Talking to others: the Domesday Inquest
Kumamoto University, Japan, 4 April 2001

To read many texts books one would be forgiven for concluding that medieval kingship was merely a matter of force. To rule effectively a king had to be strong, but in equal measure he had to listen to his subjects. It is argued here that the inquest, as illustrated by the Domesday survey of 1086, was one of the main means by which rulers consulted with the ruled. Inquest records have usually been characterized as products of an executive process; an appendix illustrates how this perception has determined the analysis of the Domesday texts and their interrelation. In reality, they signally failed to resolve disputed matters, and it can be shown that they were intended to embody communally agreed 'fact' on which subsequent negotiations could be based. In 1086 they seem to have informed (but not determined) a reform of taxation and provisions for the defence of the realm following a threat of invasion. As such, inquest records are contrasted with abbreviations. Domesday Book is a typical example. It was written for administrative purposes, probably after the revolt of 1088, and was never intended to embody decisions on right. The reputation that it subsequently enjoyed reflects the concerns of the twelfth century rather than those of the eleventh. Throughout the Middle Ages, as a reference resource, abbreviations never had the same status as verdicts.

©David Roffe, April 2001.