The Domesday Book and what it tells us about the process of Norman conquest and colonisation

The Domesday Book and what it tells us about the process of Norman conquest and colonisation
The Doomsday Book

The Norman Conquest was undeniably a turning point for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom which lied within the Atlantic archipelago, who following the conquest from 1066 now was ruled over by a Norman dynasty. However, recent historiography poses questions to the extent to how the English perceived the new Gens Normannorum. In the context Norman Yoke seemingly the Norman’s had developed a system of control which no longer depended on military might, but the ‘Yoke’ had become the system of centralised control over the people in this sense they colonised. Historians such as Allen Brown have placed emphasis upon the construction of a feudal society in England which Norman’s adopted a more efficient Frankish model. This would support the notion of Norman 'colonisation'. The extent to which feudalism existed in medieval society has been labelled as teleological, according to historians such as Brown, as it has been the focus of much historiographical debate.  The doomsday book provides an indisputably unique text, certainly providing a record of the English State in the 1080’s and which one can use to analyse how the colonial society functioned. Significantly the test provides a testimony of the Norman's political power, and also how their authority was implemented over a foreign territory after their conquest.
The implementation of ‘feudalism’ within English society is significant. Indeed, older historiography such as work by Round’s argues the implementation of feudalism to English which the Normans transplanted from Normandy.  This supports the notion of a weak kingship which required the support of an aristocracy which was offered land in return for loyalty. Indeed, W
illiam’s succession to the throne had been won by conquest and had been claimed by Harold of Wessex, Harald of Norway as well as his own claim. His shaky claim to kingship had certainly weakened his authority. The introduction of a fief provided revenue to support an army, and castles provided strategic infrastructure to ensure military domination of which William’s conquest rested. It became necessary for the hardening of class distinctions between peasant and knight in post-conquest England as they had hardened on the continent.  Brown argues the Knight became the essence of feudalism, more fundamental to the construction than the fief itself, as it was the knight who devised support for the king.  If one accepts the idea that the Norman’s brought feudalism to England, then the dependence on a feudal system was a militaristic one to which Norman colonisation depended; and thus Norman rule required a rigid social structure to support to rule over their colonial subjects. However, one must recognise that the ‘feudal’ social structure was not established until the thirteenth century, to which the Knight emerged with the superior qualities associated. However, Duby dates the construction of a knighthood prototype established in the eleventh century across Europe which distinguishable from the peasantry populace through bounds of feudal vassalage to those who held power and engaging in a military life.  Which Duby argues had developed by tenth-century religious thought which facilitated construction of a framework “on the spiritual plane within which the ‘nobilitas’ and ‘militia’ could come together”.  It also produced the useful side effect of reducing social mobility and isolating the peasantry whose impoverished lifestyle was reinforced. However, the notion of a Norman conquest which maintained itself through enforcing a harsh system of feudalism suggests a successful creation of a land-owning society whose loyalty had been secured through the exchange of land. And this is a useful method of establishing power through which a hierarchy can be developed as a method of conquest, through securing Norman political power, the doomsday is a product of Norman confidence through legitimising their holdings, but also clarify disputes over land which they had inherited from Anglo-Saxon thegns previously. However, Historians such as Stafford have analysed the extent of a ‘revolution in land holding’, concluding that Royal power was extended by the nobility, but the practice of military service in exchange for land had been long established before 1066, with even Bishops owing royal military service in 992.  The doomsday book, however, does show the extent of an increased royal power in England. Indeed, the doomsday book was an instrument to which allowed the king’s administration to know how much land people had so tax collection could be enforced more efficiently.   The notion of a feudal society can certainly be seen within the doomsday book, if we look at this entry in Staffordshire under the subtitled: Land of Hugh of Montgomery:
“Hugh of Montgomery holds WORFIELD from the King. Earl Algar held it. 30 hides. Land for 30 ploughs. I lordship 4; 5 slaves. 67 villagers with a priest and 10 smallholders have 25 ploughs. 3 mills at 40s; a fishery at 15s; meadow, 16 acres; woodland 3 leagues long and 1 wide. 3 Englishmen have 5 ploughs with 18 villagers and 5 smallholders. The value was £3; now £18.” 
The source shows a hierarchy, a Lord who holds 10 smallholders, 67 villagers, but also 5 slaves. This is significant as it shows that the notion of a layered feudal society must have multiple sublayers within the villains, to include smallholders who hold some land, to slaves who are themselves the property of the Lord. Indeed, the Reynolds looks at the feudo-vassalic relations through using the doomsday book which shows different types of lordship co-existing as the Old English word Manraedene which suggests the presence of commendation ceremonies within English society, which doomsday accredited stoke men who held another’s from a Lord as through which Reynold’s argues as evidence for a new class; neither peasant or Lord.  Doomsday can then be used as evidence for social mobility and fluidity between the ‘three orders’ in medieval society. This is significant as it shows that if the Normans intended to bring a feudal order mirrored on a Frankish system it suggests that it was not enforced through brute force but implemented gradually, indicative of colonial conquerors who sought resources through what was understood to be a fief for personal gains. It could be understood that it was the construction of a layered society with mutual dependencies which sustained the rule more than castles and military means, by which it created a hierarchy which wealth was understood to descend from land, all of which was owned by the King. One should note the pleasant side effect of securing confidence within the Anglo-Norman economy which helped it function.
 The change in value of the land as shown in the source suggests a surge in demand as  Norman nobles who went to England in seek land now competed with existing English lords and each other, such a surge in demand appears to have inflated the price of land. This poses questions to the extent of a ‘Norman Conquest’ if the Old English remained powerful as a political force. Indeed, the notion of a new Norman aristocracy which replaced its English counterparts, as Hugh of Montgomery had done so in the source, was not as prevalent as anticipated. Indeed, doomsday lists examples such as Alic who was a thegn of King Edward, processed lordship over Enville.  Some English lords remained in the kingdom; furthermore, their allegiance to King William provided a useful propaganda tool for the new Norman dynasty in establishing legitimacy. Locally, Staffordshire in 1086 was largely unsettled which left it “poor and primitive”.  However, significantly, Staffordshire had a ‘hundred organisation’ that performed administrative functions and financial mechanisms required by the Old English State; which had been used in the recording of the doomsday book.   This is indicative of a colonial society which manipulated the existing intuitions. It shows how the Norman’s integrated and adapted into the new conquered society which they intended to establish strong kingdoms with permanence. But the successful succession of the English throne to King William, Walker argues was a result of the Battle of Hastings (1066) removing the country of its natural leaders following the deaths of King Harold and his brothers.  This shows how the local Gens Normannorum had been rendered harmless. Suggesting that the settlement was one of passive conquest, by ensuring the nobility’s loyalty to the king.
Older historiography suggests that religion in England had died before the conquest of 1066, to which a new Norman clergy brought to it new vigour and enthusiasm. Historians such as Golding have argued for the construction of a ‘colonial church’, to which the king controlled, and ensured the secularisation of the church in England; a process to which Golding argued was a pan-European process, which was simply sped up by the Normans.  The notion that the secularisation of the episcopate church was used as a tool is a convincing argument. The church held positions of power and influence in society. Furthermore, church courts had been established in England following the conquest, providing institutions to deal with crime through process and procedure to replace existing practices of wergeld.  It demonstrated how the church could use its authority and power which descended from the divine, down to their earthly society which the Norman’s used to their advantage, indeed ensuring high office was filled by Norman clergy; and indeed it was bishops who articulated Royal policy and possibly commissioned doomsday.  Nevertheless, Golding does recognise that while a replacement of English abbots and bishops had largely been achieved for political motives; the parish churches, however, continued to be of English descent.  However, must understand accept a level of indifference from the Norman aristocracy and King William towards the parish church, but focused instead on solidifying secular control and authority of the church to which was integrated further into the state. It provided a useful method of control, and thus colonisation by integrating the church into a Norman dominated central authority. Indeed, in the doomsday book itself, if one looks at the land owned by the Bishop of Chester in Staffordshire, the Bishop himself holds twenty-two estates including the town of Litchfield which the church owns 25½ hides.  Doomsday, therefore, expresses the economic value of the church, thus reinforcing the secular might of the church. The church’s centrality to the conquest of England is central to the motive of William’s invasion. Indeed, Clancy notes the importance of King Williams Papal connections, having won papal approval, as able to invade England as the pope’s crusader, but made no reform to the church until 1070 furthermore, clerical depositions were political.  The ‘colonial church’ therefore was established as a method of consolidation of power, through land and political influence.
Overall, the extent to which Norman Conquest was followed by colonisation seems apparent through integrating themselves through existing institutions to which English society administered themselves, they colonised English society to which they subjugated. The doomsday book shows us a society to which land became an important part, through its economic value was understood through the landed fief and demonstrates the increasing importance of the notion of wealth which descends from the King through to the nobility and the church. This understood authority of the king was pragmatically reinforced and sustained by majority ethnically Norman nobility and a church whose position the Norman’s secured in the feudal hierarchy was a pragmatic approach to ensure its political power and loyalty to the king. It was by institutional rule from a centralised system to which the king held which secured the success of his conquest, facilitated by military infrastructure such as castles. However, one could argue that this is a process of gradual colonisation by slowly transforming existing institutions to which they homogenised themselves. In this respect Norman’s centralised their power in existing states fundamental institutions to empower themselves in a colonial society to which could be exploited, fundamentally this was exerted through the fief, to which doomsday is testimony of that notion.

