The English Historical Review/Volume 37/The 'Domesday' Roll of Chester

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The 'Domesday' Roll of Chester

There has been, and still is, the strangest misconception of the true nature of the so-called 'Domesday' Roll of Chester, the Magnus Rotulus Comitatus Cestrie qui vocatur Domesday. Ormerod, writing in 1819, speaks of earlier vague surmises on the subject, and, in spite of the fact that he made it abundantly clear that this roll cannot have had the slightest resemblance to, or analogy with, the great Domesday Inquest, many later writers, both learned and otherwise, have ignored his investigations and persisted in adding to the confusion. We shall refer below to what was known about the roll by the older Cheshire collectors, such as Booth, Vernon, and Leycester, and shall begin with Dr. Foote Gower, a later would-be historian of the county palatine. In 1771–2 Dr. Gower, issued proposals for a new history of Cheshire with a Sketch of the Materials available for that purpose. After referring to Domesday Book proper he has the following remarks:[1]

But besides this general survey … there was a Domes-day Book peculiar only to our Palatinate; and which undoubtedly took its rise from this sensible institution of the Norman Conqueror.

He then mentions Sir Peter Leycester's statement as to the loss of the original roll and proceeds:

But with the leave of our great antiquary this invaluable record, or at least a record which ascertains the lineal and uninterrupted succession of almost every single acre of Cheshire property for at least five hundred years, is now in my possession. I should be sorry to suppose it the stolen and the precious casket of ancient charts which Sir Peter tells us was taken away. But I own my heart beats with a provincial joy when I reflect that accident has put it in my power to oblige my countrymen with this opus aureum, this golden record; so infinitely superior to any record now existing, either in the archives or in the annals of any other county in Great Britain. And if Parliament has thought it an object worthy of national wisdom to print the original Domesday Book at the expense of the public, which relates only to one simple period of time, it is scarcely to be imagined that the generous good sense for which our County has been remarkable, would be inattentive to the public preservation of this invaluable record; which faithfully registers the succession, not only of their property, but of their progenitors for such a length of centuries.

In a foot-note Dr. Gower makes the definite statement that 'the Cheshire Domes-day, if I may so call it, now in my possession, consists of two folio volumes, in a very small close hand'. However, in a postscript, he sets out a number of Cheshire manuscripts not mentioned by him before, because then unknown to him, 'But I am sufficiently happy either in the promise or the possession of them'. These included nine folio volumes of Vernon's manuscripts sent to Dr. Gower by Peter Shakerley of Somerford.

Amongst these is a transcript of the principal articles contained in that singular record, the Cheshire Domes-day, which was remaining in the Castle of Chester in the year 1638. This record was always esteemed of that invaluable nature as to have been preserved only in the private custody of the Chief Justice of Chester. As such it passed into the hands of the famous John Bradshaw in the year 1647, and amidst the confusion of those times never more became the property of the public.

We shall refer again to Vernon's manuscripts. Presumably Gower had not examined them with any care (or perhaps at all), or he must have seen that in his earlier remarks he had entirely mistaken the nature of the record and that the two volumes recording the succession of Cheshire property, which he had described, were not the Cheshire 'Domesday'. They must have been something quite different, as the 'Domesday' Roll in no way answered to such a description.[2]

The miscellaneous extracts from early pleadings, &c., made in Elizabethan days and printed in 1811 by the Record Commissioners under the title of Placitorum Abbreviatio, contained an incomplete abstract of proceedings (to which we shall refer later) before the king's council in 1253–4 relating to the advowson of Sandbach, in which the enrolment of an inquisition (taken in 1224 in the time of Ranulph earl of Chester) in the Rotulus qui vocatur Domisday was pleaded and the perpetual authority of this roll, after being impugned, was upheld. Illingworth, in his introductory remarks to the volume, could only say, 'In the archives of the earl of Chester there formerly existed a Roll, denominated "the Domes-day of Chester"; the entries in this roll were esteemed of high authority and perhaps conclusive evidence'.[3] In 1833 Sir Henry Ellis quotes Illingworth's remarks in his General Introduction to Domesday Book (proper),[4] which could only tend to lend colour to the suggestion that there was some relation between the two records.

When discussing the name 'Domesday' in his Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth,[5] Sir Francis Palgrave goes still further and clearly assumes the Chester record to be analogous to Domesday Book proper, for, after mentioning similarly named records at Norwich and Ipswich containing entries of charters and customs, he tells us 'the Domesday of Chester, being a record more nearly approximating to the real Domesday, was preserved among the archives of the Earldom'.

In 1840 Mr. W. H. Black of the Record Office, in his Report on the records of Wales and Chester,[6] has the following remarks:

For the ancient Domesday of Chester I made special inquiry but it is not known to be extant. It was a record of high authority and seems to have contained evidence of judgments and various ascertained rights, recorded for the Earls of Chester and their subjects in early times.

After a reference to the Sandbach case, he proceeds:

Entries continued to be made in it until 15 Edward I (1287)[7] as it appears by an original document contained in the oldest bundle of fines in the Prothonotary's office; which is thus subscribed: Ista carta irrotulata est in libro qui vocatur Domesday, die Iovis proxima ante purificationem beate Marie, coram militibus et libere tenentibus de Com. Cestr. in pleno scaccario; ubi predicti Ricardus et Agnes venerunt; et predicta Agnes super hoc examinata, predictam cartam recognoverunt anno r.r. E. XVo.[8] Hence it appears that the Chester Domesday was not a roll as repeatedly it is called in the [Sandbach] record before quoted, but a book similar perhaps to the Black Book and Red Book of the Exchequer at Westminster.

In a foot-note Mr. Black says:

It may here be observed that the record of Chester was most likely not a Survey, like the Domesday of Exeter, &c., because Cheshire is included in the Book of Westminster, unless the Earl of Chester had a transcript of the latter, so far as his Palatinate was concerned, with space left in the volume for additional matter to be recorded therewith.

