Then, at the midwinter , was the king in Gloucester with his council ... . After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out "How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire."
It was written in Medieval Latin, was highly abbreviated, and included some vernacular native terms without Latin equivalents. The survey's main purpose was to determine what taxes had been owed during the reign of King Edward the Confessor, which allowed William to reassert the rights of the Crown and assess where power lay after a wholesale redistribution of land following the Norman conquest.
The assessors' reckoning of a man's holdings and their values, as recorded in Domesday Book, was dispositive and without appeal. The name "Domesday Book" (Middle English for "Doomsday Book") came into use in the 12th century. As Richard FitzNeal wrote in the Dialogus de Scaccario (circa 1179):
for as the sentence of that strict and terrible last account cannot be evaded by any skilful subterfuge, so when this book is appealed to ... its sentence cannot be quashed or set aside with impunity. That is why we have called the book 'the Book of Judgement' ... because its decisions, like those of the Last Judgement, are unalterable.
The book is an invaluable primary source for modern historians and historical economists. No survey approaching the scope and extent of Domesday Book was attempted again in Britain until the 1873 Return of Owners of Land (sometimes termed the "Modern Domesday") which presented the first complete, post-Domesday picture of the distribution of landed property in the British Isles.