DOMESDAY BOOK is the earliest of the English public records and one of the most famous documents in the western world. Its two volumes, Great Domesday (GDB) and Little Domesday (LDB), contain an account of lordship and land in England in 1086. The description of the manor of Copnor in Hampshire serves as a more or less typical extract. It reads as follows:
Robert [son of Gerold] holds Copnor and Heldred from him. Tovi held it from Earl Godwin [in 1066] and he could not go to another. Then and now it was taxed for 3 hides. There is land for 3 ploughs. In demesne 1 plough, and there are 5 villagers, 2 smallholders, and 2 slaves with 2 ploughs. There is 1 salthouse worth 8d. Value in the time of King Edward  and now 60s; when acquired 30s.
Arranged by county and fee, there are over 29,000 entries of this kind. Some contain more detail, others less, but together they make up a survey of a realm that was unprecedented. Comprehensive government records, of course, were not unknown at the time. Some three hundred years earlier Charlemagne seems to have contemplated a comprehensive account of his empire, but it did not proceed much beyond surveys of the imperial demesnes and church lands. Closer to home, Anglo-Saxon England had produced extensive taxation records. Christian Europe, however, had never before seen anything on the scale of Domesday Book.
It was an extraordinary achievement, and it was appreciated as such from an early period. Already by the early twelfth century Domesday Book was apparently a prized possession that was carefully preserved in the Treasury, and some sixty or so years later it had impinged itself on the popular imagination to such an extent that all-but-uniquely it was accorded its folk name. Richard fitzNigel, writing c. 1179 in the ‘Dialogue of the Exchequer’, explained that the survey was commonly known by the native English as Domesday, that is, the Day of Judgement:
for as the sentence of that strict and terrible last account cannot be evaded by any skilful subterfuge, so when this book is appealed to on those matters which it contains, its sentence cannot be quashed or set aside with impunity.