The Party Girl’s Son and the Domesday Book

September 12th, 2009

The last few days of our trip were the ‘Mike and Liz Leg’ whereby we met up with our friends Mike and uh…. Liz… and uh… also their three sons.  Liz grew up in a house of five sisters.  During our trip, I got to meet one of her sisters.


Jane lives in a house that is 600 years old.


Fortunately all the plumbing and electric wiring have been updated.

The above photo is of Jane’s garden.

Jane is a professional caterer and she also makes a very special Christmas cake of which she sells hundreds during the months prior to Christmas.  Making and storing the cakes in Jane’s 600 year old house is a juggling act that requires the strength of a bear, the agility of a puma and the gymnastic skills of a chimpanzee.

Jane makes the cakes in a small building in her garden and then moves them to her house until they overtake the upstairs guest room and eventually she moves them carload by carload to an off-site storage space.  Jane moves hundreds and hundreds of cakes this way every year.

Jane’s house is very close to a Domesday Church.

Until I visited England, I had never heard of the Domesday Book.  It wasn’t until we were wandering among the tombstones which are piled up in huge drifts on three sides of the church, that my friend Mike mentioned that it was a Domesday Church.

Me – A what?

Mike – A Domesday Church… have you ever heard of the Domesday Book?

Me – No.

Mike – Well then…

As we continued to walk among the graves and into the church, Mike filled me in on this fascinating bit of history…

You see…

Once upon a time there was a girl named Herleva.  Herleva was the daughter of a tanner and quite free of the fetters of conventional marriage and family life.  In some circles she was known a ‘Party Girl Herleva’ but the more clever folks of her small town in Normandy called her “You Visit Her- Leave- A Baby Behind”.  Herleva already had one baby outside of the bounds of holy matrimony (with one of the most powerful Counts in the country) but she happily traded him in when Robert the Duke of Normandy glanced her way.  She managed to have both a son and a daughter with the Duke of Normandy.  One night, the Duke sent her a message that said - Herleva – there is a friend of mine… a man friend of mine… I would like for you to meet him. Herleva was always up for meeting new man friends and when her current lover, the Duke suggested that she marry this man friend of his (Herluin of Conteville), she saw no reason not to and together, Herluin and Herleva had three more children.  She named the first, Odo, the second Robert (after the Duke), and the daughter she named Muriel.

Shortly after the marriage of his friend and his former lover, the Duke then went off and died in some far land leaving his son William (who he had with Party Girl, Herleva) as his only heir.  At seven years of age, William became the new Duke of Normandy.  Years later, William would marry Matilda of Flanders and prove a faithful husband and father to nine children.

Time passed and so did Edward the Confessor, the King of England.  He was called ‘the Confessor’ not because he had a blog, but because his Dad was named ‘Ethelred the Unready’ and his brother was named ‘Hardicanute’ and everyone knows that parents tend to give their first born children bizarre names to prove that they are more interesting than everyone else.  Shortly after the birth certificate is signed, the new parents realize that no one can spell or pronounce their child’s name, and they give subsequent children much simpler names.

So Edward The Confessor died.  William believed that he deserved the Crown of England, because one time he saved this guy named Harold from drowning.  Harold swore on the bones of a Saint that he would support William for the crown of England.  The only trouble is that Harold didn’t know he was swearing on the bones of a Saint because William hid the bones and only brought them out after Harold had promised to support him if the question of the crown of England should arise.  This pissed Harold off greatly, but he pretended not to care and then when the Witan all got together and voted over who should be King of England – they chose Harold.  (And by the way… A Witan is a bunch of Anglo Saxon Lord types getting together for a board meeting.)  William then reminded Harold that HELLO!  You owe me buddy!  Not only did I save your sinking ass, but you also swore on the bones of a Saint to support me for the Crown!  To this Harold replied something along the lines of ‘In your dreams Willie’ except it was a tad bit more colorful than that.  So Harold takes the throne, and William becomes William the Conquerer when his army shoots Harold through the eye at the Battle of Hastings on English soil on October 14th 1066.

Twenty years later William commissioned a book to find out exactly what it was he won when he won the Battle of Hastings.

I don’t really get the delay here, except that maybe in times without high-speed internet, super highways, and McDonald’s french fries, twenty years is just really not that long of a time to wait.

The book he commissioned became known as The Domesday or Doomsday Book.  Written in 1086, the book is a ‘reckoning’ of all the land, buildings, people, farm implements and livestock that existed throughout England in 1086.  William The Conqueror wanted this information so he could determine how much tax revenue he could generate from his English subjects (William ruled from afar in Normandy).  Surveyors were sent to the four corners of England to collect information and survey the land.

