Compared with Normandy, England was a comparatively wealthy country in the 11th century, largely thanks to the wool trade. But in 1069, there had been a major revolt against Norman rule and there were frequent threats of invasion which had led Duke William to hire expensive mercenary soldiers. Ever keen to raise more from taxes and to consolidate his control, Duke William commissioned the Domesday Inquest and subsequent Domesday Book. He had three main reasons:
Compiling the Domesday Book was an astonishing achievement, not matched by any other European country. It covered the whole of England south of the River Tees and the Westmorland Fells, in amazing detail. In order to complete this task in just a couple of years, it is thought that there were seven separate teams or "panels" for the seven "circuits" which covered the country. These panels held a formal inquiry at each hundred court, taking evidence on oath about the manors in that hundred. In many areas, a second team of assessors re-visited to cross-check the reports. Hemyock had a hundred court so the panel would have held an inquiry there.
The Domesday Book was popularly called The Book of Judgement because like the biblical Day of Judgement there was no appeal! The level of detail gives an impression of accuracy and completeness. However, being primarily an assessment of taxation it is very likely that the figures were often the result of prolonged negotiation.
The Domesday book is organized in sections, according to who held the lands. These principal land-owners would have granted lands to sub-tenants, the people who actually occupied their lands, in return for loyalty, service and rents. The entry for each land-holding aimed to answer three questions over ownership:
It also aimed to discover the amount of taxation paid at these three points.
The total taxable value of England was assessed at about 110,000 medieval marks (ie. about 110,000 Euros!)
Now that translations are available on-line many more people access have access to this remarkable document. But, the Domesday Book does need very careful interpretation. Even scholars disagree about certain aspects. Much extra information is required in order to understand the main text. The Phillimore translation of the Devonshire Domesday Book consist of one thick volume containing a facsimile of the original text together with its translation; and a similar-sized volume containing notes, explanations and references to a library of other documents.
Measurements of land probably do not conform to uniform standards: They are intended mainly for assessing taxes rather than for providing precise dimensions of land-holdings. The units of measurement seem to have different meanings in different areas.
Some modern scholars such as David Roffe have made interesting studies into Duke William's aims and motives. Their findings caution against taking the Domesday documents at face value.
Careful inspection suggests that some parts were more accurate than others. Time was short, and the surveyors found some areas of the country very dangerous to visit. Many towns – including London – and some areas were excluded. Inevitably, there were also some errors.
But, even modern governments in peacetime and with modern technology have problems with these tasks: After the 2001 United Kingdom census, it was reported that government officials had decided to "invent" about a million people in order to compensate for the number thought to have been missed. This demonstrates the great achievement of compiling the Domesday Book when England was very far from peaceful.
Many entries in the Domesday Book contain the abbreviation "T.R.E." This means in the time of King Edward the Confessor – the last King recognised as lawful by William the Conqueror – whose death on 5th January 1066 initiated the events leading to the Norman Conquest. So, the Domesday Book uses the reign of King Edward – not King Harold – as the lawful baseline for land holdings and taxation.
At the time of the Domesday Book, Devonshire was still sub-divided into the old Anglo-Saxon hundreds. The Hundred of Hemyock covered fifteen place names. Hemyock was the chief manor, or head of the hundred. Awliscombe and some other places were sub-divided into several individual holdings or manors, each held by a different person, so listed separately in the Domesday Book.
The modernised names of the places in the Hundred of Hemyock are:
Hemyock Manor is listed in the 1086 Domesday Book as Hamihoch, held by King William, granted to Baldwin. In 1086, it appears to have been occupied by William Cheever. The church went to Torre Abbey and the manor to the Honor of Plympton.
Adapted from Victoria History of the Counties of England, Devonshire
by Dawson, Published: Archibald Constable, 1906
The King has a manor called HAMIHOCH which King Edward held T.R.E., and it paid geld for 1 virgate. This 12 ploughs can till. There the King has one plough in demesne and the villeins 9. There he has 12 villeins, 12 bordars, 7 serfs, also 2 beasts, 40 sheep, 8 furlongs of wood(land), 16 acres of meadow, and pasture 2 leagues in length by 1½ in breadth. It pays 6 pounds by weight. When Baldwin received it it was paying the same.
Adapted from Domesday Book DB9, Devon
Edited by John Morris, Published: Phillimore, 1985
The King holds HEMYOCK. Before 1066 it paid tax for 1 virgate of land.
Land for 12 ploughs. In lordship 1 plough; 7 slaves; 12 villagers and 12 smallholders with 9 ploughs. Meadow, 16 acres; pasture 2 leagues long and 1½ leagues wide; woodland, 8 furlongs. 2 cattle; 40 sheep. It pays £6 by weight; when Baldwin acquired it, it paid as much.
According to these entries, taken at face value, the manor of Hemyock covered about 3500 acres, with a surprisingly large area of pasture. Perhaps the recent serious animal disease outbreaks had greatly reduced the amount of stock?
Modern, non-intensive farming practice on this type of land would place 4 or 5 ewes per acre; or allocate about 5 acres per horse or cow.
The manor had only ten of the twelve ploughs apparently calculated by the assessors. Many Devon manors had fewer ploughs than their assessments. But rather than signifying an ideal number of ploughs, the assessors were probably applying a new measure in preparation for possible new taxation: At this time, tax (geld) was not paid on the lord's demesne; instead, he owed service to his lord and to the King. Subsequently, tax was levied on the lord's demesne, apparently making use of this assessment of ploughs.
At the time of the Domesday Book, there were large areas of waste land which formed part of the Royal Forest, where the King had sole rights to the hunting and land. In 1204, the men of Devonshire paid King John 5000 marks to have the county disafforested up to the regards of Dartmoor and Exmoor. This charter was not put into effect until 1242. Dartmoor and Exmoor remained as Royal Forests.
Hemyock was inclosed in 1814. Mrs Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe was recorded as the owner of the manor of Hemyock. She vigorously defended and successfully retained rights over much of the former common land around Hemyock and Madford.
Note, this information is published "as is". It needs thorough checking against sources.
Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
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