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1086: William the Conqueror's Domesday Court


This opening episode is a resume of what we'll be talking about in the hundred Episodes that follow, starting backwards in 1086: William the Conqueror's Domesday Book.   Duties and responsibilities, who owned the land?   Why is this documentary entitled, 'At the Edge of the World'?   It is like a Hollywood epic, with popes, kings, queens, bishops, saints, sinners, pirates. rapists, murderers, holy men and women, traders in miracles.


Written and presented by Robert Smith, Chairman of the Manorial Society of Great Britain - www.msgb.co.uk






Written and presented by

Robert Smith


Voice over

Barney Powell

Rebecca Cooper


Music production &

Original music

Simon Roberts

(Lyric media group)


Original film footage

Ian Phillips


Picture editor

Roberto Ekholm


Asst picture editor

Guilfre Jordan


Associate Producer

Ian Phillips



Antonio Parente


Picture sources:


Live footage filmed by Ian Phillips


William the Conqueror, http://globallearning.pwnet.org/images/WilliamtheConqueror


Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485–1547). There are no known authentic portraits of Columbus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus


Gaius Cornelius Tacitus.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.orgwikiFile:Gaius_Cornelius_Tacitus


An early Baroque artist's rendition of Claudius Ptolemaeushttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemy


Pledging fealty; from a manuscript of a chanson de geste.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rolandfealty.jpg


The 'Tusculum portrait', one of two surviving busts of Julius Caesar made during his lifetime - photo by Tataryn 77. Picture and data courtesy of the Yorck Project, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share- Alike License (Wikipedia).


The St Petersburg Bede (St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, lat. Q. v. I. 18), formerly known as the Leningrad Bede, is an early surviving illuminated manuscript of Bede's 8th century history, 'Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum' (Ecclesiastical History of the English People). Although not heavily illuminated, it is famous for containing the earliest historiated initial (one containing a picture) in European illumination. The opening three letters of Book 2 of Bede are decorated, to a height of 8 lines of the text, and the opening contains a bust portrait of a haloed figure carrying a cross and a book.[1] This is probably intended to be St Gregory the Great, although a much later hand has identified the figure as St Augustine of Canterbury. Wiki -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Petersburg_Bede


Edward the Confessor, King of England 1042-1066, Bayeux Tapestry Deutsch: Edward der Bekenner, König von England 1042-1066, Teppich von Bayeux, 1066, Städtisches Museum in Bayeux  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_der_Bekenner.jpg


William the Conqueror  http://globallearning.pwnet.org/images/WilliamtheConqueror.jpg


Death of King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings, 1066. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century; by special permission of the City of Bayeux –   National Archive – Wiki


Men harvesting.  Anglo-Saxon calendar, 11th century.  By permission of The British Library.  Cotton Tiberius B. V, Part 1


Page from Domesday Book for Warwickshire, including listing of Birmingham - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Domesday_Book_-_Warwickshire.png


The Day of Judgment or ‘Doomsday’ after which Domesday Book may have been named. From a late 13th-century psalter BL Additional MS 38116 f.1v; by permission British Library – National Archives


The St Petersburg Bede (St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, lat. Q. v. I. 18), details above


Duke William comes to Bayeux, from the Bayeux Tapestry   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry_tituli


Footage by Ian Phillips of Senlac, site of the Battle of Hastings, upon which was built Battle Abbey


Wolves in the snow – URL: http://www.firstpeople.us/


The 'Tusculum' bust of Julius Caesar; for details see above


Author: Wikipedia user MatthiasKabel.  Description: Roman soldiers c AD70 with centurio, aquilifer, signifer, cornicen. Photo taken during a show of the XVth Legion from Pram, Austria - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Roman_soldiers_with_aquilifer_signifer_centurio_70_aC.jpg


Euro-Asian land mass from a satellite – National Aeronautical and Space Administration, Nasa (United States) by permission of the Federal Government http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=74142


A printed map from the 15th century depicting Claudius Ptolemy's description of the Ecumene, (1482, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver). Claudius Ptolemy, cartographer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemy


Representation of Christopher Columbus making landfall in the New World (island of Hispaniola), 1492, US Library of Congress http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Columbus_Taking_Possession.jpg


