Domesday Book (also known as Doomsday Book) resulted from the orders of William the Conqueror (the Norman conqueror of England in 1066) to assess the resources of his kingdom, in order to more efficiently collect taxes. There are actually two original books, which have periodically been rebound.
The pages are made from parchment, specially prepared animal skin, often sheepskin. The books consumed the skins of several hundred sheep. Parchment is durable and more sturdy than paper—which was not available then.
“Doom” then meant something more like fate than our current understanding of “Doom” as impending catastrophe. William’s bureaucrats sent out several teams that fanned out across England to assess what people owned.
The teams visited many areas, consulted records and interviewed local people, and in the end assessed the resources of more than 13,000 places. The survey covered most of England and some of Wales. The results were complete in 1086 and recorded in a massive, hand-written book.
It was not called Domesday Book until the later 1100s, apparently getting its name from biblical references to the Book of Life. It is written in Latin, and mostly on parchment made from sheepskin. The book still exists.
Domesday Book is extremely valuable for historians, and more recently genealogists. It has enormous detail about property, land use, and other details that offer a unique picture of late 11th century England. Nothing like it would again be available for centuries.
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