Research Methodology

The key aim of the PASE Project is to record information about Anglo-Saxon persons, or persons important in the Anglo-Saxon world, as presented in contemporary source materials.


The Oxford English Dictionary (online edition, revised September 2009) offers the following definitions of the word ‘prosopography’: ‘1. The description of the form or personal appearance of an individual; an instance of this. Now rare. 2. A study or description of an individual’s life, career, etc.; esp. a collection of such studies focusing on the public careers and relationships of a group in a particular place and period; a collective biography. As a mass noun: the study of such descriptions, esp. as an aspect of classical history; such studies or histories as a genre.’ The etymological origin of the word is ancient Greek meaning ‘face, person’, which was rendered prosopon in post-classical Latin, whence prosopographia, meaning a description of a person’s appearance or of an individual’s life.

The term ‘prosopography’ is now applied to studies in a wide range of Humanities and Social Science Disciplines. A common denominator linking these studies is that they all proceed from the collection and analysis of data relating to the careers and relationships of people within a particular group. The way in which these datasets are studied once they have been compiled vary considerably. For some prosopographical studies, the main objective is to compile and publish a dataset in a format which is valuable to other students and scholars in a particular field of research; for others, the compilation of prosopographical dataset is simply the first stage in wider process of analysis and interpretation.

PASE has been funded by the ARHB and AHRC to create a resource for scholars, students and anyone else with an interest in Anglo-Saxon England. The objective of the project has been to compile a prosopographical dataset for Anglo-Saxon England that is as comprehensive and accessible as possible given the available resources. Priority has therefore been afforded to achieving the greatest possible range and depth of coverage of the available primary sources, and to making the data as accessible as possible in the way it is presented and structured through the web interface. PASE has therefore focused more heavily on the compilation and presentation of data than on prosopographical analysis and interpretation.

However, the process of compilation is itself rigorous analytical work which demands considerable knowledge of the period, expertise in handling complex sources with sensitivity, and the deployment of careful judgment in the selection and presentation of data in the form of factoids. In addition, each parcel of data and factoid must be linked where possible to a particular named and numbered individual and, depending on the nature of the source material itself, it is sometimes necessary to make interpretative judgments to create such links. In general, the PASE researchers have sought to link data to particular named and numbered persons where it is possible to do so with a reasonable degree of certainty, leaving open the possibility that some of the ‘persons’ listed in the dataset may have been identical with one another.

This leaves abundant scope for prosopographical research, for instance to suggest or establish connections between persons named in the dataset, explore the data itself to reconstruct what is known if their careers, to write profiles summarizing or elucidating those careers, and to situate the material in relation to existing secondary literature. It is hoped that PASE will both stimulate such research, and that some of the results of will become integrated into the website (see Contacts). However, the addition of a comprehensive interpretative framework to the dataset lay beyond the scope of the PASE 1 and PASE 2 projects.

The application of computer technology has vastly enhanced the potential of prosopographical studies. In particular, it has made size manageable, and prosopographies these days are often very large. The key input in a prosopography’s value, though, and the major element in a project’s costs, is not the IT but the expertise of the staff involved in making the data-base and harnessing the IT power appropriately. In the UK over the past decade, the AHRB and, since 2005, the AHRC, has assumed major responsibility for the infrastructure of Humanities scholarship and hence for the funding of large prosopographies. PASE is one of several such projects involving the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College London to have received AHRC support. A sister project at King’s is the Prosopography of the Byzantine World. Another, the Clergy of the Church of England Database, is prosopographical in a more specialised sense. The balance between the compilation of data and subsequent interpretation in each of these projects naturally differs according to their specific research objectives.

Special Features

PASE is distinguished from a number of other prosopographies both by its balance of compilation and interpretation, and by the range of information-sources on which it draws and the scope of its target-category. PASE’s characteristics result in part from the relatively compact body of source-material for Anglo-Saxon England: it was possible in PASE to enter data from virtually all written sources produced in Anglo-Saxon England, or in a few cases produced outside England but relating to it, in the period specified. Prosopographies have traditionally been concerned with particular categories or groups, usually elite men. Instead, PASE has aimed, from the outset, at inclusiveness.

Nevertheless, the amount of information on different individuals varies greatly. For Anglo-Saxon England, as for any earlier-medieval European society, there is always very much less (if any) information on peasant individuals and groups than on royal or aristocratic ones. Ecclesiastical personages are disproportionately represented in PASE because monks and clergy played a large part in the production of the written record, and their institutions had a strong interest in preserving these texts. Women, even nuns, are poorly represented. Peasants and artisans are near-invisible in most sources, and if they appear at all mostly do so anonymously. They have been entered in PASE, as anonymi, and this allows linkages to be made with other, better-recorded, people. Within these limits, PASE has achieved comprehensiveness. PASE 2’s inclusion of many more peasants and lesser landholders was made possible by the uniquely comprehensive Domesday Book material.