Portrait of Vasco Da Gama, Portuguese explorer, National Maritime Museum, London http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vasco_da_Gama_-_1838.png


Australasia and the Pacific were were discovered and charted between the 17th and 19th centuries; HMS Hampton Court -   Rendezvous at Sunset, by James Flood  -  http://www.jamesaflood.com/paintings.html


Modern representations of Anglo-Saxon dress http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A.D._500-1000,_Anglo-Saxons_-_022_-_Costumes_of_All_Nations_%281882%29.JPG?uselang=ca


Most Anglo-Saxons fought on foot.   Not even King Harold was mounted at the Battle of Hastings, although kings and the aristoctacy travelled on horseback, and by the 11th century the wealthy displayed their status by acquiring the latest and most expensive accoutrements of war, such as chain-mail. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LarsonHorsemen.jpg


Bust of the Emperor Claudius (r AD41-54), who led the conquest of Britain in 43; National Archaeologcal Museum, Naples http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudius


Queen Cleoptra of Egypt http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Queen_Cleopatra.jpg


A late medieval propaganda impression of corrupt priests - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgence


Pope Gregory IX http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PopeGregoryIX.jpg


The Nuremberg Bede http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nuremberg_Chronicle_Venerable_Bede.jpg


A 19th century depiction of Alfred the Great, painting at Oriel College, Oxford, after a painting in the Bodleian Library (colour engraving) by English School (19th century). Wiki


King Cnut, King of England, 1016-35, died at Malmesbury, Wiltshire - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cnut_the_Great


Edward the Confessor, King of England, 1042-66 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_the_Confessor


William the Conqueror. Painting oil on oak panel. 57.2 x 42.5 cm, 1618-20, British School. Dulwich Picture Gallery. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_School_-_William_the_Conqueror_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg


A 12th-century representation of a seaborne Danish invasion of Britain; from 'Miscellany on the life of St. Edmund' 12th century, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York


Image of the Menai Massacre, where ancient Roman soldiers massacred Druids based in Anglesey, North Wales; by A White Carousel - http://awhitecarousel.com/tag/halloween/


The Great Fire of Rome - http://historicalwallpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/great-fire-of-rome-ad-64.html


Representation of the Battle of Stamford Bridge between King Harold II of England and Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, and his English ally Earl Tostig of Northumbria, 25 September 1066, in which Harold Hardrada and Tostig were killed -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stamford_Bridge


Shoulder clasp (closed) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sutton.Hoo.ShoulderClasp2.RobRoy.jpg


Bust of the Emperor Hadrian; white marble; height: 90cm; date: 117 – 138 AD. Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome, main stairs, first landing. By Wikipedia user Marie-Lan Nguyen (2006) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bust_Hadrian_Musei_Capitolini_MC817.jpg


The first page of the twelfth-century manuscript of Æthelberht’s law code (for Kent c 605-610); reproduced in first page of the Textus Roffensis (perhaps from an original now lost); from Rochester Cathedral Library, MS A.3.5; now kept in Strood at Medway Archives (DRc/R1). Scanned from The Anglo-Saxons, ed. James Campbell, 1990 Penguin Books, p. 53. Wiki


Medieval marriage ceremony http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_(Catholic_Church)


President Barack Obama speaking to an audience of Sailors and Marines, during a visit to the US Naval Air Station of Jacksonville;




British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, 29 January 2010; photo by Remy Steinegger - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_Cameron_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_Davos_2010.jpg


Professor Brian Cox speaking at the Royal Institution, London, 26 November 2009; author Paul Clarke; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brian_Cox.jpg


A representation of the Flat Earth; Flat Earthers has become a term of derrogation in Britain of anyone who questions certain aspects of science;  http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_jord


Cloisters where monks and priests would walk and talk, Salisbury Cathedral; http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salisbury_Cathedral


Map showing the south-west circuit of the Domesday commissioners sent out by William the Conqueror to survey his kingdom; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Doomsday_Book_-_1086_-_English_Counties_-_Circuit_(Cornwall,_Devonshire,_Somerset,_Wiltshire,_Dorset).png


Bamburgh Castle filmed by Ian Phillips - www.bamburghcastle.com


Heath in the New Forest, south-west Hampshire, filmed by Ian Phillips


Poltross Burn, Milecastle, on Hadrian's Wall; about every mile along the Wall, the Romans put up a garrisoned turret, of which Poltross Burn is reckoned one of the best by archaeologists; taken by Simon Mills on 10 August 2005


