The Medieval Review 17.07.12

Roffe, David, and K.S.B Keats-Rohan, eds. Domesday Now: New Approaches to the Inquest and the Book. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016. pp. xiv, 338. ISBN: 9781783270880 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Herold

"Domesday studies are in turmoil" (1) declares David Roffe, co-editor of this collection of twelve essays devoted both to an appraisal of the directions that Domesday studies were taking in 2011 (the "Now" in the volume's title) as well as a respectful tribute to the life and work of Caroline Thorn, scholar and contributing editor to both the Phillimore and Alecto editions of Domesday Book. Dr. Roffe is eminently qualified to comment upon the tumultuous state of Domesday studies, since it may be said that his work is largely responsible for disturbing those orthodoxies that developed concerning the process and probable purpose(s) of both Great and Little Domesday Books' compilation. For many scholars (myself included), the ground has shifted in the last twenty years from viewing "the Book" as the intended product of William the Conqueror's mandate to survey his English realm, issued at his Christmas Court in 1085, to viewing it as an artifact of administrative concerns and archival processes not directly related to the inquest of 1086. For others, recent challenges to the long-accepted interpretation of Domesday Book have inspired reappraisals which reinforce the view that the compilation of a tangible record of landholding and its attendant obligations was among the inquest's original aims. Elements of various long-standing debates pertaining to the relationship between "the Book" and the 1086 inquest as well as between "the Book" and its so-called "satellites," the implications of demographic, geographic and economic data recorded in "the Book," the status and identities of the people named among its pages, and the rights, obligations and disputes recorded within "the Book" inform most of the studies included in this volume. It is difficult to imagine that many readers will appreciate the contents of Domesday Now without a thorough grounding in issues that were explored and debated in the "Then" of the late twentieth century. [1] The studies included in Domesday Now, based on papers presented at a conference convened at Kew in September of 2011, are not particularly concerned with either conquering or recovering ground fought over in either long-past or more recent debates, however: although influenced by their individual stances regarding precisely what the various Domesday texts represent--including not only Great and Little Domesday Book, but also the constellation of other records that relate to what Dr. Roffe refers to as "the Domesday process" [2]--the contributors' observations of these texts and the data that they record expand our awareness of what may discerned by using a range of investigative tools and methodologies as a means of interrogating the various Domesday texts both technologically and conceptually. These studies may illustrate the lack of consensus in Domesday studies, but they also indicate how that lack of consensus has invited novel approaches to understanding Domesday Book, the various "satellite" records, and their contents.

In addition to addressing issues related to Domesday Book's context and purpose, two papers in this collection focus on the textual characteristics of Domesday records rather than simply the data that they provide. John Palmer's contribution, "A Digital Latin Domesday" (61-80), advocates developing an up-to-date, machine-readable Latin text of Domesday Book and its associated records. Palmer, who in the late 1980s and 1990s headed the development of one of the earliest published digital "editions" of Domesday data, Domesday Explorer, notes that the only machine-readable Latin text of Domesday Book currently developed is based on a digital transcription of Abraham Farley's eighteenth-century transcription of Domesday Book that he commissioned in the 1980s as part of what became the Explorer project. [3] Palmer describes the process of compiling what he refers to as "The Digital Farley," particularly the methods that he employed to encode the abbreviated text in a way that would return reasonably consistent search results. Although admitting that "The Digital Farley" is inadequate for conducting robust analysis of Domesday's Latin text, Palmer nevertheless uses it to demonstrate how machine-assisted searches of Domesday's Latin text can reveal patterns of abbreviation which suggest not only aspects of scribal practice employed in Great Domesday Book (hereafter abbreviated GDB) but also the possible significance of some of the routines of abbreviation that the main scribe appears to have developed and what they might indicate about the process of producing the book from the inquest records. Palmer argues that developing a modern, expanded machine-readable Latin text of Domesday Book and its associated texts would enable more reliable textual analysis, as well as describing the broader potential benefits of completing the project. He also discusses the steps and resources that would be necessary to develop such a text (75-78). Consideration of lexical characteristics of Domesday Book's Latin text are the subject of Frank Thorn's paper, "Non Pascua sed Pastura: the Changing Choice of Terms in Domesday" (109-136). Taking the terminology used in the preface to the Inquisito Eliensis description of the various questions asked by King William's inquisitors as his point of departure, Thorn observes changes in the technical vocabulary used to record features of the responses recorded in GDB and discusses what the apparent choices made by King William's record-keepers might indicate about the general characteristics of editorial (or authorial) principles they employed, and the general development of what he describes as "Domesday style" (136). Thorn concludes that the lexical issues in all of the surviving Domesday records--including the various "satellite" records--are manifold, complex and deserve further study. In addition to this chapter, Thorn also contributed a short essay that reviews his wife's contributions to modern Domesday studies as "Caroline Thorne: an Appreciation" (305-310).

