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Profile of a Doomed Elite: The Structure of English Landed Society in 1066

Funded by The Leverhulme Trust

Directed by Dr Stephen Baxter (King's)

Project researchers

Project commenced September 2010

The project will use innovative methods for interpreting Domesday Book to survey the whole of English landed society on the eve of the Norman Conquest in 1066, identifying landowners at all levels of society from the king and earls down to the parish gentry and even some prosperous peasants. 

It may seem astonishing that this has never been done before, since the evidence has existed for more than 900 years. Domesday Book is the most complete survey of any medieval landed society, and provides a unique opportunity to reconstruct the distribution of landed wealth in eleventh-century England. It has been intensively studied, but until now progress has been blocked: the way pre-Conquest landholders are recorded creates major difficulties in identifying and distinguishing individuals of the same name; gathering, comparing, and mapping the evidence by hand has been prohibitively time-consuming; and evidence about landholders in other sources (such as chronicles and charters) has not been systematically pulled together. 

Recent research on two fronts has transformed this situation. Publications by Baxter, Lewis, and others (including in particular Dr Ann Williams, whose research constitutes one of the keystones of the project) have shown that Domesday Book can be used to make many more secure identifications of landowners than had ever been thought possible; and the imminent publication of ‘The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England’ (PASE) will allow the evidence to be assembled, mapped, and compared with other sources much more efficiently. PASE will provide a prosopography – that is, a list of everything known – for every person recorded throughout the entire Anglo-Saxon period from the sixth century to the eleventh. It has been based at King’s and the University of Cambridge, and has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council over eight years in two phases. The second phase, which was published on 18 August 2010, extended PASE’s coverage of the eleventh century, and made a comprehensive database of Domesday landholders linked to mapping facilities freely available online. 

‘Profile of a Doomed Elite’ will build on and refine PASE’s coverage of the late Anglo-Saxon nobility on the eve of its demise. It opens up the prospect of a major breakthrough in our knowledge of the Norman Conquest, one of the defining moments in English and European history.  

The project will be implemented and published online by the King's Department of Digital Humanities. 

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