Major Leverhulme Medieval History grant awarded

The Leverhulme Trust has awarded a large research project grant to King’s, to be led by Dr Stephen Baxter, Reader in Medieval History. The grant of over £250,000 will enable King’s to employ Dr Chris Lewis, one of the world’s leading authorities on eleventh-century England, and to appoint a new post-doctoral research fellow, for the two-year project.

The project will be implemented and published online by the Centre for Computing in Humanities (CCH) at King’s.

The project, ‘Profile of a Doomed Elite: The Structure of English Landed Society in 1066’, will use innovative methods for interpreting Domesday Book to survey the whole of English landed society on the eve of the Norman Conquest in 1066, identifying landowners at all levels of society from the king and earls down to the parish gentry and even some prosperous peasants.

Dr Baxter comments ’It may seem astonishing that this has never been done before, since the evidence has existed for more than 900 years. Domesday Book is the most complete survey of any medieval landed society, and provides a unique opportunity to reconstruct the distribution of landed wealth in eleventh-century England. It has been intensively studied, but until now progress has been blocked: the way pre-Conquest landholders are recorded creates major difficulties in identifying and distinguishing individuals of the same name; gathering, comparing, and mapping the evidence by hand has been prohibitively time-consuming; and evidence about landholders in other sources (such as chronicles and charters) has not been systematically pulled together.

Mapping the evidence

Recent research on two fronts has transformed this situation. Publications by Baxter, Lewis, and others have shown that Domesday Book can be used to make many more secure identifications of landowners than had ever been thought possible; and the imminent publication of ‘The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England’ (PASE) will allow the evidence to be assembled, mapped, and compared with other sources much more efficiently.

PASE will provide a prosopography – a list of everything known – for every person recorded throughout the entire Anglo-Saxon period from the sixth century to the eleventh. It has been based at King’s and the University of Cambridge, and has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council over eight years in two phases. The second phase, due for publication in summer 2010, will extend PASE’s coverage of the eleventh century, and will make a comprehensive database of Domesday landholders linked to mapping facilities freely available online.

Dr Baxter concludes ’The research project will build on and refine PASE’s coverage of the late Anglo-Saxon nobility on the eve of its demise. It opens up the prospect of a major breakthrough in our knowledge of the Norman Conquest, one of the defining moments in English and European history.’

[Image: "Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry - 11th Century. By special permission of the City of Bayeux."]

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