Churches kept documents in which gifts and privileges were recorded or confirmed in charters. Anglo-Saxon charters normally required the attestations of witnesses, and the documents therefore contain lists of names, sometimes in abundance. Even if a named witness is recorded nowhere else, one charter can supply social and geographical associations that allow the individual to be more than a name. Anglo-Saxon churches kept lists of ‘friends’ and patrons to be commemorated in regular services. The bearers of names recorded in knowable time and space can often be linked with other known individuals.

Prosopographers enter quantities of persons, named or unnamed, in a structured form, with as much recorded data on each as possible. The fields of a relational database are designed to allow users to identify people, relationships and groups, and to find rapidly any relationships between them.

PASE has been source-driven. The researchers collected and systematically entered information from almost all known written sources produced in the Anglo-Saxon and immediately post-Conquest periods. The special characteristics of charters made it necessary to devise a separate way of entering and editing data from them. When material was merged, identifications between named individuals were made where possible, to produce a research-tool of extraordinary power and manoeuverability. Accessing PASE is no substitute for first-hand engagement with the sources themselves, however. Extracting and structuring data inevitably pares away the sources’ explanatory and contextual material.

PASE’s start-date is that at which contemporary written records begin in Anglo-Saxon England; its end-date was dictated by the team’s assessment of what could be completed within five years. PASE 2, funded by the AHRC to record person-data for the period 1042 to c. 1100, and also data from sources written after that date which record Anglo-Saxons across the whole period 597−1100, was designed, at the same time, to maintain, and substantially enhance, PASE itself. For this three-year project (July 2005−June 2008, the co-directors were joined by Stephen Baxter (Department of History, King’s College London), a historian and prosopographer of later Anglo-Saxon and early Norman England. Extensions granted by the AHRC without extra funding made it possible to publish substantial quantities of new PASE 2 data on the existing web interface on 23 December 2009, and to publish the resource on a new web interface with improved search facilities and PASE Domesday on 18 August 2010.

Digital Strategy

The core of the PASE web publication is a ‘master database’, which identifies Persons who are recorded or referred to the Sources researched. The assertions that Sources make about the Persons are termed ‘factoids’, and they include a variety of personal information, including offices, kin-relationships, and so on, and Events in which they participated in some way. No factoids (including Events) appear unless they are linked both to Persons and to Sources. This principle is rigorously applied so that users are in a position to follow the Person-to-Source ‘trail’, and to make their own reference to the relevant Source at any stage.


As a kind of shorthand, the project refers to each assertion by a source about one or more persons as a ‘factoid’. Information about persons was recorded in the database with as little interpretation as reasonably possible. Sets of factoids were searched, analysed and displayed, so that researchers could draw their own interpretative conclusions, or follow the references back to the sources from which the factoids were derived. The set of factoids thus represents a systematic and structured view of what have been regarded as key types of personal information:

Data collection databases

The project was developed using two types of database. The research team members used ‘data collection’ databases (DCDs), in which they recorded information taken from the sources. For charters, where information is arranged in a particular way, the design of the database was tailored to correspond to that arrangement, in order to make the data collection as efficient as possible.

The Master Database

The data from these data collection databases was then loaded into the ‘master database’ (MDB) which lies at the heart of PASE as published on the internet. The overall information structure of the project is determined by three factors:

A data structure diagram showing the structure of the MDB is available (see pdf file).

The fundamental elements of structure in the MDB are: Sources; Persons; Factoids. The factoids may be one-dimensional, referring only to a single person - e.g. an occupation or title; or multi-dimensional, linking a person to one or more other people, e.g. kinship. One special type of factoid, Event, usually but not always multi-dimensional, has been used primarily to record the roles of those persons involved in the event - e.g. ‘agent’, ‘recipient’, ‘witness’. The structuring of the Event category has been overhauled during the course of the PASE 2 project to improve searchability.

Access and information retrieval

The master database (MDB) was founded on certain principles of organisation and access:

Data Gathering

‘The Guide to the PASE Data entry‘ (pdf file) is a document created by the project to guide the researchers in the collection of the PASE data.

Source survey

At the start of PASE 1 a survey was made of the primary sources for the period 597 to 1042. The sources were then listed according to the century when they were written or compiled, and this information was incorporated into the PASE annual project plan. The works listed were all assigned an abbreviation. A similar process was undertaken at the beginning of PASE 2, to identify and prioritize the sources for the period 1042 to c. 1100.


The following bibliographies were also consulted:


PASE drew on the lists of Anglo-Saxon rulers revised by D. N. Dumville; of bishops compiled by S. D. Keynes in Handbook of British Chronology, ed. E. B. Fryde, D. E. Greenway, S. Porter and I. Roy, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks 2, 3rd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); and of popes in A Handbook of Dates: For Students of British History, ed. C. R. Cheney, new edition, rev. Michael Jones, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). The list of sources was broken down by century of composition and then incorporated into the final section of the project plan.


