Domesday Book

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Curriculum topics: Medieval Life

Suggested inquiry questions: How important is Domesday book?

Potential activities: Draw a map or diagram to show what the source reveals about landownership in Patcham: Write a short drama about the visit from William I’s commissioner to Patcham.

Download: Lesson pack

What can we learn about England in the 11th century?

Domesday Book is the oldest government record held in The National Archives. In fact there are two Domesday Books – Little Domesday and Great Domesday, which together contain a great deal of information about England in the 11th century. In 1086, King William I (the Conqueror) wanted to find out about all the land in his new kingdom: who owned which property, who else lived there, how much the land was worth and therefore how much tax he could charge, so he sent official government inspectors around England to ask questions in local courts.

Fixed questions were asked, such as what the place was called, who owned it, how many men lived there, how many cows were there and so on. For each property, the questions were asked three times to see what changes had happened over time so that the king would know about the lands in Edward the Confessor’s time (before 1066), who William I had given it to and what it was worth then, and finally what the situation was in 1086 at the time of the survey. All the results of these questions were handwritten into the Domesday Book by scribes.

Use this lesson to find out more about the contents of Domesday Book and discover the purpose behind it.


Tasks

1. Who holds Patcham after 1066? How did the change in ownership of land help William increase his control over the country?

2. What is a ‘hide’?

  • a type of peasant
  • a shelter
  • a measurement of land
  • a place where you cannot be seen

3. How many oxen are there in the village? Remember each plough is pulled by a team of eight oxen.

4. How many people live in this village?

5. Make a list of all the people in the village, starting with those who hold the most land and ending with the poorest members of the village.

6. Name two jobs, apart from ploughing, which this source reveals.

7. Work out the number of acres of land in the village. Remember one hide = 120 acres; an acre is roughly the size of a football pitch.

8. What do you think the woodland was used for?

9. What was the value of the land when William the Conqueror became king in 1066? What had happened to its value by 1086?

10. Think about your answers for question 9. Why do you think King William was interested in knowing the value of the land?


Background

On 5 January 1066, Edward the Confessor, the King of England, died. Harold Godwin was crowned King of England. Two other men claimed that the throne belonged to them: Harold Hardrada, King of Norway; the other was William Duke of Normandy. Harold Hardrada invaded the north of England but the King managed to defeat his army. Shortly after, William – had landed in the south of England. On 14 October 1066, the English and Norman armies clashed in a battle just outside Hastings, in which Harold died – legend has it that King Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow! William, Duke of Normandy was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066.

William took all the land and important jobs in the Government and Church away from the Saxons and divided it up amongst his Norman friends. He built castles to make the English feel so scared that they would not dare even to think about causing trouble. By 1085, William had a shortage of money and also many Normans had begun to disagree amongst themselves over the land they had been given as a reward for helping conquer England. William wanted to settle these disputes once and for all. Thus William decided to order a survey. The survey would list all the land in England. It would list who was looking after each area, what lands they had, and which other people lived there. Importantly, the survey would find out how much tax-money William could get from this land. Official government inspectors were sent around the country to gather information. The people in England spoke Saxon English and the Norman inspectors spoke French and Latin. A jury, which included the local important men such as the village priest and reeve who could understand the different languages, had to decide whether their neighbours were telling the truth.

The results of this survey were written into Domesday Book. Great Domesday contains most of the counties of England and was written by one scribe and checked by a second. Little Domesday, which contains the information for Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, was probably written first and is the work of at least six scribes. Domesday Book describes almost all of England and more than 13,000 places are mentioned in it. Most of them still survive today. London, Winchester, County Durham and Northumberland were not included in King William’s survey. In spite of these omissions, the survey gives a wealth of information, as well as highlighting that a lot of property had been destroyed by William’s invasion in 1066. Most of the land originally owned by 2000 Saxons belonged to 200 Norman barons in 1086, showing just how powerful the Norman lords had become!


Teachers' notes

This lesson could be used in a scheme of work covering the development of Church, state and society in Medieval Britain 1066-1509 which includes the Norman Conquest.

Students are introduced to a single extract from Domesday Book about a place called Patcham in Sussex. From the source, using the transcript they can find out who held the land, what animals were kept there, how it was used and what it was worth during the time of Edward the Confessor and later in time of William Conqueror.

Teachers could also discuss how did William I used Domesday Book to assert his control of England and why he wanted to carry out such a survey of the kingdom. Again is worth exploring how hard life was for medieval people in town and country and asking what can Domesday Book tell us about medieval society? What other sources could we use to find out about this period?

Connections to Curriculum

Key stage 1 & 2
Lives of significant individuals: William the Conqueror; Significant historical events, people and places in their own locality: a study of an aspect of history or a site dating from a period beyond 1066 that is significant in the locality.

Key stage 3
The development of Church, state and society in Medieval Britain 1066-1509: The Norman Conquest

Sources

1. Illustration image: Page from Vol. 1 of Great Domesday, Catalogue ref: E 31/2/1, f.26b
2. Source 1: Extract of page from Vol. 1 of Great Domesday, showing survey entry of Preston Hundred in Sussex, Catalogue ref: E 31/2/1, f.26b.


External links

The Domesday Book Online

This site gives background information to Domesday Book, its creation, historical context, and a timeline.

https://opendomesday.org/

Free online version of Domesday Book

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Curriculum topics: Medieval Life

Suggested inquiry questions: How important is Domesday book?

Potential activities: Draw a map or diagram to show what the source reveals about landownership in Patcham: Write a short drama about the visit from William I’s commissioner to Patcham.

Download: Lesson pack

Related resources

Domesday Book: medieval treasure

What can we learn about people’s lives in 1086?