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niven & domesday book - sunday times article
August 26 2001 SCOTLAND
Scot waits for Domesday to trace his Norman roots
SCOTS businessman Niven Sinclair has waited 16 years to trace the final missing link in his family tree. Now, after commissioning a replica of the Domesday Book, he has been able to establish a direct line of descent from William the Conqueror.
Artists have spent most of the past two decades painstakingly recreating all 13,418 entries in the 11th-century document, the first official census of land and owners in England and one of the world's most significant historical treasures.
Every mark that appears on the original has been copied, including blemishes and inaccuracies, on waxed vellum parchment using inks made from natural pigments. As well as reproducing the words, maps and essays, an English translation has been made from the original French and Latin.
Sinclair, a keen amateur genealogist, had already traced his roots back to William St Clair, the 14th-century leader of the Knights Templars in Scotland, using census data and parish records.
However, the only way to trace his lineage beyond that date was to consult the Domesday Book, held at the Public Records Office at Kew. That was back in 1984.
"The Public Records Office were concerned about scholars and academics using the original," said Sinclair. "So, while it was unbound, they commissioned their own copy that would be indistinguishable from the original.
"I'd been trying to trace my family ancestry through the Domesday Book at that time and I asked if it would be possible to buy a similar facsimile copy for private use, once the job was done. It's taken 16 years but it's the best buy I've ever made."
The copy was made by Alecto, a fine art publisher that specialises in reproducing historical documents.
"Every stroke of the scribe's pen had to be as clear - or unclear - as it was on the original page," said Nigel Frith, Alecto's director.
Sinclair was quoted a price of £475 for each of the 34 volumes, representing all the counties in England.
He intends to store the collection at the Sinclair clan centre at Noss Head, Caithness.
The Sinclairs' Norse connections gave the family the earldom of Orkney and Shetland in the 14th and 15th centuries. Their Viking blood goes back to a Norse raider called Hrolf the Ganger, who invaded Normandy in the 10th century.
"He was created the first Duke of Normandy by the treaty of St Clair-sur-Epte in the year 912," said Sinclair. "His descendants in northwest France became known as St Clair. This is all recorded in the Norse sagas."
One St Clair descendant, referred to historically as William the Bastard, became duke of Normandy in 1035. After his invasion of England in 1066, he ordered an inventory of all the surrounding lands and properties and their owners, which became the Domesday Book.
During the last years of his reign William's power was threatened by King Canute of Denmark and King Olaf of Norway. The most likely reason why William commissioned the survey was to see how much tax he would get and how much Danegeld would be available to fend off the invaders.
"It was an amazing feat," said Joe Studholme, chairman of Alecto. "We had 60 people working on it and it took us 16 years. William did it in two years with only a few scribes - but we hope our working conditions were less intimidating."
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