The following were consulted, though not uniformly followed, before creating the abbreviations for the medieval sources used by PASE:

Abbreviations were in general created using the name of the author (or Anon), followed by a full stop (period), followed by a Latin abbreviation for works in Latin (e.g., Ep = Epistola(e) ‘Letter(s)’) or OE followed by an abbreviation for works in Old English (e.g., OEMart = Old English Martyrology).

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle required different treatment. The Source ID of the ‘Common Stock’ up to 892 is referred to as ASC, the ‘Mercian Register’ as ASC (MR) and data drawn from specific versions are referred to by the generally accepted sigla for the individual manuscripts (e.g., ASC (E)).

Charters are referred to by S (= Sawyer) followed immediately by the numeral assigned to each charter in the ‘Electronic Sawyer’ (e.g. S 265).

Abbreviations of Biblical books follow the practice of Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgata versionem, Editionem quartam emendatam … praeparavit Roger Gryson (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994).

Data Collection

Data-capture design

The technical team (John Bradley, Harold Short and Hafed Walda) and the researchers (Alex Burghart, David Pelteret and Francesca Tinti) designed a data-capture database to record relevant prosopographical material.

Preliminary terminology

The sources written in the Anglo-Saxon period, termed primary sources (see the authority list in Source in the master database), are distinguished from the modern scholarly assembling of information in academic works referred to as secondary sources. PASE has not assembled major lists of secondary sources, but those secondary sources that have been used directly are listed in the Bibliography.

Information from the primary sources (mostly printed editions of medieval texts) has been assembled in a specially-designed data-capture database whose structure allowed PASE researchers to sort the information from the primary sources using two levels. The first level sorts the information into major categories called entities, e.g. Office, while the second differentiated aspects of an office, termed attributes, such as when or where the office was held or the precise term used to describe it.

The fully relational Master Database automatically links together the entities of Source, Person and Office together with the attribute of Date and provides a complete assemblage of the information for the user.

Historical sources contain information that is asserted to be factual, though they may not be considered factually accurate or plausible by modern historians. PASE researchers have entered such assertions into the database without seeking to evaluate or interpret their historical veracity. The resulting parcels of data are referred to as factoids.

Data-capture database

PASE started with the database design created for the Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire (PBE) project, now the Prosopography of the Byzantine World (PBW), but extended the design used in PBE in several significant ways. The fundamental structure in PBE and PBW consisted of Sources (which provided the raw data) linked to Persons recorded in the sources as interacting with each other (for further information on PBW database design, see John Bradley and Harold Short, ‘Using Formal Structures to Create Complex Relationships: The Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire – A Case Study’, in Resourcing Sources Prosopographica et Geneologica, vol. 7., ed. . K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, (Oxford, 2002).

PBE had created another major entity called ‘Person-Act’ (Pact), and the PASE team developed and renamed this entity as ‘Event’. David Pelteret classified the possible roles that those connected to an event could play, and the project team collectively designed the range of attributes that constituted the Event factoid when PASE was first published in 2005. The Event structure was extensively revised and refined prior to the publication of PASE 2 in 2010.

Some of the conceptual issues involved in the design of the data-capture database were discussed in papers delivered at conferences, several of which were subsequently published as journal articles and as electronic publications on the PASE website (see the Publications section of this website).

Authority lists

In order to maintain consistency within an individual data-capture database, authority lists for the different factoids were compiled. These authority lists contained fixed terms listed in ‘pop-up’ boxes attached to certain attributes of the various factoids. From the point of view of the end-user, the authority lists present another way of entering the master database.

Classification of persons

Although the Anglo-Saxons had a large repertoire of personal names, they did not employ the category of surname or family name as it occurs in many modern European societies today. By-names (such as Christian names, nicknames, occupational and locational names) existed but they started to become common only in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Thus, for the prosopographer, confusion between persons bearing the same name is an ever-present possibility (as with the Ælfwine of the PASE logo, for which see PASE branding). It soon became apparent that each individual in a source would have to be given a numerical identifier such as Alfred 1 and Alfred 2 to distinguish between persons with the same name.

Some sources mentioned unnamed persons who could subsequently be identified from another source. PBE had already begun to call an unnamed individual ‘anonymous’ and groups ‘anonymi’. With the development of the major factoid termed ‘Event’, the researchers saw that the recording of anonymous individuals and groups would have to be considerably expanded. For instance, a leader in a battle might initially be named but subsequent events might describe the actions of his military force without naming him. A true picture of such a military leader would, therefore, require the recording of information about those unnamed persons who were the members of his army.