In papers read before the Chester Archaeological Society in 1852[9] Mr. Black qualified his statement that the record was a book by a suggestion that it may have consisted of documents bound up together, adding his own view that the record had perished from damp or by being cut up for book covers, which, he says, would have been the more easy supposing it had consisted of a number of consecutive and single documents strung together at the corner.

Mr. George Esdaile, in a paper written in 1886 on 'Lancashire and Cheshire Domesday',[10] believed the lost roll to be 'one of the original county inquisitions made by the Conqueror's order'. He gives a list of thirty-nine references to documents which, he says, 'would go far to make up the lost roll', and the examination of which he thought might lead to the finding of the original, or a copy. As, although he appears to have known of Ormerod's investigations, he entirely misapprehends the nature of the document, it is not surprising to find that only three of his references are clearly relevant to it.[11] The remaining thirty-six are confused references to extracts from, or notes on, Domesday Book proper for Cheshire, inquisitions, pedigrees, &c., which could have little or no bearing on the matter of the roll, however important some of them might be for the elucidation of the great Survey to which Mr. Esdaile, like so many others, mistakenly thought this roll was related.

In 1899 we find Mr. W. H. Bird (who has made considerable research into the records of Cheshire) writing of 'that very mysterious document the Cheshire Domesday',[12] and, in another place,[13] of a statement of the Grosvenor pedigree which is

reported to be taken from that very mysterious source the Cheshire Domesday, and appears in a very unsatisfactory form. Unfortunately it cannot be verified, being earlier than any of the existing Plea Rolls.

Still further evidence that the roll was not clearly appreciated by some of those who might have been expected to be more critical is provided by the volumes of Domesday Studies issued in 1888 in connexion with the commemoration of Domesday Book. Here Ormerod's Memoir on the Cheshire roll is included by Mr. W. de G. Birch in his paper on 'Materials for Re-editing' the great survey as 'fairly within the scope of the (proposed) Domesday Book Society's work for examination and possibly for re-printing',[14] and by Mr. H. B. Wheatley in his 'Domesday Bibliography.'[15] Exactly what bearing it could have on the subject of the survey is not explained by either of them. Finally we find Dr. Holdsworth in his History of English Law (1900) adding further confusion by classing the Cheshire 'Domesday' with surveys and extents like the Boldon Book and Domesday of St. Paul's.[16]

Dr. James Tait, in his edition of the Domesday Survey of Cheshire,[17] after mentioning the lack, in the case of Cheshire, of the help afforded in other counties from inquests of service, feudal aids, &c., proceeds:

The so-called 'Domesday Roll' of the palatinate which to some extent provides similar assistance, is unfortunately only extant in part. … All or nearly all, the light that can be thrown upon the Domesday survey from this roll … is digested in Ormerod and Helsby's history. …

Probably Dr. Tait had not then noticed Ormerod's special investigations.

We must now turn back to Ormerod, who, when working at his History of Cheshire early in the nineteenth century, obtained access to the manuscripts of Earl Grosvenor at Eaton Hall, near Chester, in which he discovered a clue to the missing roll. He states:

The library of Eaton … contains … (among other Cheshire MSS.) one volume of Collections, marked xxi. 5 [now 28], containing a transcript of a large portion of the celebrated and lost record, distinguished by the name of the Cheshire Domesday … no other regular transcript of any portion has been hitherto discovered. … The contents are of a description very different from that of the Domesday Book. …[18]

In the preface, dated 1819, to his History, Ormerod gives further information of his discoveries:

[The palatinate] has a record of its own (on the nature of which, previous to the author's late discovery of a considerable portion thereof, many vague surmises have been indulged), the Rotulus qui vocatur Domesday, so called not from any similarity in its nature to that of the celebrated Survey, but from its equal importance as decisive and irrefragable evidence. It is described at full in another part of the work,[19] and was simply a roll, or series of rolls, in which grants, fines, quitclaims, compositions, &c., were entered at the time when they were made,[20] and the original roll was kept in the custody of the Clericus Com. Cest. or the secretary of the local earl. The original was lost between 1580 and 1647, as mentioned below; but copies of a portion of it remain in the libraries of earl Grosvenor at Eaton and in the College of Arms; and the author has also a transcript from the first mentioned MS. with additional entries, collected from Vernon's papers and the Chartulary of St. Werburgh, with which they had been incorporated. The Eaton copy (which the author was permitted to transcribe by the kindness of earl Grosvenor) was the only one known when the account of Eaton was printed; but as it is incorporated with extracts from Flower and Glover's Visitation of 1580, the author referred to the visitation book itself (MSS. Coll. Arm. I. D. 14) and there found Glover's original abstract which agrees with the Eaton copy, excepting that it [the latter] contains at the end a few more deeds[21] relating to the advowsons of Astbury and Neston.

After remarking that the Cheshire 'Domesday' appeared to be unique as a legal document, Ormerod classifies the entries in the herald's extracts under various justiciars of Chester; points out that the original roll seems to have been in the exchequer of Chester in the time of John Booth (1584–1659) and was certainly there at the Visitation of 1580, but was lost when Sir Peter Leycester was making his collections; shows by analysis that the herald's extracts were a portion of the true 'Domesday' Roll because they included charters known from other sources to have been entered upon it; and also proves (as we can now more abundantly show) that there were many other entries which the herald did not copy.[22]

Many years after the publication of his History, Ormerod again turned his attention to the Cheshire 'Domesday' Roll, and in 1851 he issued, for private distribution, a Memoir on the subject, with a Calendar of Fragments of the record collected by him, and some notices of the thirteenth-century justiciars of Cheshire.[23] In this little known and scarce essay he emphasized the true nature of the record as a series of enrolments of judgements, charters, grants and agreements, suggested by quotations that it was rather a roll (rotulus) than a book (liber), and, by means of extracts from other records and collations, confirmed his earlier conclusion that the extracts in the College of Arms Manuscript were taken from the original Roll then (1580) in existence. He gives in considerable detail, by way of proof of his statements, the pleadings in the Sandbach case from the Coram Rege (Curia Regis) Roll of 38 Henry III, to which reference is made below.

