Exon is a survival from William I’s Domesday survey of 1086 and can best be described as an archive of working papers from one of the seven regional ‘circuits’ through which the survey was conducted. It is the earliest witness among all the manuscripts relating to Domesday, and testifies directly to some of the different stages of the survey.

Exon was written in small parchment quires by a team of about two dozen scribes. It covers five south-western shires, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset. The name Exon is from the Latin for Exeter, Exonia, its home since the fourteenth century or earlier, and the quires were most probably taken there soon after they ceased to be needed in the king’s treasury at Winchester. At some point they were bound as a volume to keep them together, but only after part of the archive had already gone missing. Nothing like Exon survives from any other Domesday circuit.

The bulk of Exon consists of manorial descriptions generated by the Domesday survey, arranged under the names of the king’s barons, who held their land directly from the king. For convenience, we call this material Fiefs. We can infer from Exon itself that Fiefs was compiled by rearranging material drawn from an earlier recension of the text arranged geographically by shire, hundred, and vill. The scribe of Great Domesday Book later rearranged the material again, working directly from Exon.

The short section we call Fief Summaries provides totals of various statistics for the lands held by a few barons.

Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset also have lists headed Terrae Occupatae. They give details of lands and customary payments which had been added to or taken from manors since 1066, potentially without the king’s authority. Nearly all the information is duplicated in Fiefs, but the wording is not identical because the scribes of Terrae Occupatae and Fiefs drew independently from the geographical recension.

The collection also contains pairs of Hundred Lists for the same three shires. The first in each pair appears to have been written in one go before the scribes copied out Fiefs, the second in stages as Fiefs was completed.

Exon also contains copies of Geld Accounts relating to a tax levied in 1085–6. They are the earliest surviving documents from the English treasury, the first to use that term, and the most substantial record of land taxation from anywhere in the post-Roman West. Each hundred gives total hides, details of exempt, paid, and unpaid hides, and the sums of money received. Wiltshire has three copies from successive stages of geld collection, while Somerset is incomplete but accompanied by a handful of other miscellaneous records of the same geld.

The final distinct element of Exon is a partial schedule of contents, which is a contemporary but partial list of the quires which it contains.

The manuscript also carries some purposeful annotations from the time it was in use in 1086–7, various doodles and pen-trials, and later medieval and modern annotations.

Exon has a wider significance as a closely dated sample of several contemporary hands, as a very large archive of administrative writing, and as the key to a much better understanding of the routine government of Norman England and the extraordinary achievement of the Domesday survey.

These different types of document are scattered in different parts of the collection, as our Table of Contents shows.