Ian Taylor's contribution, "Domesday Books? Little Domesday reconsidered" (137-154), challenges the interpretation that holds that Little Domesday Book (hereafter LDB) was merely the preserved return for Circuit VII of the Domesday inquest; instead, he presents a strong argument that LDB was most likely compiled as part of a project distinct from King William's Domesday inquest which focused on the assessment of service obligations from each manor established under the relatively sparse Norman settlement in East Anglia in response to the risk of Danish invasion of the region in 1086-1087 (152-153). Taylor attaches particular significance to the fact that the LDB records betray "preoccupations" with geld assessments and 'manorial' units as the basis for that assessment, eliminating the ploughland data so generally evident in the records of GDB (146). Taylor's observations not only propose a different purpose for LDB, but also suggest the broader and more dynamic use of written records in the administration of William I's English kingdom.

Howard Clarke similarly investigates aspects of literate administration in his paper, "Condensing and Abbreviating the Data: Evesham C, Evesham M and the Breviate" (247-276). Clarke examines two schedules of abbreviated local records pertaining to Evesham Abbey which appear to have been compiled in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, and which he argues were based directly on either information recorded in Domesday Book or on records upon which GDB's records of the abbey's holdings were themselves based. His comparison of the Evesham records with those preserved in the disordered contents of "Hemming's Cartulary" (compiled in the late eleventh century for Worcester's cathedral priory) leads Clarke to suggest that both Evesham's recordkeepers and those of Worcester's priory may have drawn upon the same source material during the last decades of the eleventh century (256), and comparison between them and other twelfth-century schedules of hidage from the counties of Kent and Herefordshire further reinforce the impression that the Evesham schedules were likely drawn from information compiled within a decade of the Domesday inquest (258). Clarke also argues for associating Evesham C and M with the incomplete efforts of Rannulf Flambard to revise the information collected during the 1086 inquest on behalf of William Rufus (259-262). Clarke helpfully provides editions of both schedules, Evesham C and M, cross-referenced with the Phillimore editions the Worcestershire and Gloucestershire Domesday Book, as appendices to his paper. (263-275).

Four of the studies included in this volume focus particularly on the socio-political implications of Domesday records. In order to assess characteristics of tenural change in post-Conquest England, Ann Williams' paper "Hunting the Snark and Finding the Boojum: The Tenural Revolution Revisited" (155-168) re-examines the question of whether or not the Norman Conquest indeed precipitated a "tenural revolution" that obliterated Anglo-Saxon modes of lordship and land tenure (as had been proposed by Robin Fleming in the 1990s). [4] Williams notes that identifying an individual Conquest-era English person as the "man" (homo) of another in Domesday records may indicate commendation, but does not necessarily imply tenural dependency. Williams observes that ambiguity concerning the expressed status of individual landholders named in both an earlier Domesday "satellite," Inquisitio Comitatus Cantabrigiensis, and Domesday Book records suggests that the tenural patterns and obligations that existed post-Conquest were--and indeed had to be--fundamentally based upon English tenural structures that existed before the Conquest, rather than entirely new structures imposed by the Norman invaders (167-168). The notion of continuities in socio-political structures during the Conquest era is reinforced by K. S. B. Keats-Rohan's paper, "A Question of Identity: Domesday Prosopography and the Formation of the Honour of Richmond" (169-196). Emphasizing that prosopographical analysis which takes into account the characteristics of legal customs and inheritance practices as well as genealogy can convey a more complete understanding of how novel lordships such as the Honour of Richmond developed, Keats-Rohan observes how both Old English inheritance from antecessor to heir and the composition of pre-Conquest tenures were used to legitimize subsequent Norman settlement and lordship in the Conquest era (193-196). Pamela Taylor's paper, "The Episcopal Returns in Domesday," addresses the contribution of Conquest-era English bishops to the "Domesday process," particularly the degree to which they might have been able to manipulate the process in order to influence the character and content of the written record produced for GDB and LDB regarding their churches' holdings (197-218). Largely avoiding discussion of the much-examined case of the 'unaltered' return recorded in GDB for the bishop of Worcester's triple-hundred of Oswaldslow, Taylor reviews a number of episcopal returns recorded in GDB and LDB, assessing evidence for the deployment of exceptional written returns produced within local administrative contexts in the Domesday inquest and subsequent composition of the Book through use of computer-assisted analysis of vocabulary and formulae (199). Taylor observes that very few other episcopal returns survived "unaltered" through the process of the Domesday inquest and the compilation of Domesday Book, suggesting that the bishops' assumed control over local record-keeping had little impact on how information that they provided to the inquest entered into the royal record preserved in Domesday Book (203). Control over not only the record but also the entire "Domesday process" was firmly in royal hands according to Sally Harvey's contribution to this collection, "A Deed without a Name" (277-288). Harvey characterizes the fundamental socio-political nature of the "Domesday process" by parsing the name "Domesday" (which became attached to the records of the inquest in the late twelfth century), taking this appellation as an indication that the inquest was linked to the judicial process of ordeal. In Harvey's view, the process was hardly open to manipulation by local potentates, but rather characterized by coercion through the introduction of the ordeal (or the threat of ordeal) to elicit testimony from the local witnesses called to testify before the royal inquest: witnesses were presented with the unenviable choice of "either swearing on the Gospels to untruth on rightful tenure, to the ruin of their countrymen, or, challenging the newly-imposed tenures, with the prospect of facing a physical ordeal and unknown further consequences" (288).

The use of electronic map-making applications and digital datasets to interpret geographic and economic data contained in Domesday Book is the subject of Andrew Lowerre's paper, "Geospatial Technologies and the Geography of Domesday England in the Twenty-First Century" (219-246). Lowerre addresses the possibilities that computer-assisted geospatial analysis provide for better understanding the geography of late eleventh-century England as well as the economic features that the Domesday recordkeepers thought most significant. He discusses several of the technologies available to researchers--access to web mapping applications such as Google Maps, Google Earth and NASA Wind World, as well as Geographic Information System (GIS) software which can be used to analyze spatially-referenced data--to visualize data recorded in Domesday Book; he also describes a number of web-based applications that facilitate visualization of some aspects of Domesday data, such as PASE Domesday Online and the Open Domesday Project (see note 3, below). Lowerre also provides a demonstration of the use of GIS to map aspects of Domesday data such as population density (234), land use (235-237), tenure (238), and monetary valuation (239). Although the technologies discussed here have advanced in the years since Lowerre presented this paper (and although the web-based projects referred to in his paper largely haven't: a not-entirely-separate issue in the discussion of technological approaches to Domesday studies), this nevertheless remains a useful demonstration of possible visualizations of Domesday economic and geographic data to illuminate aspects of the Conquest Era, as well as the potential that such visualizations might have for promoting better understanding of the characteristics of the data itself.