Only two individuals wrote the massive volumes that comprise both the Great Domesday and the Little Domesday.  One of them did the actual writing and one of them was in charge of occasionally clicking on the spell-check icon… except back then, the icon was an actual icon.  You can read more about the fascinating history of this book here.

To the medieval inhabitants of England, the vast scale of the book and the irreversible nature of it’s contents made it seem like a final judgement, a Hail Mary, a Come to Jesus, the distant thunder of impending doom or ‘dome’ as they said back in Medevial times, and so the Domesday Book received it ‘s name.

Of course, the church you see in the photo is not the exact same church that existed 900 years ago, but there are parts of the original church that still stand.  There are still some Saxon stone walls and Norman doors and there is an irrefutable entry in the Domesday book regarding a church in this very spot.

Here ends my Domesday report.

I am going to go read up on Ethelred the Unready now.



  • That was incredibly interesting. Thanks. I liked it. :D

  • Kait:

    OMG you make me laugh. Thanks for the little history lesson. I had forgotten all about that book until you brought it up. Love your “naming” reasoning too. Snort Snicker Guffaw. :)

  • I’d heard of the book, but never new it’s history. And that, my dear, was a most excellent rendering of the history.

    I like Ethelred. : ) He’s in a couple of the Bernard Cornwell books. I don’t think it’s the same guy (since those take place in mid 800′s A.D.)…but still, maybe a long distance relative. We all know how the royals recycle names! (Actually the Uhtred books are an interesting view of history during King Alfred’s days on the great island.)

  • Martha in Kansas:

    You’ve missed your calling as a history teacher! That was great! And the pictures are fabulous.

  • jamoody:

    Beautiful cemetary photos…they are beautiful and dark feeling at the same time.

    Loved the story as well….

  • Stephanie:

    Wonderful story telling…
    Beautiful pictures…
    felt like I was there…
    hope someday to see it myself

  • Tammra:

    I am no longer doomed to ignorance about Doomsday. Thank you ever so much.

    How lovely it must be, to be surrounded by history and beauty in everyday life, Jane is a lucky ducky.

  • MNStacey:

    Please show us the 600 year old house!

  • I didn’t get any photos of it MN Stacey! Sometimes I feel a little weird about shooting a private residence when the owner is standing right there beside me. If the owner is nowhere in sight, I have no problem taking millions of photos. Sorry!

  • Wow, what a history lesson! Did you remember all that or did you have to do some research?

    A 600 year old house!

  • DirtyKSmama - Nikki:

    What can I say – you are just too cool, Rechelle. And you’d make a great history teacher.

  • Wow. This post is just packed. Very informative and laced with dry humor, which seems very English to me. My favorite line was the one about Edward the Confessor not having a blog.

    I know you enjoyed learning about Herleva the Party Girl, and so did I, but perhaps you would appreciate a story about a more noble female from just a little further back on Harold’s side. There is a wonderful book about Aethelflaed who was wife of Ethelred II. So what if it’s juvenile historical fiction, I think it is based on fact, and Flaed is a much more admirable sounding character than Ms. Party Girl. The book is The Edge on the Sword by Rebecca Tingle. My boys enjoyed it as well as my girls and I did, too, because Flaed warn’t no sissy and could truly kick some medieval ass.

  • Jayne:

    Wonderful history lesson! I would have loved to be in a 600-year-old house and wandering that cemetery!

  • I’m reading a novel by James Rollins called The Doomsday Key. It’s fiction-based-on-some-facts/history of your story…something like The DaVinci Code, etc. I actually enjoy your synopsis quite well–nice storytelling!

  • Connie! I read the same book on the flight home. I saw it in the airport and had to read it – it was okay – not great – but a good fast paced adventure book.

  • Fran:

    Whoa, girl, that was quite a story! Can you imagine living amongst so much history and trying to keep it all straight? Thank goodness our country’s history is much shallower! Much less to learn.

  • Very interesting and fast paced. Kind of like Cliff Notes . The names were kind of weird but they’d probably think our names today were strange. I haven’t read much English history that far back so it was very informative. Sounds like they had swingers even back that far!
    I loved your photos. My favorite 2 were the cross with the vines and the rutted path, great depth and perspective. Guess you can’t take the art major out of the girl!!
    Thanks for your wonderful post.