The Angle Church at Escomb, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, it one of the best preserved Anglo-Saxon churches; built between 670 and 675 from stone taken from the nearby derelict Roman fort of Bibchester http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/727288


An area of the New Forest filmed by Ian Phillips


Wild Boar - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_young_wild_boar_in_his_environment.jpg


Tomatoes -  Wiki


Oranges and lemons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oranges_and_Lemons.jpg


Statue of Aesculus, or Asclepius, Greek god of medicine; said to have practised in Epidaurus, the Peloponnese; his most famous disciple was Hippocrates; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesculus_hippocastanum   - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aesculus_hippocastanum_fruit_(jha).jpg


The modern way of playing conkers at school is to wear goggles - health and safety gone mad? - Telegraph Media Group -  Photo: Manchester Evening News


Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (lived c AD55-120), one of the great Roman historians, much admired by Edward Gibbon ('Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'); he was a senator and held the Consulship, the highest office after the emperor http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gaius_Cornelius_Tacitus_mirror.jpg


Painting of the assassination of Julius Caesar, by Peter Paul Rubens, location of painting unknown - http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_391092/Peter-Paul-Rubens/Julius-Caesar


We are especially grateful to the organizations, Wikipedia and Wikimedia, and their users, who have furnished so many pictures for this documentary free of charge.   Without them, this history would be a far poorer effort pictorially, and way beyond our financial means had we been obliged to source pictures for payment.   We have also been greatly assisted by the owners of Bamburgh Castle, which appears briefly in this episode and will appear subsequently.   Cathedrals and churches have been liberal in helping us to film in their precincts, and these will be credited, with links, as they appear in later episodes.



Episode transcript:


Britain. The founding of nations. From the withdrawal of roman legions in 381 to William the Conqueror in 1087.


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records King William I, (the Conqueror), Duke of Normandy, wearing his crown at Salisbury in August 1086, surrounded by all of his earls, barons, and other principal landholders in his Norman kingdom of England, that was only twenty years old and won by conquest at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  

These great men had gathered because a survey of the kingdom was complete, and their holdings duly recorded beyond peradventure of doubt.   They had come to swear fealty and to make homage to the King for their lands, as recorded in the royal land inquiry.  


They were cementing a relationship of great religious moment between monarch and chief vassals, a relationship that could hardly have been more permanent than if it had been hewn in stone, like the Ten Commandments, though it was written on sheep skins, which have endured very much better than Moses' tablets.  

The court at Salisbury was so important an occasion in the feudal nexus of allegiance and loyalty, oaths given to the King in return for land and privileges - which the King's law would uphold for the tenant who was true to his word - that this record of landowners and their property soon became known as Domesday Book, literally, the final arbiter on ownership, duties, responsibilities, privileges that arose from the possession of land.  


From King William's point of view, it was the ultimate record of who owed what to the crown, as supreme landlord of England, in return for their shares in the conquest.   It was the last word on property rights, and the evidence contained in it was soon thought of as the 'Last Trump of Doom,'   By the end of the twelfth century, it was called Domesday Book.  


No one knows why for certain - perhaps because it was like the Last Judgment when the trumpets are to be sounded and Christ will come to judge the quick and the dead.   The word 'doom' - D. double O. M. - is an ancient Anglo-Saxon word, meaning a 'judgment', having the effect of a law, and we shall meet Anglo-Saxon kings' dooms later.   Maybe Domesday derives from this word.


But we have almost seven centuries to recount before we reach Salisbury in 1086, for the plot of this drama is long and winding, with every kind of vice and virtue displayed as we go.  

We shall not be able to begin to understand why there was a Norman conquest and why the new king and the ruling élite were able, so quickly, to compile Domesday Book, a land inventory of the vast area that was England, until we understand the centuries that preceded it, and have made England, Scotland, and Wales the nations they now are.


The pre-history of Britain, beginning about ten thousand years ago, after the last Ice Age, when people from continental Europe colonized this island, is barely known.   There have been archaeological discoveries, and consequent speculation, but these are not history.  