Constant review

The core group met very regularly to review the existing data-capture database. This was the vital forum for discussion between the academic researchers and the technical team. The meetings ensured clarity of communication and consistency of approach. When the researchers reported new demands made on the database by information uncovered in the sources, the appropriate modifications were agreed upon at the core group meetings and then implemented by Hafed Walda.

Where there were wider scholarly issues to be decided, these were discussed at project co-ordination team meetings. These were meetings of the whole PASE team including the Academic Directors, Simon Keynes and Jinty Nelson, who played the key role in major policy decisions.

Some of the modifications to the form of the initial data-capture database introduced during the course of the project included the following:

Guide to data entry

A guide to data entry was compiled and maintained by Francesca Tinti to promote consistency of data entry on the part of the researchers. The guide has now been modified with the needs of users in mind, and forms the basis of the Help section of this website.

Master database

In the fourth year of the project a fully relational master database (using MySQL) was designed by John Bradley on the basis of a pilot study of data recorded from Asser’s ‘Life of Alfred’, a source that presented a wide range of database demands. The master database has undergone further modification in the course of PASE 2, especially in light of feedback from users.

Master database audit programme

Given the risk of loss of data in the process of uploading from the data-capture databases to the master database audit programmes were devised to monitor every stage of the uploading process.

Merging of names

All named and anonymous persons were automatically renumbered when the data-capture databases were uploaded into the master databases. It was inevitable that many individuals appeared in several databases, such that the same person might appear with several different numbers. The merging of names was a process that could not be automated because it demanded a knowledge of the sources and scholarly judgment. During PASE 1, John Bradley provided a technical tool for doing the merging and the task of merging named persons was undertaken by Alex Burghart and Francesca Tinti during PASE 1, and by Ben Snook during PASE 2.

Editing of material

Tools were developed by John Bradley and Hafed Walda to allow the researchers to edit materials in the master database. Two of the many tasks undertaken here were reorganising and rationalising the authority lists, and restructuring of the factoids to make them more consistently presented across the entire collection. Bradley extended the toolset that had been created for PASE 1 so that PASE 2 materials could be directly entered into the master database. The entering was then done by Alex Burghart, Francesca Tinti, David Pelteret and Eleonora Litta Modignani. Alex Burghart’s work on PASE 2 was completed by Ben Snook.

Presentation of materials on the internet

The original web application was developed by John Bradley and Hafed Walda in consultation with the PASE research team. The graphical look, and many other enhancements to it, were added by Paul Vetch. Further improvements have been made for PASE 2 by Paul Vetch. The new and substantially different facetted browsing interface application was developed by a team consisting of Timothy Hill, Payman Labbaf, Paul Vetch and John Bradley, in consultation with the PASE research team.

Project plan and minutes of meetings

A project plan was maintained by Harold Short throughout the duration of the project. This detailed the tasks to be completed each year, such as the individual sources that were to be analysed (see the Source Survey), the responsibilities of the members of the PASE team and the probable time required to complete the specific tasks. The project plan was reviewed at each project co-ordination team meeting and the completion dates recorded or adjusted. This ensured the forward progress of the project, eliminated the risk of duplication of effort and enabled problems of implementation to be highlighted and addressed.

Detailed minutes were kept of both core group and project co-ordination team meetings, and compiled and distributed in advance of each subsequent meeting by David Pelteret. The minutes ensured full communication between all members of the PASE team, clarified specific responsibilities and reminded everyone of deadlines that had to be met. For PASE 2, these vital roles were carried out by Alex Burghart, Julie Dresvina, and Ben Snook.

Minutes of the meetings of the International Advisory Committee and of the PASE colloquia were also kept. These served as useful sources of reference to the PASE team.


In 2001 the PASE database was adapted to allow the handling of information in Anglo-Saxon charters, especially the ordering of witness lists and the inclusion of details of transactions. One of the most significant prosopographical developments made by the project has been the development of ‘Event’ (the record of contact between individuals), and the charter attestations form the most significant body of evidence concerning meetings to survive from the period. Hafed Walda and John Bradley together designed ‘Event’ so that it could handle ordered lists and, for transactions, details of property which allow users to trace the ownership of estates – or similar estates – over time.

Entering Anglo-Saxon charters

William Searle’s Onomasticon of 1897 aimed to provide a ‘fairly complete list of Anglo-Saxon names and of the men and women who bore those names’. As such it is an extraordinary achievement, which extends to about 25,000 items harvested from sources written between the times of Bede and of King John. Searle, however, drew the line at minor charter witnesses most of whose identities became so speculative and obscure that they were largely excluded for the century before the Conquest. PASE has not been so timid. In the pursuit of a complete list of recorded Anglo-Saxons, all charter witnesses were added to the original database, and during PASE 2, a linked, but distinct, database has been made for the very much larger number of individuals recorded in Domesday Book and related materials.

