Saturday, 27 October 2001

Michael Wood: Domesday (1986)

Edition: BBC, 1986 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 978

Produced as part of the nine hundredth anniversary of the production of the Domesday Book, this is the least accessible and least individual book which Wood has written. This is mainly because of the subject matter; to most amateur historians, Domesday is mainly of interest for local history of by the fact of its existence (being the earliest nationwide survey of land ownership and obligations of any European nation). Much of its true significance is seen by detailed and technical analysis, looking at the entries either statistically or in relation to whatever other information is available about a locality (Anglo-Saxon charters, for example).

Wood's book is actually not principally about Domesday itself. It is an account of the manorial system recorded there, about how it developed from Roman and early Anglo-Saxon farming practices until its decline in the later Middle Ages (the crisis being the plague of the 1340s). Since comparatively little is recorded about the lives of ordinary people in this period, much of the account is inferred from what evidence there is, which makes the book Wood's most academic. Considerable interest in history is required, but for the right reader there is much to enjoy.

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