History means recorded history, history written down, and we do not really have any of that until the middle of the first century BC in The Conquest of Gaul, written by Julius Caesar, who made two unsuccessful invasions of southern Britain, in 55 and 54BC.  

In my school days, we all soon learned Caesar's famous fib, veni, vidi, vici (the first Latin for most of us) - 'I came, I saw, I conquered.'   Well, he came and he saw, but the conquest had to wait until AD43 and the Emperor Claudius, who conquered and annexed Britain - Britannia, as the Romans called it - the last province to be added long-term to the Roman Empire.


Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain in AD381 because Rome itself was under threat, and the Island at the Edge of the World was cut adrift.


I have entitled my discussion as I have because Britain was at the edge of the known world.   Look at the map I have made of the Euro-Asian land mass.   On the left, we have the enormous Roman Empire, on the right the enormous Chinese Empire.  

In between we have the Persian Empire, the Indian kingdoms and empires, the south Asian kingdoms of the Silk Road between East and West.   These states and many I have not named were the civilized world as known in about AD400, though the map of the sort I am showing would have had no meaning to people then.  

They had writing, without which organized government is impossible; they had trade, currency, art, literature, philosophy, luxury, religion, numerical, linear-, weight-, and volume-calculation, astronomy, astrology, medicine - well, everything really, but not maps of the sort I am showing.  


What they had was representations of the world, like the one I am now showing, made in the second century by Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek from Alexandria, in Egypt.  

It was not intended as a navigation map, but - with Rome at its centre - Ptolemy's map was meant to demonstrate the overwhelming authority of Roman emperors and the civilized fineness of all things that emanated out of their great imperial city.  

Maps that we know in atlases and, until SatNav, in road gazetteers did not begin for another one thousand seven hundred years, in the eighteenth century.


To the east of the land mass was nothing but the Pacific Ocean, and to the West the Atlantic.   Except for a short visit by Vikings in the eleventh century, the American continent would not be discovered by the peoples of the Euro-Asian land mass until the fifteenth century, first, by the Chinese, who did not stay, and a bit later in that century by the Europeans, in the person of Christopher Columbus.  

The coastal strip of North Africa and some way down the River Nile were known, but Africa was otherwise a void until Vasco Da Gama, also in the fifteenth century, set out from Portugal, and sailed round the Cape of Good Hope, and up the east coast of Africa to India.  

Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific islands were not discovered by Europeans, until the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries: the civilized world's contribution to the last group having once been described as bringing 'gunpowder, print, and the Protestant religion' - we ought not to forget syphilis.


Britain, therefore, as a place known to history, was at the very edge of the world in AD381 and would remain so for many centuries to come.


In our story, we shall encounter Britons who were synonymous with Welsh and Cornish people; Angles, Saxons, and Jutes; Gauls, Franks, Frisians, Picts, and Irish who were really Scots; Norsemen, whom I shall mostly call 'Vikings' until the end of the 10th century, when I shall call them Danes; and then Normans.

There will be lesser groups.  Some of these races were conquerors and the Normans were the most successful conquerors of them all.


What lies before us is like an enormous Hollywood epic that Cecil B De Mille might have liked to produce, but whose actors will include real people, playing themselves: Roman emperors, popes, princes, princesses, kings, queens, pirates, rapists, thieves, martyrs, holy men - bad and good - saints, story-tellers, whom we call chroniclers.   

Names that still resonate include SS Gregory and Augustine, the Venerable Bede, now canonized, Alfred the Great, King Cnut, Edward the Confessor, and, of course, William the Conqueror.  


We shall come across incomparable wealth in the treasure houses of kings and noblemen, to contrast with the meagre livelihoods of unnamed thousands of men and women, whose only fault in these tumultuous centuries was to be at the bottom of the social and political hierarchy: it was ever thus.


We shall find armies and navies, battles and hostage-taking, massacres and burnings of whole towns; gruesome executions, blindings, and maimings;    shocking natural disasters, attributed to acts of God visited on a wicked people.   


Infidelity in men, it has been well said, is as common as rain, and we shall encounter killers of their fathers, their mothers, their brothers, and their sisters - rulers who can use anyone, even a man of honour.  


We shall also find fabulous artworks, wise law codes, just rulers, great kindnesses, acts of selfless charity, and love affairs of the greatest intensity.