Speculative identifications have been made for many of minor thegns. The backbone of this endeavour was Simon Keynes’ Atlas of Charter Attestations, which visibly traces the prospective courtly attendance of witnesses across time and charters. By and large his identifications have been adhered to and anyone seeking clarification on the plausibility of any association should consult his work. The identification of any witness in two or more charters is necessarily speculative, and opinions are here expressed with provisos, such as that one person in PASE may have represented several people in reality. A similar procedure has been followed in PASE 2.

Such problems underline the utility of online publication: faults can be easily brought to light and rectified.

Editions used

Where possible the latest British Academy editions have been used for data-entry, and where not, Birch, Kemble, or other sources have been used. Each charter is assigned a table which displays the source of the text used by the researcher.


It has been necessary to exclude some charters from this phase of the data-entry due to time-pressures and the limitations of current historical research. The AHRC-funded Language of Anglo-Saxon Landscape (LangScape), directed by Joy Jenkyns, which was published online in a preliminary version in 2008, contains prosopographical data, and a link to PASE is planned. It is hoped that data from Sawyer’s list of ‘Lost and Incomplete Texts’ (S nos. 1603−1875) currently being worked on by Rebecca Rushforth will be added to PASE in due course.

Domesday Book

Domesday Book is a unique source which poses specific challenges to historians and prosopographers. This section explains the nature of those challenges and the way PASE has sought to address them. The following links provide access to the Pase Domesday materials and to a Domesday Help section which explains how to use them; references to the literature cited in this section can be found in Abbreviations.


Domesday Book records the results of a survey of England which was commissioned by William the Conqueror in Christmas 1085 and conducted in 1086. The information collected during the survey was written up in a fair copy, later known as Domesday Book, which in fact comprises two volumes: Little Domesday Book (LDB), which covers Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex; and Great Domesday Book (GDB), which covers the remaining shires in England south of the rivers Ribble and Tees. For a recent account of the making of Domesday Book, see Baxter 2010/11.

The commissioners responsible for the Domesday survey were instructed to collect various pieces of information about every parcel of property in the area covered by the survey. Among other things, they were required to establish who held each parcel of land in England in 1066 and 1086. Although there are some omissions, the Domesday commissioners were for the most part successful in collecting this information; and as a result, Domesday Book is an extraordinarily rich resource for historians and prosopographers. Various obstacles have, however, prevented scholars from analyzing this material systematically.

Obstacles preventing systematic prosopographical treatment of pre-Conquest landholders in Domesday Book

Three obstacles stand out. First, the way in which pre-Conquest landholders are recorded in Domesday Book makes it difficult to identify individuals. Domesday Book attributes about 27,000 parcels of property to people bearing about 1,200 different personal names. A small percentage of landholders are readily identifiable because the text supplies their titles: persons such as King Edward, Queen Edith, Earl Harold and Archbishop Stigand. Most landholders, however, are much more difficult to identify because the text supplies only their forenames and does not distinguish one person from another. The fact that the Domesday survey was a multi-lingual exercise involving the collection of information supplied orally and in writing in several vernaculars and written up in Latin further complicates the records of personal names in Domesday Book.

Second, the task of gathering and coordinating the Domesday evidence has proved prohibitively time-consuming: even using modern hard-copy indexes (including Dodgson and Palmer 1992, and the indices to GDB and LDB compiled by Ann Williams) it can take days or weeks to locate all the entries relating to a particular name and to assemble the information in a digestible form.

Third, in order to interpret the Domesday evidence more securely, it is essential to relate it to all the non-Domesday evidence such as chronicles and charters, and until now this has not been available in a readily accessible way. Research has therefore tended to proceed piecemeal, focusing on a limited number of mostly large landholders (see in particular the pioneering work of Williams 1981, 1989, 1991a, 1991b, 1997, and 2008; Clarke 1994 attempts to survey the upper nobility of England under Edward the Confessor, but has been criticized e.g. by Lewis 1997).


A paper by Chris Lewis (Lewis 1997) developed a methodology for identifying pre-Conquest landholders in Domesday Book. He showed that Domesday Book does contain sufficient evidence to make many more secure identifications than had been thought possible, provided the evidence is assembled and analyzed systematically. Lewis identifies various specific categories of information which can help to differentiate individuals from the mass of names with varying degrees of confidence. The most important of these are as follows:

