Cople in 1086
Domesday Book was commissioned by William the Conqueror (1066-1087) at Christmas 1085. It was designed to show who held every piece of land in the newly conquered Kingdom of England. It was known colloquially as the Domesday Book because it was seen as being as final as the Last Judgement and as difficult to conceal things from. The book does not cover the whole country - Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland, and Westmorland were omitted and London and Winchester likewise, along with some other towns. A separate book, called Little Domesday covered the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk and, despite its name, it is actually bigger and more detailed than the Great Domesday Book containing the other counties.
Cople is recorded as divided into eight holdings in the Domesday Book. Seven of these were held by Hugh de Beauchamp who would later be created Baron of Bedford. The largest of these holdings, four hides, was tenanted by a man named Robert. The manor included six villagers, one smallholder and one slave as well as woodland "in the whole of Cople" for a hundred pigs. In 1066 three freemen had held the land and had subsequetly been dispossessed. Under their ownership the land has been worth 60 shillings. This had sunk to 20 shillings by the time Hugh acquired it, but had risen to its former value by 1086. It is suggested by historians that the reason for the general lowering of the value of manors in the area is accounted for by William I's armies coming through Bedfordshire on their way to put down rebellions in the north. They would have lived off the land and no doubt have committed certain acts of vandalism in what was, to them, still alien, even enemy, territory.
A man named Reginald held a hide from Hugh including two smallholders. Again, in 1066, two freemen had held the land and it had been worth 10 shillings, dipping to 5 shillings when Hugh acquired it, rising to10 shillings again by 1086. A woman of obvious Scandinavian heritage to judge by her name, Gunfrid, held a hide and half a virgate from Hugh. Her holding contained a villager and a slave and had been held by two freemen in 1066. The holding had then been worth 10 shillings, again falling to 5 before rising back to 10 in 1086.
Norman held a hide from Hugh which had been worth 8 shillings in 1066 but had fallen to 6 shillings in value, the same as when Hugh acquired it. Domesday Book states: "Askell held 3 virgates of this land which lay in his manor, Willington. Alstan held 1 virgate which he could sell to whom he would".
A man named Branting held a further hide from Hugh and the value of this had not changed from the 10 shillings it had been worth when three freemen held it under King Edward the Confessor in 1066. A further three virgates were held by a man named Robert, probably the same man who held the four hides. These virgates had been held by two freemen and had been worth 7/6, a value which had not changed between the and 1086. Finally, Roger the Priest and Liboret held half a hide and half a virgate from Hugh. Again the value was unchaged from 1086 at 5 shillings. the land had belonged to three freemen in 1066. Domesday Book notes: "Ralph Tallboys had 9 hides of this manor of Cople in exchange for Ware [Hertfordshire] as his men say; when he acquired them the value was £4.
The other piece of land in Cople recorded by Domesday Book was a virgate of land held by William I's niece Countess Judith. She had been married to Earl Waltheof who had twice rebelled against William and had lost his head for it the second time. This land had belonged to Wulfwin in 1066 and had been worth 30d, the same value as when acquired by Judith and in 1086.
Cople thus had a total of five villagers, three smallholders and two slaves. These ten men were the heads of household. Once their wives and children are calculated it looks as if Cople had less than fifty people in 1086.