered

The information from the circuit summaries was collected and edited down to fit into one final volume, which we call Great Domesday. It is likely that some of the information originally surveyed was omitted when it was written up into Great Domesday; as a result Great Domesday is less detailed than Little Domesday. The scribe probably worked at Winchester, the Anglo-Norman capital in the late 11th century. For some reason Great Domesday was never finished, perhaps because of the death of William the Conqueror in September 1087, although it does contain later information.

Great Domesday covers the English counties not included in Little Domesday (Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk) with some exceptions. It does not include the cities of London and Winchester, nor Bristol and Tamworth. Coverage of the north west of England is limited. The counties of Durham and Northumberland are omitted, and coverage of Cumberland, Westmorland and north Lancashire is confined to lands of the King and the fiefsglossary icon of two others. Coverage of south Lancashire is limited. It includes some border areas which are now Wales but at the time were in Anglo-Norman hands.

Great Domesday is predominantly the work of a single scribe (‘A’) with a second scribe (‘B’) working closely with him, possibly supervising him. A few other scribes made a number of very small additions. Great Domesday was written on parchment (animal skin) of good quality. The pages were first lined using series of templates. Initially there were 44 lines per page but this was sometimes increased to more than 70. The pens used for the writing were quills made from the primary feathers of birds. The scribe edited and abbreviated as he recorded information from the circuit summaries. Sometimes he left spaces to come back and fill. He also made many corrections.

Arrangement

Like Little Domesday, Great Domesday is arranged by county. Each county begins with a list of landholders – a kind of numbered contents list – followed by a description of any boroughsglossary icon. This is followed by a description of all the other land held in that county, starting with that held by the King, called in Domesday Terra Regis followed by the lands held by his ecclesiastical tenants-in-chiefglossary icon, lay tenants-in-chief, and finally under-tenants. This follows the same order as that of the numbered list. The holdings of each landowner are listed by manorsglossary icon according to the hundredglossary icon or wapentakeglossary icon in which they are found.

Great Domesday entry for Berkshire. Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.63v
The correcting scribe wrote the entry for Robert Fitzrolf on the final page for Berkshire between entries written above and below by the main scribe (‘A’). This shows that the two scribes were working together at the same time. Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.63v.

The Domesday account for the county of Berkshire, for example, begins with the Terra Regis followed by the lands of the bishops of Winchester, Salisbury and Durham, then the lands of the Abbot of Abingdon, and lastly those of the great lay barons starting with the Count of Evreux. Each of their lands, like those of the King, are divided into hundreds and then subdivided into the manors held. The place-names are scored through with a red line rather like we underline today or use a highlighter. If the scribe forgot to add something he went back and squeezed it in either between existing entries or in the margins.

Opening page for Berkshire beginning with a numbered list of landholders followed by a description of boroughs starting with Wallingford; Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.56
Opening page for Berkshire beginning with a numbered list of landholders followed by a description of boroughs starting with Wallingford;
Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.56.

Great Domesday was probably not started much before the summer of 1086. It may have been abruptly halted in September 1087 when William I died, although the exact timeline for the compilation of the book is not clear and has been much debated by historians. The book consists of 413 leaves of parchment and must have taken some months to complete.

Second page from Berkshire beginning in the right hand column with the land of the King, Terra Regis.  Place names are scored through in red; Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.56v
Second page from Berkshire beginning in the right hand column with the land of the King, Terra Regis. Place names are scored through in red;
Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.56v.
Example from Wiltshire with added information. Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.64v
In this example from Wiltshire the scribe has gone back and added information above and below the initial numbered list of landowners on the left. Because space ran out he has also had to use the foot margin to get all his information in. Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.64v.
Great Domesday entry for Berkshire with transposition signs. Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.61v
In this example from Berkshire the scribe has forgotten to include Enborne in Kintbury hundred amongst the lands of Giles, brother of Ansculf. He has, therefore, added a transposition sign in the middle margin and added the entry alongside the same sign at the bottom of the page. There are many such transposition signs, sometimes more than one on the same page. Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.61v.
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