  1. The commonness or rarity of personal names. Some personal names (e.g. Ælfric and Godwine) were common in late Anglo-Saxon England; others were much less so. Pre-Conquest landholders whose names were relatively unusual can naturally be identified with greater confidence than those whose names were common.
  2. Bynames, titles, and descriptions. Pre-Conquest landholders can be identified with greater confidence if Domesday Book assigns them a title (e.g. ‘king’, ‘queen’, ‘bishop’, ‘abbot’, ‘earl’, or ‘sheriff’), descriptions (e.g. ‘thegn’, ‘free man’, ‘sokeman’, or family connections such as ‘the son of Leofwine’), descriptive bynames (e.g. ‘swarthy’, or ‘the fair’) or toponymic bynames (e.g. ‘of Boscombe’). About 40% of the landholdings in the PASE database are attributed to persons who are assigned a title, description or byname.
  3. Lords. Pre-Conquest landholders whose lords are named in the text (e.g. Almær the man of Eadgifu the Fair) are more readily identified than those whose lords are not named. About 25% of the landholdings in the PASE Domesday dataset are attributed to persons whose lords are identified in Domesday Book.
  4. Divided or shared landholdings. About 8% of the landholdings in PASE Domesday dataset are attributed to more than one pre-Conquest landholder. Some of these divided or shared landholdings may have been the product of partible inheritance among members of the same family, and therefore offer clues as to the landholders’ identity. The significance of this kind of data is illustrated by Williams 1989.
  5. Landholders in 1086. One of the ways in which William the Conqueror rewarded his followers after 1066 was to grant them land in England which had been held by particular individuals in 1066. Contemporary documents use the term antecessor to refer to pre-Conquest landholders whose lands were thus redistributed, and modern historians use the term ‘antecessorial grants’ to refer to this process. The question as to what how much of England’s landed wealth was distributed in the form of antecessorial grants between 1066 and 1086 is debated (see Sawyer 1986, Roffe 1990, Fleming 1991); but there can no doubt that some antecessorial grants were made is of considerable prosopographical importance, for it follows that the patterns of landholding in 1086 can help to establish the identity of pre-Conquest landholders. Broadly speaking, if the land attributed to a particular personal name in 1066 passed to the same successor in 1086, this increases the likelihood that this land was held by the same individual in 1066.
  6. The geographical distribution of landholdings. Another way in which William the Conqueror rewarded his followers was to grant to them concentrated blocks of property in particular geographic areas (Fleming 1991). It follows that the geographic distribution of landholdings can help to differentiate one pre-Conquest landholder from another of the same name.
  7. The size of landholdings. The structure landowning society England in 1066 was highly diverse, ranging from peasants who held smallholdings of a few acres in a single vill to major lords who held a large number of big estates scattered across several shires. The size of individual landholdings helps to inform prosopographical judgment: broadly speaking, landholders who are known to have held at least one big estate are likely to have held other estates elsewhere, but landholders with small holdings tended to be more geographically concentrated in a particular location.
  8. Unusual entries. The Domesday survey was carried out by seven groups of commissioners, each responsible for a group of contiguous shires known to modern historians as ‘circuits’. Each group of commissioners developed their own standard formulaic way of describing the land they surveyed (Baxter 2001). However, a significant number of entries contain additional, non-standard material, often relating to disputes over land which surfaced during the Domesday survey. This evidence, which is usefully collected and analyzed by Fleming 1998, often supplies valuable information for the identification of pre-Conquest landholders.
  9. Evidence from other sources besides Domesday Book. The evidence contained in charters, chronicles and other sources – the essence of PASE − can naturally help to identify pre-Conquest landholders with greater precision.

This methodology has since been developed and refined by others working on the field (e.g. Baxter 2007, 2008 and Williams). It should be stressed, however, that even where evidence corresponding to one or more of these categories exists, it is not always possible to make positive identifications: some landholders can be identified with absolute certainty; others can be identified with a significant degree of confidence; but there will remain others who are difficult if not impossible to identify. Domesday prosopography will, therefore, always involve a measure of subjective judgment: the best one can do is to assemble the available evidence in an analytically convenient format in order to weigh the balance of probability. That is what PASE Domesday seeks to do.

The objectives and scope of PASE Domesday

PASE Domesday is intended to enable users to assemble the information they need to make prosopographical judgments about pre-Conquest landholders. The research was designed to achieve this in two ways.

First, Domesday data corresponding each of the nine categories listed above except the first and last has been assembled in a separate database linked to tabular browsing and mapping facilities which enable users to view and analyze the data in convenient formats. These resources are collectively known as PASE Domesday.

Second, evidence contained in sources other than Domesday Book − the last of the nine categories − has been entered into the main PASE Database. This makes it possible to identify and compare records relating to personal names in Domesday Book and other sources far more efficiently than has ever been possible before. The PASE Database also makes it possible to determine how rare or common a particular personal name was: the first of the nine categories listed above. For example, the PASE Database contains references to more than 170 persons called ‘Godwine’ but just one person ‘Styr’ in sources other than Domesday Book, so whereas the former appears to have been a common name, the latter appears to have been rare.