By this time Ormerod had discovered at Oxford a third copy of Flower's notes from the original roll, namely, in Dodsworth MS. xxxi,[24] but he does not state that he used or collated it. He had, however, compared his copy of the Grosvenor manuscript with the original at the Heralds' College, and had found some other entries on the roll from various sources. Full credit is due to him for his work and for being the first to appreciate the general nature of the roll. But the Calendar of Fragments (which was all he ever printed) is a most unsatisfactory compilation for purposes of study. It consists of very condensed and incomplete abstracts, in English only, of such entries on the roll as he had recovered. The formal parts of the documents, so important in this case, are not given, nor the witnesses' names. His object was, he says, to supply 'analytical titles of the entries', 'fragments useful to the genealogist and topographer', and his Memoir was 'without pretension to the character of a legal disquisition'. Within these limits his work was original and useful, but as his full copy of the herald's abstracts is not now available, we found it necessary to do the work over again and to make considerable further research before attempting to give any account of this roll from other points of view.

The materials[25] which are now available for the consideration of this roll, so far as we have ascertained, are as follows:

1. The extracts made by the herald in 1580 'Ex rotulo antiquarum chartarum vocato Domesday':

The original notes are on folios 208 to 216 of the College of Arms MS. I. D. 14, of which there are copies in the Grosvenor (Eaton) MS., no. 28 (old no. xxi. 5), and in Dodsworth MS., no. xxxi, fo. 85. Ormerod used the first two. The last is an inferior version. By permission of the College of Arms and the duke of Westminster, we have been able to collate all three manuscripts. The herald took accurate notes of some fifty-five entries on the roll, all relating to the thirteenth century. Some of them are also to be found in the Chartulary of Chester Abbey.[26]

2. Documents contained in Shakerley (Vernon) MS., no. 4:

We have seen that, according to Dr. Gower, writing in 1771, there was a transcript of the 'principal contents' of the 'Domesday' roll among the Vernon MSS. at Somerford. By permission of Sir Walter Shakerley, Bart., of Somerford Park, near Congleton, we have seen in the muniment room there fourteen manuscript volumes of Cheshire collections which belonged to his ancestor Peter Shakerley. These include no doubt the nine volumes lent to Gower. We have looked at them all and examined some of them in detail, with the result that in volume iv (which consists mainly of abstracts of the final concords extracted from the original bundles at Chester between 1631–9 either by Booth or Vernon) we found copies of a number of charters and documents 'taken forth of the Roll called Cheshyre Domesday', then apparently (1638) at Chester Castle among the records of the prothonotary, Henry Birkenhead. No doubt these are the 'principal contents' referred to by Gower. It was a little difficult to be certain exactly which of the documents had been enrolled in the 'Domesday', but most of them record that fact, and they are nearly all grouped together under the special heading. Some of the charters are unknown and of interest, though there is none earlier than 1269, which seems to show that the earlier membranes had by 1638 got detached from the roll. They make it still more clear that the roll contained a great many more entries besides those copied by the herald in 1580. There may be fifty or more documents taken from the roll in this collection, besides other charters found among the fines which are referred to under 5 below. Some of the former are also in the Chartulary of Chester Abbey.

3. Entries in the Gough Manuscripts:

Among these papers, in the Bodleian Library, there is a volume (Cheshire, no. 1) which contains 'Antiquitys concerning Cheshire: collected from authentick records: with an abstract of their contents, according to the commands of the Lord Malpas by his Lordship's humble servant Randal Minshull'. The bulk of the contents was collected or entered up about 1591–5 and principally by 'your uncull-in-lawe Tho. Stanley', and Minshull added titles and a list of contents about 1730. Stanley was no doubt the same as Thomas Stanley of Weaver and Alderley, who died in 1591, having married an aunt of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley (died 1601). The latter's great-grandson was created Viscount Malpas in 1706 and died in 1725. Among Stanley's collections in this volume are short notes of a few charters enrolled in the 'booke called Domesday', relating to the collegiate church of St. John at Chester. He mentions five grants enrolled on 17 February 43 Henry III (1258/9); and also four others enrolled on 18 February 29 Edward III (1354/5) in the time of Thomas de Ferrers, justiciar of Chester. The herald did not copy any of these in 1580.

4. Other documents collected from various sources, showing in themselves that they had been enrolled in the 'Domesday'. Ormerod had notes of several, and we have collected many more. As some of these appear also in the herald's notes of 1580 the accuracy of his work can be proved in several cases.

5. Lastly, and perhaps the most interesting, we have two fragments of parchment now in the Record Office, listed as Chester 38/47 (2) and (1), both of which we have good reason to think once formed part of the 'Domesday' Roll, of which, in that case, they are the only extant surviving portions.

We were led to them by a reference, made by Mr. Black in his Report of 1840 on the palatine records, to two bundles of fines, one containing a small membrane of enrolments of charters, &c., 28 Henry III, recorded in the county court. He thought that this was probably a fragment of a Plea Roll, and it was more ancient than any record he had seen in Chester or Wales. At first nothing seemed to be known of this membrane at the Record Office, and it was not to be found among the list of Plea Rolls. But the Addenda to the 'List' (no. 40) of the Cheshire records, p. xiv, led to the discovery, among 'Various' documents, of a box (no. 47) containing two fragments, one of them (no. 2), though dated temp. Edward II in the 'List', evidently the membrane of 28 Henry III referred to by Mr. Black, and the other (no. 1) a somewhat similar one also listed as temp. Edward II but actually dated 1280. Both documents came to the Record Office with the other Chester records in 1854.

