Little Domesday Book is a detailed record of properties in the English counties of Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk in the late eleventh century. Copied at the royal chancery at Winchester in 1086, it is a companion volume to Great Domesday Book, which does not include these three counties. Its descriptions are fuller than those in Great Domesday, with its enumerations of subtenants, plows, woodlands, meadows, pastures, watermills, fishponds, pigs, sheep, horses, and beehives, as well as property values in 1066 (at the time of King Edward) and in 1086 (the time of the survey).
On Christmas Day in 1085, William I "the Conqueror," King of England, commissioned a survey of his kingdom. For the next several months, his commissioners gathered information. Little Domesday Book is a fair copy of the findings for the three counties it covers.
A Colophon Tells the Tale
A Latin colophon written in red display script of mostly Rustic Capitals at the end of the manuscript refers to it as a survey (Latin descriptio) and dates its production: "In the one thousandth and eighty-sixth year from the Incarnation of Our Lord, and in the twentieth of the reign of William, there was made this survey, not only through these three counties but also through others" (fol. 450r).
A Different Sort of Book
Although complementary to Great Domesday, Little Domesday is different in its appearance. Its pages are smaller, but the volume is thicker. The text is written in long lines (i.e., one column), rather than the two-column format of Great Domesday. It also varies from its larger cousin in some choices of language and spelling conventions.
Land Measurements according to Local Practice
There is less consistency in the presentation in Little Domesday than in Great Domesday. The king's properties in each county are always listed first, as in Great Domesday. Ecclesiastical holdings appear next for Essex, as in Great Domesday, but further along in the listings for Norfolk and Suffolk.
The lands of Essex are measured in hides (a hide being enough land to support a household), whereas properties in Norfolk and Suffolk are measured in carucates (a carucate being an area that could be plowed by a team of eight oxen).
The Work of Many Scribes
Seven scribes contributed to writing the manuscript, with most of the work done by three, although not, as one might expect, with one responsible for each county. They all wrote in the Transitional Script of the long twelfth century, and they corrected their own work. All used the abbreviation T.R.E. (for Tempore Regis Edwardi, "in the time of King Edward") in the expression for the value of properties before the Norman conquest of England.
Little Domesday Book has been rebound several times over the centuries, and in 1985 it was divided into three volumes, one for each county, and rebound (Essex: fols. a-i, 1-108; Norfolk: fols. 109-280; Suffolk: fols. 281-451, j-x).