PASE Domesday research method

The following editions of Domesday Book were used for the research for PASE Domesday

The research proceeded shire by shire. One member of the PASE research team entered data relating a particular shire and another checked this data had been correctly before proceeding to the next. Data was entered into an Excel spreadsheet consisting of 80 columns. Each row of the spreadsheet represents a single piece of land held by one pre-Conquest landholder. The spreadsheet is designed to capture data as follows:

  1. Pre-Conquest landholders’ personal names. One column of the spreadsheet is used to record the personal name as recorded in the original text of Domesday Book, which is written in Latin. Researchers obtained this data from the Alecto edition facsimile. Another column of the spreadsheet is used to translate this personal name into a lemma or normalized name form. This is necessary because Domesday Book often supplies variant spelling of the same name; and also because, for a variety of reasons, the spelling of personal names in Domesday Book often differed from the way indigenous scribes would have rendered them in the vernacular. Although not flawless (see Lewis 1997), the best attempt to restore pre-Conquest personal name forms used in Domesday Book to their vernacular equivalents remains that of von Feilitzen 1937. The PASE research team therefore used this as the basis for translating Domesday personal names into a normalized form. The Alecto edition also follows von Feilitzen closely in this respect, so the personal name forms used in the Alecto translation and in PASE Domesday are often identical.
  2. Bynames, titles, and descriptions. One column of the spreadsheet captures the way the bynames of pre-Conquest landholders are recorded, and another supplies a modern English translation of this byname. Similarly, one column of the spreadsheet captures the any titles or descriptive words attributed to pre-Conquest landholders, and another column supplies a modern English translation of these terms. A further column identifies the name of any institution with which the pre-Conquest landholder was associated: this column is used principally to record the names of religious houses for which bishops and abbots were responsible. Since this information is not always stated explicitly in Domesday Book, much of the data entered in this column has been added editorially. The PASE researchers used Keynes 1997 to assist in the identification bishops and archbishops, and Knowles et al. 2001 for the identification of abbots and abbesses who held office in 1066 where this information is not supplied in the text of Domesday Book.
  3. Lords and lordship. The data which identifies the lords of pre-Conquest landholders is entered in a similar way, with columns used to record lords’ personal names as supplied by the original text; the normalized form of that name derived by von Feilitzen; any byname supplied in the original text together with a translation of this; and titles or descriptions of the lord supplied by the original text together with a translation of same. A complication here is that there was more than one form of lordship in pre-Conquest England: in particular, important distinctions existed between personal lordship or commendation, lordship over land, and soke − a form of lordship which entitled lords to customary dues and jurisdictional profits from dependants (see Baxter 2007, chapter 6). The PASE Domesday dataset does not attempt to distinguish between these forms of lordship, except that it does contain one column which captures information relating to power of alienation: this is valuable, since there are strong grounds for thinking that when Domesday Book records that a pre-Conquest landholder was bound to a lord but could not ‘sell’, ‘withdraw’ or otherwise alienate his land, that land was held from the lord in some form of dependent tenure (see further Baxter 2007, pp. 227−36).
  4. Divided or shared landholdings. Where Domesday Book records that the same parcel of land was held by more than one person before 1066, a separate row in the database has been created for each landholder, and the name of their co-owners or co-tenants has been entered in a separate column. The information relating to the size of the landholding (see below) has been editorially adjusted to reflect this. So, for example, if Domesday Book records that Ælfric and Godwine together held one hide worth 20 shillings in a particular place, the database would record this in two rows, one recording that Ælfric held half a hide worth 10 shillings with Godwine as a co-tenant, the other recording that Godwine held half a hide worth 10 shillings with Ælfric as a co-tenant.
  5. Landholders in 1086. The structure of Domesday Book assumes the existence of a hierarchy of landholding in 1086. It asserts that land was either held directly by the king; or by landholders with no other lord other than the king (known by modern scholars as tenants-in-chief); or sometimes from tenants-in-chief by landholders known to modern scholars as mesne tenants or subtenants; and occasionally from sub-tenants by sub-sub-tenants. The PASE database assigns seven columns to capture data relating to each of these levels of the tenurial hierarchy. The columns capture data relating to personal names, bynames, titles, descriptions and institutional affiliations in exactly the same way as data relating to pre-Conquest landholders is captured, with one significant difference: the columns which record the original text of personal names, bynames and descriptions is left blank for Norman and other incoming landholders, but is supplied for those whom the PASE research team identified as ‘English’ or indigenous landholders.
  6. The geographical distribution of landholdings. Separate columns are used to record the name of the vill and shire in which each landholding was situated: this data is entered using the modern name forms supplied by the Alecto edition, checked against the Phillimore edition. The name of the hundred and the 6-digit National Grid Reference number has been supplied from the Domesday Explorer ARHC Project data compiled by John Palmer, Frank and Caroline Thorn and Natasha Hodgson.
  7. The size of landholdings. Domesday Book supplies a variety of statistical data relating to each piece of land covered by the survey. The PASE Domesday dataset captures some of this data in order to give an indication of the size of each landholding. Two kinds of statistical data have been captured for this purpose:
    1. Fiscal assessment data. Most of the land in eleventh-century England was assessed for fiscal purposes: taxation and other burdens of royal government. The principal units of assessment were given different names in different parts of the kingdom. In some shires, the principal units were known as the hide and virgate, a virgate being one quarter of a hide; in other shires the principal units were the carucate and bovate, a bovate being one eighth of a carucate; in Kent the principal unit was the sulung and yoke, a yoke being one quarter of a sulung; and in some shires the acre was a common unit of assessment. The PASE Domesday database assigns one column to capture data relating to: hides, virgates, carucates, bovates, sulungs, and acres. It also contains a column which converts these separate units into a single number of hides or hide-equivalents. There are difficulties here: in particular, there was considerable variety in the number of acres which constituted a hide, carucate or sulung. However, this single number remains useful for comparative purposes and above all for mapping. This number is calculated by making the hide, carucate and sulung equal 1; the virgate equals 0.25; the bovate equals 0.125; and 1 acre equal 0.008333 (i.e. 120 acres are equivalent to 1 hide). So, for example, this column would compute a number of 1.75 for a holding assessed at 1 hide and 3 virgates.
    2. Value data. Most landholdings in Domesday Book are attributed one or more monetary values. The matter is controversial, but there are excellent reasons for thinking that these values represented the amount of cash income which particular landholdings might be expected to generate in an average year. Domesday Book supplies this information in the form of pounds, shillings and pence (there were 20 shillings to the pound, and 12 pence to the shilling). The Domesday commissioners were instructed to establish what the value of each landholding had been in 1066, and what is was in 1086. This instruction was partially followed: about 60% of entries in Domesday Book supply values in both 1066 and 1086. Accordingly, the PASE Domesday dataset contains a series of columns which capture the value of each landholding in pounds, shillings and pence for both 1066 and 1086. A further two columns compute these value for 1066 and 1086 as single number of pounds, since this can be useful for comparative purposes and for mapping. For example, these columns could compute a number of 1.5 for an estate attributed a value of 30 shillings in 1066 or 1086. The fact that about 40% of entries lack a value for 1066 means that it is easy to underestimate the total value of a pre-Conquest landholder’s holding. To compensate for this, a further column has been added to the database which generates a 1066 ‘proxy’ value as follows: if Domesday Book supplies a 1066 value, this number is automatically entered in the proxy value column, but if Domesday Book supplies only a 1086 value, this latter figure is entered in the proxy value column.