No. 2 is, as Mr. Black said, the earliest extant official record of the county palatine. It is a membrane 13⅞ inches by 8½ inches, written on both sides, and may perhaps at one time have been used as a cover. There is a jagged hole at the top extending through most of the first entry on it and two smaller holes in the middle. At the foot are some sets of punctures, probably indicating that it had at some time been sewn on to another membrane. The document has been repaired, and most of it is illegible. But we found that the collector of the Shakerley MS., no. 4, mentioned above, had evidently seen this document in January 1631/2 among the bundles of fines at Chester, and he copied most of it. For the rest he referred to 'Liber D', one of Vernon's Collections (Harl. MS. 1967, fo. 1067), where Mr. Brownbill found the full text of the other entries. Thus it has been possible to recover all the enrolments in full and to study this document.

On the front of the membrane are entered several charters for Combermere Abbey[27] read at the county court on 26 April 1244. These are prefaced by the following heading:

Carte abbatis et domus de Cumbermare lecte in pleno comitatu Cestrie sedente die Martis proximo post festum Sancti Marci Evangeliste coram baronibus et aliis fidelibus domini Regis presentibus tunc ibidem tempore Iohannis Extranei tunc iusticiarii Cestrie anno regni domini Regis Henrici filii Regis Iohannis xxviiio.

On the dorse is another grant to Combermere,[28] entered as read in a similar way but before the king himself at Chester, John Lestrange being justiciar as before. Only the year, 29 Henry III, can now be deciphered, but the date was no doubt October 1245. All these entries are in the same thirteenth-century hand. The next are all in different writings of about the same period. One is a grant on 13 April 30 Henry III (1246) by the justiciar, John de Grey, in the presence of the steward of Chester, of the wardship of children and their lands.[29] Then follow memoranda of a Vernon charter[30] read and allowed in pleno comitatu on St. Chad's Day 1 Lord Edward (earl of Chester) (7 January 1254/5) and of a grant dated about 1257–8 and enrolled on Tuesday 12 November of a year now illegible but no doubt 1258.[31]

The other fragment (no. 1) is a piece of parchment 13 inches by 8, stained and now repaired. It contains enrolments of two charters[32] for the abbey of Dieulacres, one being an inspeximus and confirmation by Richard de Sandbach of his father Roger's grant in 40 Henry III of the advowson of Sandbach, and the other a quitclaim of the same. Both are dated 8 September 1280 and witnessed by Guncelin de Badelsmere, the justiciar. Then follows an entry of the appointment in 10 Edward I of the succeeding justiciar, Reginald de Grey.[33] The Shakerley collector from the 'Domesday' Roll saw and noted these entries, which he describes as in eodem rotulo, so this fragment was possibly then part of the roll itself.

We have consulted the authorities at the Public Record Office about these membranes, and they consider that there is nothing against the view that they at one time formed part of a roll. They agree that no. 2 bears distinct marks of having been attached to another membrane at the foot, and possibly also at the head, and although the indications of this as regards no. 1 are less distinct, this membrane may have been cut down at some date. These two fragments are not portions of a Plea Roll, the entries on which do not take this form. The style of enrolment is similar to many of those undoubtedly extracted from the 'Domesday' Roll by the herald in 1580, and we believe that they both once formed a portion of the lost roll.

The number of enrolments which we can trace with fair certainty from all these sources to the 'Domesday' Roll is not far short of 150.

The theory we have come to is that the roll was perhaps more or less intact in 1580, but that the earlier portions of it had become detached before 1638. This would account for the Shakerley collector copying nothing from it of an earlier date than about 1269. He did, however, see these two still extant membranes (part of the earlier portion), one or both of which had got among the bundles of fines and, there remaining, escaped the fate between 1638 and 1647 of what was left of the roll. Helsby suggests that the original may have been lent to the heralds and so perished in the fire of London,[34] but it was known to have disappeared earlier than that, as Dugdale had heard of the loss of the document from William Vernon, to whom he writes, on 23 February 1647/8:

It is great pitty that the Roll wch. was called Domesday for Cheshire is imbecilled. Is that abstract of it wch. you mention only of part or of all of it? For had you but a short touch of the particulars wch. were in it by way of abstract, it would give you much light. Mr. Cambden[35] in Cheshire, speaking of the Barons of Malpas, mentions it in the margin.[36]

Vernon's letter to Dugdale is not available, but we find a note by him that 'this booke of Domesdaie was imbezilled in the tyme of Birkenhead, recorder of Chester, as it is commonly affirmed',[37] and we can gather that he had repeated this to Dugdale when referring to the abstracts in his possession.

Sir Peter Leycester, in his Historical Antiquities, book 2, Cheshire, published in 1672, but dealing with documents collected by him over a long period of years, has three references. In his account of Barterton,[38] he quotes an extract from an entry in 'the roll of the ancient chartes called Doomesday, anciently remaining among the records at Chester but now lost and taken away'. Under Mobberley[39] he quotes an enrolment 'a copy of which I received from old John Booth of Twamlow', and he proceeds 'there was a Doomsday book in our Exchequer at Chester formerly, wherein many deeds and records were enrolled, but this Book of Record is now lost'. Under Dunham-Massy[40] he mentions the enrolment in the Cheshire Domesday Book, 'which is now lost', of a grant to Birkenhead Priory.

Sir Thomas Mainwaring, in his Reply, dated 1673, to Leycester in their controversy over the legitimacy of their ancestress Amicia, also gives the Barterton entry 'from a roll of antient charts called Doomesday remaining in the Castle of Chester among the records there'.[41] He does not refer to the loss of the roll, and was probably quoting from Leycester.

We have seen that Dr. Gower, writing in 1772, stated that the roll was in Chester Castle in 1638 (a fact no doubt derived from one of the volumes of Vernon's manuscripts lent to him by Peter Shakerley), and also that the document, after passing ex officio in 1647 into the hands of John Bradshaw, the chief justice of Chester, was lost in the confusion of the times. We do not know the authority for the last statement. Inquiries made from the present representatives of the Bradshaw family have been unsuccessful in discovering any trace of the document among the family papers, and the suggestion that what was left of the record was lost about 1647 appears a not unlikely one if this had not happened earlier.