It is a story mainly about how the Christian world spread and took root in the British Isles, but also elsewhere, to become the plinth on which the pillar of Western civilization stands, and to which it remains cemented, despite the rapid secularization of our society since the end of the Second World War in 1945.  

We used to believe in religious myths, now we believe in secular ones.   Kings and emperors have been replaced by presidents and prime ministers whose acolytes and apologists include scientists, sociologists, lords of industry and commerce, journalists, television news presenters, even actors and pop singers, and people like me, you might think, as this story rolls along.


You may well wonder, as we move through the centuries, whether we are making a history of Christianity, or a history of the people who now comprise what I call - not uniquely - the British Mongrel.  


We shall be doing both because, without Christianity, we shall never arrive at a proper understanding of the countries that comprise our islands At the Edge of the World, and Christianity - or how Christianity was interpreted - is the continuous thread that links everything together.   Perhaps it still does, if in less intense ways than in the Anglo-Saxon period.


I shall be digressing, throughout this documentary, from the Anglo-Saxon Christian past to the British present, in which symbols and proselytes, rituals and beliefs - having different names and titles today, being even atheistic - are essentially derived from a Christian heritage of martyrology and have their own form of righteousness, little different - except in nomenclature - from old Canon - or Church - Law, their own inquisitions, preachers, saints, and sinners.  

The burning debate - literally, by some lights - of Global Warming among scientists and politicians may not condemn to physical torture or to death by the scarlet flame those who question or dissent; but such dissenters, if scientists, it has been alleged, just don't get published in academic magazines and, thus, are excluded from funding.   The last British government came up with the thoughtful epithet for them: 'Flat-Earthers.'


Before we go into detail to set the all-important religious context of our period, we must go back again to Salisbury in 1086, where we left King William the Conqueror and his chief followers.   What was England like then?   

(I say England not to ignore the Scots or the Welsh, but because we actually have a reasonably clear picture of the kingdom from the English chronicles and, of course, that great survey, Domesday Book itself).  


Jane Cox, a principal assistant keeper at what was the Public Record Office, organized an exhibition to mark the Great Survey's ninth centenary in 1986.  

The Public Record Office, or PRO, is now called the National Archives, lives at Kew, south-west London, and is where the original Exchequer Domesday Survey is kept and is known as Public Record No One.   You can go there to see it in its air conditioned room.


Mrs Cox reminds us in the guide to her Exhibition that England was probably the richest monarchy in Europe.   We shall see why much later in this documentary.   The land was cultivated to a large extent in vast fields where hedgerows, which still define much of rural England today, hardly existed at all.   She tells us:


‘The primeval forests had long been cleared and the land was wooded about as much as modern France.   Settlements were old established and, except for the far north, there was no spot from which half a day's walk would not bring you to a house.   Many Roman roads had been maintained, communications were good, and trade flourished.’


The idea, therefore, that Robin Hood and his merry men, a century or so later, could hide out in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, is fiction.   Indeed, as a lover of the hunt - like all great men of the time - William the Conqueror planted forests, one in south-west Hampshire, so that he could pursue this sport.  


That forest is still called the New Forest because it was new and it was needed in the eleventh century, the king and many of his successors decreed.   There were still wolves and wild boar, but you may not know that there weren't any rabbits.   These were introduced by the Normans for hunting with the bow.  

I need hardly say that there were none of the modern conveniences, but some absences, that we take for granted today, may surprise.   There was no sugar.   There were no potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, oranges, lemons, coffee, tea.


There were no horse chestnut trees, so there were no conkers for boys to play with against each other.   I remember having a sevener, a conker with which I won seven contests before it was shattered by another boy in a playground competition, where you took it in turns to hit the opponent's conker with your own, both suspended on a knotted string.  Where conkers are still permitted in schools, I believe that contestants must now wear safety goggles.


Wine from these shores is not new, though you might think so.   Twenty-four vineyards are recorded in Domesday Book, and British wine, as it was called, is mentioned with praise by Tacitus, a Roman historian living in the early second century AD, which suggests that the climate was warm enough for vines in the outdoors.


We shall continue this preparatory description in next week's episode when I shall tell you about flowers, herbs, trees we did not have, the atrocious forms of medicine available to our ancestors, and Time.


Copyright Robert Smith, Manorial Society of Great Britain



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