The PASE Domesday materials can be accessed in three ways.

  1. Through an online interface which allows users to see the data in summary form in tables and maps: see PASE Domesday, Search Online.
  2. As a dataset which can be analyzed in the form of maps and table using a freely-available Geographic Information System (GIS): see PASE Domesday, Search Offline.
  3. In addition, the PASE Domesday dataset has been fully integrated with the PASE Database.

Integrating the Domesday database with the PASE database

The PASE Domesday dataset was integrated with the PASE Database as follows. A small number of pre-Conquest landholders can be identified with absolute or near certainty because Domesday Book assigns them titles: they include people such as King Edward, Queen Edith, and most of the bishops, abbots and earls. Since almost of these people made an impression in charters, chronicles and other non-Domesday sources relating to the reign of Edward the Confessor, they have been assigned a number in the PASE Database: for example, King Edward is Edward 15 in PASE. A ‘flag’ column in the PASE Domesday dataset was used to enter such numbers to connect the two datasets, and once the dataset was complete, the matter it contained was uploaded into the appropriate parts of the PASE Database: for example, all of the landholdings attributed to persons called Edward with the number 15 in the ‘flag’ column were added to factoids associated with King Edward the Confessor or Edward 15 in PASE.

This added a large number of data and factoids concerning property, locations and relationships into PASE. However, only about 15% of the landholdings in PASE Domesday could be confidently attributed to persons in PASE at this stage. The remainder of the PASE Domesday dataset was integrated with the PASE Database as follows: landholdings attributed to other persons who cannot yet be identified with certainty, and which therefore lacked a number in the ‘flag’ column, were grouped together by name in the ‘Persons’ section of the PASE Database. So, for example, all the landholdings attributed to people called Leofric who could not be positively identified have been listed in the database as Leofric 79 ‘Persons called Leofric in Domesday Book’.

Further research in this field

PASE 2 did not aim to produce a definitive prosopography of Domesday landholders, but rather to create resources which are designed to inform and facilitate prosopophical judgment. The intention is that these resources will now be used to refine our understanding of the English nobility in 1066 and how it was affected by the Norman Conquest. This is the objective of a new research project, ‘Profile of a Doomed Elite: The Structure of English Landed Society in 1066’, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.