John Bradshaw, the famous president, was appointed in 1637 as one of the earl of Chester's attorneys-at-law for Cheshire and Flint. He became chief justice of Chester in 1647, and held the office, as he contended, until his death in 1659. One of the terms of the surrender of Chester by Lord Byron to the parliamentary general, Sir William Brereton, on 3 February 1646/7, was that all the records in the Castle 'without diminution, embezzling, or defacing' should be given up. In 1649 Bradshaw's deputy at Chester proclaimed the king a traitor. The royal arms were removed from the Shire Hall and those of the earls from the exchequer. The sword of Chester and the mace had been sent up to London as trophies, but were afterwards returned to the city. Among the records which thus should have come into the hands of the chief justice or his deputy, would be the roll constituting the Cheshire 'Domesday', but Vernon, curiously using the same word as in the surrender treaty, tells Dugdale shortly afterwards that it had been 'embezzled'. We hear no more of it. Our theory as to the earlier gradual dismemberment of the roll has already been given above, and if that process continued, its final destruction, if not intentional, must have been inevitable within a short period of time.

The following are some of the titles given in the thirteenth century to this roll:

  1. Magnus Rotulus Comitatus Cestrie qui vocatur Domesday.
  2. Rotulus qui vocatur Domesday.
  3. Magnus Rotulus Domini Comitis, or, after 1237, Regis.
  4. Domesday.
  5. Liber vocatus Domesday in Scaccario Cestrie.

The herald of 1580 called what he saw Rotulus antiquarum Chartarum vocatus Domesday. Stanley made extracts about 1591 from 'the booke called Domesday'. Booth or Vernon copied from 'the roll called Cheshyre Domesday'.

Ormerod's explanation of the title of this roll is that it was so termed by analogy with the great Survey of 1086, because it supplied equally decisive and irrefragable evidence upon the matters and transactions to which it bore witness. This explanation is in agreement with the definition in the New English Dictionary of the title of Domesday Book proper as 'a book by which all men would be judged', 'a popular appellation given to it as a final and conclusive authority on all matters on which it had to be referred to', the name being subsequently transferred to other like documents of standard authority. All this, however, rather begs the question why the returns to the great Inquest were called Domesday Book, and we do not doubt that the origin of the title of both the records is the same. A 'doomsday' was a day on which, at the public meetings of a county, 'dooms' (judgements and verdicts) were given. The replies given by the jurors to the inquiries made in 1086 were 'dooms' returned at these 'doomsdays' all over England. Hence, we think, the title of Domesday Book, and also that of the 'Domesday' Roll of Chester. For at these county assemblies, these 'doomsdays', besides current legal business, it was customary for charters and important documents to be read, and for persons to make solemn admissions and the like, for the purpose of preserving a record of transactions and facts. The tribunal at the plenus comitatus (which we think meant rather a public, open, meeting of the county than a full one) varied, but we often find the earl himself presiding, with beside him his justiciar, and grouped round them the steward, the constable, several of the 'barons', the abbot of Chester, the knights and freemen, including the 'judgers' and the suitors, with some stewards of absent magnates, while doubtless many spectators filled the hall. In early days, preservation of these records must have depended upon the memory of the tribunal, by means of appeals to the recollection of persons who had been present or by the hearsay evidence of those who had been told of the events by their neighbours or ancestors.

Where actual documents were read or where oral statements were reduced to writing, we can easily suppose that it would become the practice for the justiciar of Chester, by his officials, to take charge of the original documents for safe custody and future reference. A place of deposit for such documents would be required, and this is probably the origin of the sealed bag or wallet which we find became known as the Baga de Domesday, and contained the records of certain special matters done and to be done at the 'doomsday' meetings. This 'Domesday' Bag seems to have been preserved with very great care, carefully guarded by seals and handed over by one justiciar to his successor with some ceremony. We have several references to the Baga de Domesday in the time of Edward II. In 1324–5 an indenture records that Roger the Welshman, locum tenens of the (retiring) justiciar, Oliver de Ingham, handed over in the castle of Chester certain documents to John de Hegham, locum tenens of Richard Dammary, the (succeeding) justiciar, including Unam bagam que vocatur Domsday, sealed with the seals of Geoffrey de Warburton (a magnate) and Robert de Praers (the sheriff). In the bag were divers fines and county memoranda, including two specified fines, as well as seventeen notes of other fines, levied in the court.[42] Then the Plea Roll record of the county court of 18 March 1319/20 shows that the feet of fines in the Baga de Domesday were searched in pleno comitatu, in the presence of the knights and other fideles, and a particular fine, taken before Robert de Holland the justiciar on 7 February 1318/19, was found and proved to have been levied without opposition by any one.[43] Another reference about the same date is to documents remaining in baga rotulorum.[44] No doubt the 'Domesday' bag was, at this later date, the place where the 'Domesday' roll was kept, with documents awaiting enrolment or required for use at the meetings of the county.

Some time towards the end of the twelfth century a regular system of enrolment sprang up which led to the great general series of judicial and other rolls,[45] including, we have no doubt, those now known as the Cheshire Plea Rolls.[46] The latter were notes, taken by the clerk of the county court, of the legal cases which came before it. It has been suggested that the Plea Roll and the 'Domesday' Roll were the same, but we feel sure that this was not so. The extant Plea Rolls do not contain the 'Domesday' enrolments, at any rate in the thirteenth century. It is true that upon the Plea Rolls are found entered a number of charters, &c., but these will be found, as a rule, to be documents which were, in the modern phrase, 'put in' by the parties as evidence on the hearing of their case. Of course, it might, and did, happen that a suit entered upon the Plea Roll terminated in an agreement which was entered on the 'Domesday' Roll, but they were different records entirely. The Plea Roll entries were more or less hastily written and highly abbreviated notes of the pleas, made, as they occurred, by the clerk in court. The 'Domesday' Roll must have been written up at leisure, and the entries were fully and carefully made. We also find that upon the thirteenth-century Plea Rolls are entered a number of important iudicia, or 'dooms', made by the county, but these are of general application and usually relate to legal procedure at the 'county' and similar matters which might crop up at any court, and so it would be natural and convenient to enter them upon the rolls of pleas. Probably at the date when the Plea enrolments were begun, the advantages of also enrolling the documents, &c., publicly read on the 'doomsdays' and the contents of the 'Domesday' Bag (thus avoiding any risk of the loss of the original documents or of the bag containing them, or of forgery) would become obvious as providing a written record to which future appeals could be made. A system which depended upon memory was too uncertain for the orderly and judicial minds then engaged in developing a system of jurisprudence. The solemnity of the circumstances, the ceremonious public reading of documents, or making of oral admissions, were felt to require the establishment of an equally solemn written record which should bear unimpeachable testimony for the future. In this way we believe it was that the roll which took the name of the 'Domesday' Roll of Chester was started.