  • Teresa:

    Thanks for a great post. I do genealogy and most of my family lines are English. I asked my historian son if he had heard of the Domesday Book and he gave me his version. I have learned more history doing genealogy than I ever did in school. I pay more attention when it is relevant. One of the facts I have learned is that there were all sorts of people, like Party Girl, back long ago. I just assumed they were all straight-laced and very religious.
    I love your pictures as well. I love cemeteries. Look forward to your next installment from your trip.

  • Anoria:

    If my HST 340 professor had told that story the way you just did, I might have gotten better than a C in her class. As it is, I’m amazed I remembered what a Witan is. Thanks for the lesson :)

    While people are pilling on the book recommendations, I’d like to add a word for Rosemary Sutcliff. Her favorite time period is earlier – I’ve read one retelling of the Aurthurian legend and one about the Roman invasion – but still good stuff about England the way it was a long long time ago. Her books range from kids’ level to rather advanced YA, and everyone even slightly interested should read at least one.

  • Jeanie:

    Well written and informative. Your blog makes me feel that I can justify the exorbitant amount of time that I spend reading various blogs as educational rather than such a personal indulgence. Dishes and laundry can wait without me feeling so guilty. Some really good photos in this post as well. Tell us more about the cakes!

  • Isn’t history grand? It always makes me wonder who and how will our day be remembered in 600 or 900 years?! I love your synopsis! I’m also glad that my spellcheck icon is not an actual icon and that we don’t go around swearing on saints’ bones! Plus, I feel kindof bad for the two guys who had to compile all that info for the Domesday books – that’s not the kind of book most people aspire to writing, no?

  • Brenda:

    Oh, I thought you meant this Doomsday Book:
    Science fiction, but set in Engand also. You should read it. I hate science fiction, but I loved this book. (Time travel and the black death, how can you go wrong?)

  • A six-hundred-year-old house? Wow. And I’m impressed by the antebellum homes in nearby Lexington.

  • Love your synopsis.. what a shame my teacher didn’t tell us this version when I was at school. Before all this, we also had Alfred who repelled Vikings (as in fought them) and burnt cakes… It’s that last bit I sympathize with…

  • Thirkellgirl:

    There’s a book you need! If I had an extra copy I’d send it to you, but since I don’t… I’m sure you can get it from Amazon. Charles Dickens wrote a gem of a little book called “A Child’s History of England” which explains all this English history in a very enjoyable smart-aleck way that I think you would really like!

  • Well this was far more interesting than when I learned about this in college – you should do the college circuit!

  • I think a book about the party girl would be good reading as well.

    Someone somewhere is thinking “that’s what happens when you have children out of wedlock – they come back back to bite you in the arse.”

    Thanks for sharing. Now I can move England up on the list of places I want to visit.

  • Cool!

  • What an incredibly interesting history lesson – and I sincerely mean that.

  • Lisa:

    Are you sure you don’t homeschool your children? Why not, when they could have history lessons like this? I can just imagine how the math lessons might go!

  • For some nerdy reason, I have always been fascinated by the story of William and Harold and the Conquest. Your story about Herleva is a hoot! It’s the best synopsis I’ve ever read, and I hope you don’t mind if I use it next spring when my daughter and I tackle Medieval History.
    My aunt and uncle went to England a few years ago, to see the places from which our family came. They saw The Old Church and The New Church in our hometown. The NEW Church was built in 1100…

  • Ahhh history… I so need to live in a country with more of it. It just makes me feel better even to read about it. Thanks for this – it was an awesome telling!

  • M.R.:

    Well, I was familiar with the Doomsday book and all, but now that I know all about Herleva, I am truly educated!

  • Oh that was the best version of the Doomsday book I’ve heard yet! You should consider writing history books. “Her-Leave-A” indeed!!

    I have seen an oak tree that was mentioned in the Doomsday book. And you know that’s what they’re quoting in “Alice in Wonderland” when they get all wet and need something “dry.”

  • Chris:

    As the owner of the 600 year old house……… thks R for highlighting us and i hope you enjoyed this aspect of your stay “in the country”

    The original oak frame is starting to morph into its winter state as the temp cools, so we hear great creakings at night as the joints move (yup, literally, they do). When built it was constructed in a woodyard as a frame then dismantled, transported (horse and cart!) to site and rebuilt. The main beams are numbered 1,2,3 to the right and I,II,III,IV to the left, so that each individual hand carved joint was matched correctly on site!

    Nuff for now
    Luv and Kisses

    • Chris – Hello! Good to hear from you! We just saw Mike and Liz this weekend. Our visit to your house and historic neighborhood was a highlight of the trip. Hope Jane and the kids are well.