Our trip out yesterday was a return to The National Archives where we took part in a workshop based around The Domesday Book. Our family played the Putney villagers; here are my three little Anglo-Saxons: Ham, Swetricus and Athelhard:The workshop was led by two professional actors and was a demonstration of how the statistics for this great survey was collected.
William I had sent a second set of Investigators to the village of Mortlake as he suspected the information given previously was not entirely honest.The villagers of Putney, the Canons of St Paul's and some tradesmen from London had also been called to give testimony. Before the arrival of William's men, all Norman Barons, the Reeve, the man in charge of the taxes on the manor under scrutiny, instructed us all in what we had to say. (Prior to the workshop, they had each been given a little bit of information to learn.):
The Mortlake villagers were indeed concealing information from commissioners by a variety of mean, including hiding a herd of pigs in the neighbouring manor!
The chief examiner was a terrifying figure, intimidating the villagers by speaking first in Latin and then in French before agreeing to use the "uncouth Anglo-Saxon" language. He missed no opportunity to insult the locals, claiming that, when we chose the village idiot, we must have been "spoiled for choice."
The whole event was excellent, although my little girl was so frightened by the Commissioner that she was in tears at the prospect of having to speak to him! (She didn't have to and I spoke her lines!) My eldest was apoplectic with rage at being so insulted and didn't trust himself to speak either, (so I did his part too!) It was a highly emotional experience and I think, as a result, the Domesday Book and the circumstances surrounding its origin will never be dull history for us, but something we have experienced, felt and understood.