It is clear that the documents which were read at the 'doomsday' meetings could not then and there be enrolled, and no doubt the 'Domesday' Bag continued to be used as a temporary place of deposit for the documents until the clerk had time to enter them upon the roll, and also for other documents, such as fines, which had to be proclaimed at successive 'counties' and which it would therefore be convenient to keep in the bag. The original documents after enrolment were probably returned to the owners. Many of the charters contain in themselves a memorandum of the fact of enrolment, but it would be safer in case of dispute to point to the enrolment as evidence rather than to have to produce the original which might have been lost or the validity of which would have to be proved over again. In the case of oral admissions the memorandum entered upon the roll would be of the greatest importance as the only written record.

Although, in the absence of the original roll, we shall only be able to suggest an approximate date for its institution, it is possible to point to a remarkable feature which, so far as we are aware, cannot be paralleled in any of the great series of enrolments such as the Pipe, Charter, Curia Regis, Patent, or Close Rolls. In no case is the earliest extant roll of any of these the first of the series, and we are unable to say whether there was at the head of the first roll either a formal title or prefatory words of any kind. In the case of this Cheshire roll the opening words can be given. The herald who in 1580 made extracts from the roll called 'Domesday' tells us that 'in initio praefati rotuli scribitur sic':

Incepto finem det gratia trina labori.
Hic referens rotulus multorum pacta virorum,
Non sinet a pacto quem resilire suo,
Fallere temptanti iustos obstacula ponet,
Ne quis sic faciat pagina sancta monet.

It may well be that these lines were inspired by the originator of the record. They purport to give in concise form the very objects for which it was established. This roll was to be such a record of men's acts and deeds as would prevent any one withdrawing from his solemn undertaking or attempting to deceive the righteous, and its holy pages would stand for ever as a warning against such wicked practices. The phraseology used in many of the enrolments amply bears out this statement of the purposes of the roll.

The earliest document which it has been possible, so far, to trace and date as enrolled on the 'Domesday' seems to be a charter (copied in the 1580 extracts) entered into during the period when Ranulph de Mainwaring was justiciar of Chester. He held office from about 1194 to 1208. The enrolment may not have been contemporary with the date of the deed, and it would not be safe to do more than to suggest this period for the institution of the roll, but it is curious, if it had an earlier date, that no older entries have survived. The herald's extracts of 1580 do not appear to follow any particular order, but look as if he turned over the roll (whether composed of membranes or of documents tied up together) and selected here and there entries which provided early genealogical information. His note about the verses at the head of the roll is not his earliest note, and the charter referred to above is by no means the first abstracted or the one following the verses. But it seems likely that if there had been any considerable number of entries of an earlier date some of them at least would have been extracted by the herald (who gives quite a number of documents entered in 1208–29, the time of the next justiciar, Philip de Orreby) or by some of the other collectors who saw the roll.

On general grounds we feel inclined to suggest that the establishment of this roll was due to the great earl, Ranulph de Blundeville (1181–1232). It was to him that the county palatine owed its own register of original writs and other developments and reforms of legal procedure, and there are many claims by the county after the annexation of 1237 for the observance of the law and custom as it had existed in his day.

Neither have we any certain knowledge of the date when the roll ceased to be used. It seems clear from the Gough manuscript that entries were being made on it in the middle of the fourteenth century, and probably it continued to be used so long as the county meetings maintained their representative character. With the decay of these assemblies except purely for the purpose of litigation the opportunities and occasions for resorting to the use of the roll would become gradually less and less, and other methods of preserving evidence would be adopted.

If, for the reasons mentioned above, we are right in thinking that it was only about the last decade of the twelfth century that these enrolments commenced, it is certainly remarkable that by the year 1254 the Cheshire 'Domesday' Roll had attained such a great reputation that the royal judges at Westminster, who can hardly have had many opportunities of considering the standing of the roll, affirmed its perpetual validity. The occasion arose in litigation over the advowson of Sandbach. Ormerod in his Memoir has given a full account of the suit, which commenced in the county court of Chester by an assize of last presentation at the instance of Roger de Sandbach, the claimant. It need only be said here that the defendant, the abbot of Dieulacres, set up the enrolment in the 'Domesday' of an inquisition, taken in 1223–4, thirty years before, finding that the advowson had belonged in earlier days to Earl Ranulph II and his successors, and he produced a subsequent grant of it to the abbey by Ranulph III (Blundeville). Only one of the objections raised to this plea by Roger de Sandbach concerns us, but in that one he seriously impugned the 'Domesday' Roll by the suggestion that the earl had been powerful enough to get anything he liked entered upon it. The allegation was:

Et eciam idem Randulfus Comes tempore suo ita potens fuit in Cestersira, quia princeps fuit, patere voluntarie cum volebat inquisiciones et precepta facere potuit ut Dominus, et inrotulari facere quid volebat in rotulo de Domesday quoniam ille rotulus fuit tunc in custodia ipsius et clericorum suorum.[47]

The decision at Chester being given in favour of the claimant on other grounds, the abbot appealed to the king's council at Westminster, whereupon the justiciar of Chester was ordered to inspect the Rotulus de Domesday and send down a certified extract of the entry under discussion. This he did, and on 13 January 1253/4 the king's judges (among whom was the great Bracton), after perusing the evidence, gave judgement for the abbot, using some remarkable words (repeated in a subsequent confirmation by letters patent) which completely vindicated the standing and reputation of the Cheshire record: 'Et quia convictum est per Domesday Cestrie quod perpetuam habet firmitatem et omnia quae in eo continentur in perpetuum sunt stabilia, in quo continentur quod [here the verdict of 1223–4 is set out] consideratum est,' &c.

