Major New Research Project Into The Great Cowcher

The Duchy of Lancaster is supporting a major new research project into the origin and meaning of the Great Cowcher – the equivalent of the Domesday Book for the Duchy’s medieval estates.

Working with academics, archivists and heritage professionals from The National Archives, Lancaster University and Lincoln University, the aim is to create an interactive, community-focused edition of the famous book available to everyone free of charge online.

The proposed research project will focus on the earldoms of Lancaster and Lincoln and explore the relationship between these historic lordships and their local communities from the origin of the Duchy in 1265 to around 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) acceded to the throne.

Specialist teams at The National Archives will also undertake non-invasive multi-spectral imaging and pigment analysis of the original book to discover more about how this highly illustrated and detailed compendium was produced.

Commenting on the project, Dr Sean Cunningham, Head of Medieval Records at The National Archives, said: “This is a very exciting opportunity to explore not only the content but the purpose of one of the Duchy’s most valuable historic records. It will provide a valuable insight into the changing social structures of the day and the evolution of tenant relationships over more than a century. We also hope to use state-of-the-art technology and science to understand how the book was first created, the origin of the paper and pigments used and the materials used to illustrate it.”

Dr Fiona Edmonds, Director of the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University added: “The Duchy has worked with us closely to make its history and records accessible to the general public. The free open learning course (MOOC) launched in 2018 has already engaged over 7,500 online students from 127 countries and we plan to introduce additional components to the course in future years. Projects such as these are key to community engagement in local history and support parts of the National Curriculum, providing digital teaching resources which are free to use and which appeal to students with many different interests.”

The Great Cowcher was produced circa 1402 on the orders of Henry IV to record the deeds of all Duchy of Lancaster possessions. It spans two illuminated volumes, both of which are kept at The National Archives in Kew.

The historic earldoms of Lancaster and Lincoln (Honor of Bolingbroke) are among the earliest lordships at the heart of the ancient inheritance. Today, the Duchy of Lancaster is a portfolio of land and property assets held in trust for the Sovereign and which remain separate to ‘all other Crown possessions’.

For further information on the research project please contact To access the Lancaster University Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) please click on the link below: