Introduction to the Little Domesday Book
In 1986 the whole of the Domesday Book was conserved and rebound into five volumes. Little Domesday was made into three volumes comprising one volume for each of its three counties, Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. Each page of Little Domesday measured 11 x 8 inches, rather smaller than Great Domesday's 15 x 11 inches. The smaller sized pages favoured a binding into thinner volumes than its larger brother. |
In addition to the size difference, there is a difference in the level of detail recorded, and the format used by the different scribes involved. Little Domesday is much more irregular in its format, and much more detailed in its content. In many places it is difficult to reconcile the information recorded with the survey questions which were said to have been asked. Perhaps the most obvious example of this discrepancy lies in the entry for Bury St Edmunds, which appears later in this analysis.
Sorces of Information
The information for Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex is believed to belong to a single group of Commissioners, making up a Circuit, which modern scholars have named "Circuit 7".
However, it would be incorrect to assume that all the information in Domesday was collected solely by the Commissioners. At least four sources are believed to have been involved. The most important source, and, perhaps, the most obvious source, was to examine the existing taxation or geld records held by the Crown.|
The sources involved have been described as follows:
Scribes were thus able to summarise all the existing records held by the state before the Commissioners ever set forth upon their circuits. At the Shire and Hundred courts it would only have been necessary to obtain confirmation of the existing records, or to settle any questions where doubt had arisen.
- Existing Geld (taxation) records;
- Existing Estate records;
- Statements from the landholders themselves, als known as "Seigneurial Breves";
- And finally, the oral testimony collected by the Commissioners from the Hundred and Shire Courts.
Was Little Domesday really an unfinished work?
As was described in the previous section introducing the Domesday Book, it is generally believed that Great Domesday was completed first, and that work on the remaining three counties of Suffolk Norfolk and Essex was never finished. Therefore, under this belief these counties are represented by rough copies of returns from the shire and hundred courts, which have not been subjected to any oversight or corrections by the Domesday Scribe. This explains why each entry is so much longer than in Great Domesday, and why the format is so variable.|
Another possibility first put forward by David Roffe is that, on the contrary, perhaps Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex were completed first. These were the most prosperous areas, and therefore we may suppose that the king would have thought these areas the most important to survey. Perhaps the production of them as the first volume took so long, and cost so much to produce, that it was realised that quicker methods were needed in the rest of the country.
It had taken 450 folios to produce the three counties information contained within Little Domesday, on parchment produced from the best quality sheepskins available. The requirement for this quantity of sheepskins alone would have demonstrated to the scribes that production of the remaining counties of England at this level of detail would be completely impracticable. Therefore, the rest of the country was written up using a much more abbreviated and standardised form of enquiry, resulting in another 413 folios for the 32 odd remaining counties.
The Organisation of the Domesday Book
The records contained in the Domesday Books are organised in a complex mixture of geographic and tenurial factors. The purpose was to record who held what lands from the King. Nobody but King William "owned" the land. All the great Earls and Church endowments were legally considered to hold their lands at the King's pleasure. This was the feudal system, and the landholders had to provide services to the king in return for their holdings. These landholdings were also known as fiefs.
The standard Domesday layout for all this information was under the following headings:
As we shall see below, the layout of the Suffolk volume of Domesday is rather different from the standard in the order of Landholders, giving undue precedence to certain nobles, and to the Abbot of St Edmunds'.
- The Shire or County
- The Fiefdoms or Tenants in Chief, (TIC), listed in a standard order
- The Hundreds listed in a standard order, in which the TIC had holdings
- The vills within the Hundred in which the TIC had holdings
- The manors in which the TIC had holdings