Luke Everton


Primary Sources
J. Morris (Ed). Domesday Book: Staffordshire. (Chichester: Phillimore, 1976).
Staffordshire County Council & Record Office. Domesday Book for Staffordshire. (Stafford: Staffordshire County Council, 1970).

Secondary Sources
A. R, Brown, Origins of English feudalism, (London: George Allen & Unwin) . pp44-45.
E.A.R. Brown, “The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe," The American Historical Review, Vol. 79, No. 4 (Oct, 1974), pp. 1063-1088.
M. T, Clanchy, England and Its Rulers: 1066-1272, (London: Blackwell, 1998).
C. Culpin, Crime and Punishment Through Time, (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998). p20-22.
G. Duby, The Chivalrous Society, (Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1980).
M. Chibnall. The Debate on the Norman Conquest. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999).
B. Golding. Conquest and Colonisation: The Normans in Britain, 1066-1100. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
C.F, Slade. The Staffordshire Domesday. (Stafford: Staffordshire County Library, 1985).
P. Stafford.  Unification and Conquest, (London: Edward Arnold).pp 109-113.
S. Renolds. Fiefs and Vassals, The Medieval Evidence reinterpreted, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).  p340.
J. H, Rounds, Feudal England: Historical Studies on the XIth and XIIth Centuries. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
B. Walker. The Normans in Britain. (London: Blackwell, 1995).
A. Williams. The English and the Norman Conquest. (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1995).


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