The Domesday Economy of England, 1086
By John McDonald
Paper given at University of Canterbury (New Zealand), April 2008
Abstract: Data collected in the Domesday Survey of 1086 can be used to reconstruct the eleventh century economy of England. The Survey contains high quality and detailed information on the inputs, outputs, and tax assessments of most English manors. In this seminar, I will describe the Survey, the contemporary institutional arrangements and the main features of Domesday agricultural production. I will show how frontier methods (DEA) can be used to assess the efficiency of production and measure the impact of the feudal and manorial systems on input productivities and output. The frontier analysis suggests that the average efficiency level of Domesday estates compares very favorably with that of more modern primary industry production. I also argue that input immobility, a consequence of the contemporary institutional fabric of feudalism and manorialism, resulted in wide variations in input productivities across estates, and led to a very significant reduction in overall output.
Introduction: Some 900 years ago, a remarkable survey was undertaken. The survey, which has become known as the Domesday Survey, was ordered by the King of England, William (the Conqueror). It covered most English manors in 1086. Landholders answered questionnaires and their responses, not regarded as confidential, were then publicly verified in local courts. The Survey provides surprisingly high quality and detailed information on manorial net incomes, resources and tax assessments.
These data can be used to reconstruct the economy of the time -production and tax relationships can be estimated; and issues such as the efficiency of production, the fairness of the tax system, and the influence of the feudal and manorial systems on production investigated. In this seminar I review some of the findings relating to eleventh century production efficiency, explain the frontier method used to derive the results, and indicate the impact of the feudal and manorial systems on production.
See also our Feature on the Domesday Book