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August 04, 2006

Domesday online .....

Today the Domesday Book should be available online at the National Archives website. I haven't yet managed to find where they have hidden it, but I have found a whole lot of fun information about the book which could be used to bore your dinner guests and companions next time you are stuck for something to say. The original is a list of all the property owned within the boundaries of the Kingdom of England. It was compiled in 1085 - 1086 by the Chancellor of the Kingdom at the orders of William I - also known as Duke William of Normandy and "The Conqueror". He gave the order, interestingly enough, in Gloucester, where he and his court were wintering as he had a desire to "know the Kingdom and his subjects" - more succinctly, who should be paying tax and how much!

Gloucester has another, possibly less well known link with the Conqueror. His eldest son Robert, Duke of Normandy, is buried (perhaps not the right description since he is actually contained in a wooden casket in the ambulatory) in Gloucester Cathedral. Robert should have been King after William I's death, but William II (Rufus) beat him to the crown and had him banged up in Cardiff Castle "for the rest of his natural" as I have heard one guide put it. Robert now resides in the South Ambulatory in a wonderfully colourful cataflaque. In an amusing twist, he spent the second world war resting on the crate that contained the Coronation Chair from Westminster Abbey when the treasures from there were stored in the Crypt of Gloucester Cathedral and Robert was removed and placed there for safety as well. He never sat on the chair in life, but "sat" on it for six years in death - almost 900 years after he missed his chance.

The Domesday Book was originally known as the "Winchester Roll" or the "Book of the Treasury", but by the 13th Century had become known by its present name - presumably because, as with the Day of Judgement, there was no appeal against any judgement made on its content! It does make interesting reading - and one becomes very aware of just how small the population of these islands was at that time. Villages listed in it, many of them still in existence, show populations of under a hundred (remembering that the book lists only the adult males!) so a village listed as having eighteen "Villagers", seven "Riders" and two "Ploughs" probably means that the overall piopulation would have been around fifty, since the "Villagers" would have been males of arms bearing age, the "riders" the same and their wives, and children would at least treble the number. Interestingly a "Villager" was someone who "owned" a small piece of land sufficient to keep a family and a surplus of produce to sell on. A "Rider" on the other hand was a hired man who escorted the Villagers and their produce to market. The village this information is taken from is today home to several thousand and the days of the individual supporting themselves on the land assigned to them are long gone - in fact there is no arable land for them to farm in sufficient intesnity to do so.

As it stands, the Domesday Book provides us with a fascinating look at life in the 11th Century - but perhaps it also tells us that we need to manage our resources and, dare I say it, our population levels, a whole lot better than we currently do!

Posted by The Gray Monk at August 4, 2006 08:02 AM

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