In 1066 King Harold was defeated at the Battle of Hastings by William, Duke of Normandy. On Christmas Day 1066 William was crowned King William I of England. As king, William granted the lands of the English nobility to his own loyal followers.
As a result of these sudden changes there was now no record of who owned what land throughout the country. For purposes of taxation a record of land ownership needed to be made, and so in 1086 the King commissioned men to be sent to each shire in England to find out what - and how much - each landholder now owned. A record was also made of what livestock was held on the land, how many ploughs were used, what men lived on it and what it was worth.
There is also a second possible reason for the commissioning of the Domesday Survey. Prior to William's defeat of King Harold there had been a number of other contenders for the throne of England - among these were King Canute of Denmark and King Olaf of Norway. These two men posed quite a threat to William's newly-acquired crown, and to ward off possible attacks he created a fund called the Danegeld which was used to pay off marauding Danish armies. This fund was raised by taxes, and so the Domesday Survey may have been commissioned so that King William could see how much tax was coming in and so knew what funds were in the Danegeld.
It took twelve months for the Commissioners to gather the information from each shire. This was then copied into two books, later known as the Domesday Book. As the information recorded in the survey was deemed to be fact it was called the Domesday Book as Domesday refers to the "day of judgment". It took only two years to compile and publish all the information gathered, a sure testament to the determination and power of William the Conqueror.
[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2002]