The following are some specimens of the varied phraseology used to record the fact and occasion of enrolment of charters, fines, and other entries:

Et hoc in magno rotulo Domini Comitis (or, Regis) apud Cestriam de assensu partium irrotulatur. [The words 'de expresso concensu', or 'ad instanciam partium', are also used.]

In cuius rei testimonium partes alternatim huic finali concordie in modo cyrographi confecte sigilla sua fecerunt apponi et in rotulo qui vocatur Domesday procuraverunt irrotulari.

Et eandem in plena curia Comitatus Cestrie recitatam in rotulo qui dicitur Domesday procuraverunt irrotulari.

Et ut hoc perpetue tradatur memorie hic irrotulari decretum est.

Et ne id humanam possit imposterum praeterire memoriam huic rotulo presenti censuimus commendare.

Et in huius rei testimonium id irrotulari provisum est.

In euius rei testimonium huic presenti scripto in Domesday rotulato sigillum meum apposui.

Hec carta hic scripta lecta fuit in pleno comitatu Cestrie qui sedit [date] et intrata fuit.

Ad maiorem securitatem huius rei conceditur per partes in pleno comitatu Cestrie et per licentiam iusticiarii baronum et militum quod hec concordia finalis in Domesday irrotulata.

Iste carte irrotulate fuerunt in pleno comitatu coram Iusticiario.

Ista carta lecta fuit et concessa in pleno comitatu Cestrie et in libro vocato Domesday in scaccario Cestrie irrotulata.

From these and other forms we see that the essence of the matter was publicity. The enrolment was effected after something said, done, or acknowledged in the open court, and before the county. The request, or the express assent, of the parties seems to have been required except where the county itself ordered an enrolment, as was sometimes the case. The leave of the earl or his justiciary as well as of the 'barons' and knights who were present, had to be obtained, and no doubt fees were payable for the work of enrolment. Most of the documents enrolled are witnessed by the justiciar and magnates present. In some cases it is recorded that the seal of the justiciar or of his deputy was affixed to a charter which it was intended to enroll, in addition to those of the parties. This practice may explain the occasional presence on documents of seals which otherwise do not appear to be related thereto.

There are instances of these enrolments in pleno scaccario, and the roll seems to have been kept in the exchequer at Chester Castle, the depository of the palatine records, just as the treasury at Winchester and elsewhere contained the national exchequer records and the great Domesday Book itself. More than half of the enrolments recovered consist of charters and agreements, both new and old, granting lands or rights to laymen or clerics. Quitclaims and final concords are numerous. Other entries are of exchanges; admissions of many kinds, such as that a man, his son, and sequela, are free and not in villeinage, or of rights of common, or of verbal grants; perambulations, boundary agreements, acquittance of suit by the earl, grants of custody of heirs' inheritances and such like; in fact, the entries in the 'Domesday' Roll illustrate many phases of the daily medieval life when few could read and write and the publicity and permanence now provided by the evidence of press and book did not exist as means of record. An interesting feature is the large proportion of entries which provide evidence of transactions in which women were concerned. Charters in which husband and wife are grantors are frequently enrolled. The settlement of dower is often recorded. Three sisters formally appear to quitclaim lands to the heir of Poole in Wirral. The daughter of the 'baron' of Wich Malbank comes to Chester to admit in public her grant of land, and it is enrolled. A quitclaim of her dower lands by the widow of Ralph de Kingsley; agreements between mother and son, and brother and four sisters; an admission of tenure by a husband for his wife and of homage due to an heiress; these all illustrate a class of transaction for which entry upon the 'Domesday' Roll was evidently considered particularly desirable and appropriate. In one case a grant of 1287 to Ralph de Vernon by Richard de Lostock alone begins 'Noveritis nos dedisse', and proceeds to state that 'Sigilla nostra' had been affixed. The seventeenth-century collector of the Shakerley MS. observed this and remarks, 'Nota, he wryts in the plurall number and his wife is not named by whose right he had the lands'.[48] She was Agnes, co-heiress to her brother Richard de Wilbraham (died 1278), and it is evident that the non-inclusion of her name in the charter raised difficulties at the time, for in 1840 Mr. Black found at Chester a document, dated 1287, which, after stating the fact of enrolment of what can only have been this charter, in pleno scaccario, proceeds 'ubi predicti Ricardus et Agnes venerunt; et predicta Agnes super hoc examinata, predictam cartam recognoverunt'.[49] Vernon regranted the lands to them at the same time by a charter, now in the possession of the duke of Westminster, which itself states that the parties procured it to be placed 'in rotulo qui vocatur Domisday'.[50]

Many of the enrolments are dated by reference to the sitting of the court at which they were ordered. Before the annexation of 1237 this is usually done by reference to the year of the earl or some other event, the regnal year of the king not being used until later; thus, often after the words 'In pleno comitatu qui sedit' we get such dates as:

1. Die Martis proximo ante Festum sancti Marci Evangeliste anno interdicti septimo [22 April 1214].[51]
2. Die Martis ante festum Apostolorum Simonis et Iudae proximo post iter Domini Ranulphi Comitis Cestrie et Lincolnie Ierosolimam. [The earl set out for Jerusalem in Whit week 1218.]
3. Anno secundo post reditum Domini Comitis Cestrie et Lincolnie de Terra Sancta. [About 1222, the earl returning from Damietta in 1220.]
4. Anno quarto Translationis Beati Thomae Martiris. [Between 6 July 1223 and 7 July 1224.]
5. Anno primo quo Dominus Iohannes de Scotia cinctus fuit gladio comitatus Cestrie et Cestriscire,[51] Comitatu sedente eodem die, presentibus Domino Iohanne Comite Cestrie et Huntindonie, Domino Ricardo Phitun tunc iusticiario Cestrie (&c.). [1232–3.]
6. Anno primo quo Dominus I. de Scotia factus fuit Comes Cestrie. [1232–3.]
7. Anno quinto de tempore Comitis Iohannis. [1236.]