Three of the collection's twelve studies are contributed by a single author, co-editor David Roffe. In addition to a general introduction for the book (1-6) and his introductory chapter summarizing developments in Domesday studies from the middle of the Twentieth Century to 2011 ("Domesday Now: The View from the Stage", 7-60), Roffe contributes a chapter on the possibility that palaeographical characteristics of GDB signal characteristics of lordship and landholding, as well as suggesting that GDB may have been compiled from sources that supplemented (or possibly substituted for) the circuit returns for the 1086 inquest ("McLuhan Meets the Master: Scribal Devices in Great Domesday Book," 81-108). Dr. Roffe also provides his perspective on the reception and use of Domesday records by royal government during the twelfth and thirteenth century in the volume's final substantive chapter, "Talking to Others and Talking to Itself: Government and the Changing Role of the Records of the Domesday Inquest" (289-304). Exactly why Dr. Roffe found it necessary to contribute three chapters to this collection is not stated. It is possible that a version of the paper presented by Nicolas Brooks at the 2011 conference was intended to be included in this volume, and Brooks' death in February of 2014 left a gap in the collection that Dr. Roffe felt obliged to fill. Dr. Roffe also expresses the notion that the papers included in this volume might provide the "intellectual underpinning" (6) for a new critical edition of Domesday Book and records associated with it, so it is also possible that his additional contributions are intended to address those aspects of the Domesday records which he would particularly desire a prospective new edition to be able to help delineate. Certainly, the observations that Dr. Roffe provides in each of his contributions are pertinent and thought-provoking, exploring Domesday Book not only as a physical artifact but also advancing notions of "the Domesday process" as a phenomenon of Anglo-Norman society, governance and record-keeping. Hopefully Dr. Roffe will undertake a leading role in producing a new edition of Domesday Book and its 'satellites', in which he can help insure that the texts and apparatus will facilitate exploring those aspects of these records. Nevertheless, for a volume that is intended (in part) to describe "new ways forward" (1) in Domesday studies, it might have been appropriate to enlist one or two other scholars currently working in the field to make-up the content this collection, especially since novel approaches to Domesday Book and the Domesday inquest inform the work of so many.

The papers included in Domesday Now certainly address aspects of Domesday studies that currently remain contentious and unresolved with a variety of methodological approaches. They also indicate a number of desideranda for those engaged in the study of Domesday Book and other records of landholding and lordship during the Conquest era, chief of which is the need for a modern critical edition of the Latin text of Domesday Book and records associated with it. In these respects, this volume provides a worthy tribute to a scholar who devoted so much of her professional life to the study of Domesday Book. As for its editors' desire to provide the "intellectual underpinning" for a new edition of Domesday Book and its "satellites," only time will tell whether the "new approaches" presented in Domesday Now will spur the interests, summon the energies, and attract the necessary institutional resources of its specialist readers to see that necessary work done.

-------- Notes: 1. Dr. Roffe helpfully provides a review of many of these debates, particularly those that developed since Domesday Book's novocentenary and the publication of the Alecto County facsimile edition in 1986, as well as suggests directions for future study in one of the chapters that he contributes to this volume, "Domesday Now: A View from the Stage," 7-60. 2. David Roffe, "Introduction", 6. 3. Palmer's datasets, as well as code and other digital materials related to Domesday Explorer, remain openly available on the website associated with the Hull Domesday Project ( The Open Domesday project (, developed by Anna Powell-Smith, is derived from Palmer's datasets and electronic resources, with the goal of providing now-familiar online means of searching the contents of Great Domesday Book for a range of tenurial, social, economic and geographic observations. Another project that has made use of Palmer's Domesday data is PASE Domesday (, which was intended to compile prosopographical information relating to pre-conquest landholders named within the Domesday records. 4. Robin Fleming, Kings and Lords in Conquest England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 120-122.

Copyright (c) 2017 Jonathan Herold

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