Public records: Land taxes and feudal surveys

The earliest taxes in England were based on land. The first land tax, the geld, began in the late 10th century to raise tribute money for the Danish invaders, and continued until the mid 12th century. However, few records of the geld survive, and none is earlier than the Norman conquest. In the late 12th century, the geld was replaced by another land tax, the carucage, initially levied to pay the ransom of Richard I. Some records of the carucage survive, but in the early 13th century it in turn was succeeded by taxes on moveable goods and, later by alternative taxes on landed income (see subsidies and other taxes).

In addition, much of the crown's income came from feudal dues of various kinds, which were, in effect, taxes on land. One example was the feudal aid, a payment which by tradition the king could demand from his tenants to finance the knighting of his eldest son or the marriage of his eldest daughter. Another was scutage, a payment made by those who held land in return for military service, but who were unable or unwilling to perform it. These taxes applied to lands held by the king's tenants; a parallel tax, levied on the king's own estates (the royal demesne) and on the royal boroughs, was tallage.

Obviously, it was important for the crown to maintain detailed records concerning the feudal tenure of land. Domesday Book, the earliest such record, is dealt with in a separate section. Some similar local surveys survive from the 12th century, often representing attempts to supply information omitted from Domesday, or to bring the old survey up to date. But in 1166, it was found necessary start afresh, and the tenants in chief were ordered to send in details of their holdings, their under-tenants and the service they owed. The resulting returns are called the Cartae Baronum, or 'Barons' Certificates' ('barons' is a misleading description, to the modern eye - all the tenants in chief were included, down to humble knights subsisting on a single manor). In the returns, a distinction is made between under-tenancies created before the death of Henry I (1135), described as those of the old enfeoffment, and those created more recently.

The inquiry of 1166 is thought to have been motivated by Henry II's intention of levying a feudal aid for the marriage of his eldest daughter two years later. Aids continued to be levied until the beginning of the 15th century, and provide, in effect, regular surveys of feudal tenure. Many of the original returns survive; in addition, they were often copied into books kept in the Exchequer for future reference. One of the main such collections, covering a wide range of material from the 13th century, was officially called the Book of Fees, but familiarly known as the Testa de Nevill ('Nevill's Head'), probably after a caricature of a medieval civil servant, with which its container was decorated. One of the main printed collections is based on the Book of Fees; the other, Feudal Aids, extends to the early 15th century. As well as these periodical surveys, from the mid-13th century onwards inquiries were held after the death of each tenant in chief, to determine what lands they had held and who should succeed them - these inquisitions post mortem are covered in a separate section.

The bibliography below covers some of the main lists available in print (only the more recent editions are included). Generally, the names given are those of tenants in chief and their immediate under-tenants. Usually the records have been printed as a Latin transcript without a translation, although as they are essentially lists of names the vocabulary is relatively small. The lists were usually compiled using a previous record as a guide, and they often give the name of the previous, as well as the current, tenant. This can obviously be a big help to the genealogist, although the relationship between the people mentioned is not normally given. One point to bear in mind is that the emphasis was usually on knights' fees, so that those who held their land other than by military service (e.g. by serjeanty) might be omitted. Sometimes, also, small holdings, less than a specified fraction of a knight's fee, were exempt.

Links and bibliography for feudal surveys and land taxes

For source material on the internet, click here



As noted below, most of the 12th-century surveys and the Cartae Baronum are included in the Continental Origins of English Landholders, 1066-1166 (COEL) database.

The following information is available online:

Another relevant academic project in progress is English Landholding in Ireland, c.1200-c.1360 (Durham University), which aims to compile a detailed register of land held in Ireland by those normally resident elsewhere. It is hoped to release the results as a publicly accessible database, though no data are available yet. [Not available, 4 November 2007; see the Internet Archive's copy of this page, from March 2004]

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12th-century surveys

The Worcestershire Survey

British Library, Cotton Tiberius A xiii ('Heming's Cartulary'), ff.141,141d. Holdings of the bishop and monks of Worcester, c.1115.
This document is included in the COEL database.

The Winchester (or 'Winton') Domesday

Society of Antiquaries of London, MS 154. The manuscript contains two surveys of Winchester, dated c.1110 and 1148.

The Lindsey Survey

British Library, Cotton Vespasian E xxii. A survey of Lindsey (Lincolnshire), from 1115-1118.
This document is included in the COEL database.

The Northamptonshire Survey

British Library, Cotton Vespasian E xxii. Probably from shortly before 1120, with later additions.
This document is included in the COEL database.

The Leicestershire Survey

P.R.O. E198/1/1. Survey of parts of Leicestershire, from 1125-1130.
An online version of the Latin text of the survey, printed by J.H. Round in Feudal England ... (London, 1895) has been provided by Guy Etchells.
This document is included in the COEL database.

The 'Herefordshire Domesday'

Balliol College, Oxford, MS 350. A copy of the Domesday text for Herefordshire, made in the 1160s, with annotations, including more recent land holders.

Boldon Book

The manuscript exists in 4 copies, the earliest being British Library, Stowe MS 930 (13th century). A survey of the bishop of Durham's estates, in the counties of Durham and Northumberland, made in 1183.

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The Cartæ Baronum (1166)

Two 13th-century transcripts are in P.R.O. E164/12 (Little Black Book of the Exchequer) and E164/2 (Red Book of the Exchequer); some original returns are in E198/1/3. Returns, made in 1166 by each tenant in chief, of the lands they held, the names of their sub-tenants and the service done by them.
These documents are included in the COEL database.

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Rotuli de dominabus ... (1185)

P.R.O. E198/1/2. Also called the 'Ladies' Roll'. Returns to an inquiry, carried out in 1185, into lands held by widows, minors and heiresses. Unusually for a record of this period, ages are given.

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The Book of Fees (1198-1293)

P.R.O. E164/5-6. Officially the Liber feodorum (Book of Fees), but commonly known as the Testa de Nevill ('Nevill's Head'). A transcript, made in 1302, of about 500 earlier records of feudal tenure, dating from 1198-1293; many of these, where they still survive, are now in class E198 (see below). The main documents included are:

An edition of the Testa was published by the Record Commissioners in 1807, but 'bristles with error and confusion throughout'. The more recent edition, a Latin text, using the original returns where possible, is

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Hundred Rolls (late 13th century)

P.R.O. SC5. Returns to several enquiries into the royal and other estates.
The following information is available online:

This work discusses the records, the motivation for the enquiries, and how they were carried out:

Published works:

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Feudal Aids (1284-1431)

A six-volume printed collection, the main constituents of which - not all of them strictly feudal aids - are:

The returns are arranged chronologically within each county:

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