R. Stewart-Brown.

  1. A Sketch of the Materials for a New and Compleat History of Cheshire, p. 13. A third edition was issued in 1800, 4to. For bibliography see Palatine Note-Book, ii. (1882) 120, &c.
  2. Ormerod of course realizes this, and suggests Gower's two volumes were probably Dr. Edward Williamson's 'Abstracts of Fines and Inquisitions Henry III–Charles I' (Hist. of Cheshire, 2nd ed., I. xxxv and ii. 752). Lysons (Magna Britannia, Cheshire (1810), p. 467) thinks Dr. Gower had mistaken a Calendar of Close Rolls for the Cheshire 'Domesday'. Probably Ormerod's view is correct.
  3. Plac. Abbrev. (1811), p. xii.
  4. i. 2 n.
  5. 1832, ii. ccccxlv.
  6. 1st Rep. Dep. Keeper', app. no. 31, p. 111.
  7. Much later, as we shall see.
  8. See below, p. 500.
  9. Journal, i. (Old Series) 318, 351. See also Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc. (1850) v. 187–95, an earlier lecture before the congress of the Association at Chester.
  10. Trans. Lancs, and Ches. Antiq. Soc. (1886) iv. 35.
  11. No. i (the Eaton Hall MS.), no. iv (Patent Roll 39 Hen. Ill), and no. vii (Dodsworth MS. xxxi).
  12. Genealogist, xvi. (New Series) 17 n.
  13. Ancestor, i. 179 ('The Grosvenor Myth'). The reference is to Ormerod, Cheshire, ii. 211, the document being no. 12 of the Memoir. Mr. Bird has another reference, p. 180 n. (to Ormerod, iii. 145).
  14. Domesday Studies (1888), ii. 510–11.
  15. Ibid. p. 672.
  16. Hist. of Eng. Law, ii. 127 n.
  17. Cheth. Soc. lxxv. 2. Dr. Tait refers only to Helsby's edition of Ormerod's Cheshire and does not mention the Memoir.
  18. Hist. of Cheshire, 2nd ed., ii. 838 n. Further details are given.
  19. This is not so.
  20. This is by no means true, as old charters were often read and enrolled years after they had been granted.
  21. We think this is an error, and that the additional deeds were not part of the Domesday abstracts.
  22. Hist. of Cheshire, 2nd ed., i. xxxv.
  23. 8vo, 27 pp., 1851, not published, for private distribution only, limited to 120 copies; with Additions and Index, 1856, 8 pp. It is included also in his Miscell. Palatina, 1851.
  24. Not vol. xxx as he states, Memoir, p. 4.
  25. It is impossible to print all this material here. We hope to place most of the documents on record in 'The Cheshire Sheaf', a weekly column in the Chester Courant newspaper which has been reprinted in book form annually, with intervals, from 1878, and is a storehouse of information on the county palatine.
  26. Ed. J. Tait, Cheth. Soc. Only pt. i has been issued. Dr. Tait kindly gave me notes of the Domesday entries to appear in pt. ii.
  27. A grant by Gilbert de Macclesfield, chaplain, of his rights in the vill and manor of Baddiley, conferred on him by charters of Robert de Praers and his son Adam de Praers.
  28. By James de Audley of the manor of Wilksley and rights in the woods in Ruhale and New Hall, except in the forest of Coole. Henry III was at Chester in October of his twenty-ninth year.
  29. The grant was to Fulk de Orreby, the wards being children of Richard de Clotton.
  30. Nicholas de Vernon to his eldest son Nicholas and Felicia, daughter of Richard de Armitage, lands in Whatcroft, &c., and Le Hethwode. If the wife dies within ten years from Nativity 1254, remainder to Richard for the ten years, &c. The Shakerley copyist mistook 'anno domini Edwardi primo' for the first year of Edward as king, instead of earl.
  31. Grant by Gervase de Barna and his wife Alice to Robert de Stockport of land held of him in Bredbury, Romiley, Hattersley, and Crookiley. Roger de Montalt, justiciar (1257–9), a witness. The 12 November 1258 was a Tuesday.
  32. See Earwaker, Hist. of Sandbach, pp. 25–6.
  33. According to Cal. of Patent Rolls the date was 12 November 1281, which was in 9, not 10, Edward I.
  34. Ormerod, Hist, of Cheshire, 2nd ed., i. xli n.
  35. See, for instance, Cough's ed., ii. 422. But, like the others, Dugdale misapprehends the roll, as Camden's reference is to Domesday Book proper.
  36. Hamper, Life of Dugdale, p. 211.
  37. Dodsworth MS. lxxv, fo. 67.
  38. Loc. cit. p. 220.
  39. Loc. cit. p. 316.
  40. Loc. cit. p. 241.
  41. Amicia Tracts (Cheth. Soc.), ii. 99.
  42. Shakerley (Vernon) MS., no. 3, fo. 249.
  43. Cheshire Plea Roll 32, m. 10 d.
  44. Shakerley (Vernon) MS., no. 1, fo. 3.
  45. The extant Plea Rolls of the king's courts begin in 1194, the Charter Rolls in 1199, and so on.
  46. The earliest extant roll is of the year 1259–60, but there is evidence for a much earlier date. We have in preparation for publication a volume of these rolls.
  47. Curia Regis Roll 152, m. 10.
  48. Shakerley MS., no. 4, fo. 103.
  49. Ante, p. 483.
  50. Facsimile in Journal Chester Arch. Soc. ii. (New Series) 151, and see ibid. v. (New Series) 432.
  51. 51.0 51.1 See ante, xxxv. 29.