According to the Saxon Chronicle the Domesday Book was compiled on the 1085 orders of King William 1. He wanted the Domesday Book to be a comprehensive assessment of the potential amount of tax he could raise from his subjects and their assets. He sent out Commissioners to establish what and how much land, livestock and resources each landowner held and their worth. In one area it is known that the Commissioners were told to find out the following:
What is the manor called?
Who held it before 1066? [i.e. the last day of the reign of Edward the Confessor 5 January 1066]
Who holds it now?
How much land was held?
How many ploughs?
How many villagers?
How many cottagers?
How many slaves?
How many free men? (See notes below)
How many Freemen? (See notes below)
How much woodland?
How much meadow?
How much pasture?
How many mills?
How many fishponds?
How much land has been added?
How much land has been taken away?
What was the value (before 1066)?
What is the value now?
How much each free man or Freeman has/had :-
When the King gave it?
And if more can be had than at present?
The Commissioners took their job very seriously recording evidence at sworn inquests in local courts, where fixed questions were asked. Those questioned included the local Sheriff; local Barons and their Frenchmen; priests, the reeve and several villagers plus representatives of the hundred. The report also gave names of four Frenchmen and four Englishmen who had to confirm the accuracy of the return. In an early form of a tax audit the initial survey was often double checked by independent Commissioners.
The Commissioners' reports were collated and summarized at Winchester. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and covered 13,418 settlements in England. The Domesday Book was not just a tax assessment: it has acted as a sort of land register showing who had the legal right to the land with details of any disputed property.
Modern English Translation from the medieval Latin
This translation is as close to the original Latin as possible. Latin word order has been retained where possible. Latin capitals are capitalised here also. Line breaks occur at the same point in the text. Latin numbers (eg, XII) are translated into arabic numerals, numeric words (eg, una) are translated as one. The original text is not grouped by tenant-in-chief and within that by hundred (loosely). This translation reverses that grouping and so groups the text first by Hundred and then within Hundred by tenant-in-chief.
This translation is taken from the excellent website Surrey Domesday (opens in a new window) with the kind permission of the author Patrick Molineux.
Land of the King in the Copthorne Hundred
The King holds in demesne EWELL. TRE it answered for 16 hides
less one virgate. Now for 13 hides and a half to the farm. Land for
In demesne is 1 plough and 48 villans and 4 bordars with
15 ploughteams. There are 2 mills at 10 shillings and 14 acres of meadow. Woodland:
at 100 pigs. From grazing: 11 pigs.
TRE value £20 and later and now £16 but it renders
£25. The men of the hundred testify that from this manor were taken
2 hides and one virgate which were there TRE but the reeves
lent them to their friends and one enclosure of woodland and one croft.
To this manor is attached the church of Leatherhead with 40 acres of land.
Value 20 shillings. Osborn of Eu holds it.
Land of the Church of Chertsey in the Copthorne Hundred
Itself the abbey holds EPSOM
TRE it answered for 34 hides. Now for 11 hides.
Land for 17 ploughs. In demesne is one and 34 villans and 4
bordars with 17 ploughs. There are 2 churches and 6 slaves and 2 mills
at 10 shillings and 24 acres of meadow. Woodland: at 20 pigs.
TRE value £20. Now: £17.
Land of the Bishop of Bayeux in the Copthorne Hundred
Himself the bishop holds CUDDINGTON. Earl Leofwin held it. Then it answered for 30 hides. Of these the earl held 20 hides and 10 hides were held by the freemen of the vill with
these lands they could withdraw if they wished. Now of these 10 hides the bishop holds 6
with the other 20. These 26 hides now answer for 5 hides. These the bishop holds
as one manor. Ilbert holds from the bishop these 26 hides. Himself 22 hides
and one of his men four hides. In demesne is 1 plough and 7 villans and 9 bordars
with 6 ploughs. There are 4 slaves and a mill at 40 pence.
Of these hides Ralph holds 4 hides. Wulfwin 1 hide and 3 parts
of one hide from the king. In demesne is 1 plough and 4 villans and 4 bordars
with one ploughteam.
The whole manor TRE value £9 and later: 100 shillings. Now: £9 and 12 shillings.
Of the lands of this manor Restald holds 2 hides; but he accounts for them in Wallington hundred.
Border = Low class of peasant who held more land than a cottager but less than a villan
Cottager = Lowest class of peasant
Woodland = Not just woodland but land under woodland law
Free man (or freedman) = a man who is not enslaved or not in serfdom, someone who could not be bought and sold like a slave.
Freeman = a free man with certain civil liberties and/or special privileges granted by a patron. They were usually landholders with a socage tenure (one based on services provided in return for the land, as opposed to personal homage). Freemen were the equivalent of the modern day middle class so had some political and economic power.
Hide = usually taken to be 120 acres but varies in practice between regions and especially between cultivated and uncultivated land.
Hundred = an administrative district within a county or shire which held regular meetings of the local VIPs and village representatives. Surrey had 14 Hundreds and the local one Copthorne comprised the manors of :
Pachevesham (near Leatherhead)
Walton on the Hill
Manor = The basic entity for Domesday records. The manor was owned and usually managed as a single unit. It probably held its own court and had some sort of hall but not necessarily a manor house. A person, or an institution such as a church or an abbey, could own several manors in different parts of the country. A manor could be made up land managed directly plus one or more sub manors for example Ewell Manor had three sub-manors Fitznells, Batailles and Ruxley (also known as Shawford). To complicate matters even further a church or piece of land may be physically situated in the manor belonging to landlord X but the land or the parish church itself belonging to Church of Y or Landlord Z for example Ewell Manor also owned land at Kingswood. .
Mill = A water mill (windmills came to England about a hundred years later)
Plough = implies a plough team with its eight oxen and the plough itself. (As a unit of measure it was the amount of land which such a team could plough in one day.)
Reeve = A royal or manorial official, often appointed but who may have been locally elected.
Slave = A person who owed personal service to another, someone who was un-free so unable to move home or work. Someone who could be bought or sold.
Sheriff = The royal officer of a shire managing its judicial and financial affairs (a shortening of the term - a shire reeve).
Smallholder = a peasant, usually with more land than a cottager but less than a villager
TRE = At the time of the death of Edward the Confessor i.e. 5 Jan 1066
Vergate = a fraction probably a quarter of a hide - notionally 30 acres.
Villager = A peasant with land
Villan = A peasant with land
Waste = Land which was unusable or un-cultivated, and therefore not taxed.
Withdraw where they would = One of many euphemisms used for a landholder (usually Anglo-Saxon) who against the Norman custom had freedom of jurisdiction over his land.
Woodland = Not just woodland or forest but land under woodland law, usually measured by the number of pigs that the woodland would support.
If you want to know more about Domesday then the Surrey Domesday (opens in a new window) website is well worth a visit.
This article was researched and written by Peter Reed, 2006