Women & Domesday
The Domesday Book was compiled by William the Conqueror in 1086. It was a means of ascertaining just how much this new Kingdom could bring him (in monetary value). As such, he set about taking a survey of all landholdings in Britain - the result was the Domesday Book.
“Due to the Norman tendency towards male-domination, women could for example not hold land any more.” Indeed, many an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman was forced from her estates, which were invariably given out as rewards (sometimes, with the former landholder herself) to the followers of William I. It would not be the first nor the last time women were parcelled out as "spoils of war".
And so at the time of the Domesday Book, “ …..many of their[Anglo-Saxon Nobles] widows and daughters fled to nunneries in order to avoid being forced into marriage with William's soldiers.” (Elisabeth van Houts - "The Trauma of 1066: The Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England").
However, below I will list a number of women who were mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Christiana - daughter of Edward the Exile and Princess of the West Saxon House. She was a Nun at Romsey, and at the time of Domesday, she had holdings in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.
Countess Godiva - wife of Leofric of Mercia (d.1057). At the time of the Invasion, Godiva held land in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire. However, as she died prior to Domesday (c.1085), these lands were not re-granted to her.
Countess Judith of Lens - wife of Waltheof of Huntingdon and Northumbria, and niece of William I. Judith was a major land-holder before and after the Invasion. She had holdings in 10 counties in Midlands and East Anglia. She is infamous for betraying her husband to William (1075) in the rebellion of the northern Earls.
Queen Edith - wife of King Edward the Confessor. She was a major land-holder prior to the Invasion. However, there is some doubt as to whether she maintained these lands under William I or whether, which is most likely, that she entered a convent. “ …for the queen lost three of her brothers in the battle of Hastings and then had to watch her mother, Gytha, sisters and niece flee to Flanders to escape the wrath of the Normans.” (Elizabeth van Houts - "The Trauma of 1066: The Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England").
Edith Swan-neck - mistress / wife of Harold I. Edith was also a major land-holder prior to the Invasion, but lost her lands to Alan the Red, Earl of Richmond.
Gytha - wife of Godwin and mother of Harold. She too was a major land-holder prior to the Invasion. “King Harold's mother, Gytha had earlier held out against the Norman invaders when, during William's return to Normandy in 1067, she fortified and held Exeter in Devon, the fourth largest city in the land. When William returned, he faced many revolts led by local English leaders, but it was to Exeter that he first turned. The mid winter siege lasted 18 days and a large part of the Norman army perished in the process. The city finally capitulated when the expected support from local thegns did not eventuate. Whether King Harold's sons by Edith, Godwin, Edmund and Magnus, were present is not recorded. Gytha fled before the surrender and sailed with Harold's daughter Gytha and his sister, Gunnhild [who at the time of the conquest resided at the nunnery of Wilton] to the island of Flatholme in the Bristol Channel.” From there they sought refuge at the court of Baldwin VI of Flanders. (Geoff Boxwell - "Fate of King Harold’s Family")
Associate Professor Lisa Weston (of California State University) had this to say about the role of women in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval times:
"Barking [Abbey] is a women's house started under an abbess in the Anglo-Saxon period (666 A.D.) that survived after the Norman conquest and remained a very powerful and influential women's house until Henry VIII's reign. At the time of the conquest, it had a really canny abbess, Ælfgifa, who was really good at working power relationships ... She managed to hold on to a lot of her land by making a deal with William the Conqueror, who built the Tower of London on land owned by Barking Abbey."
"For my part, I adhere to the maxim of antiquity: The throne is a glorious sepulchre."