Burke’s Peerage, founded by John Burke in London in 1826, records the genealogy and heraldry of the Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Landed Gentry of the United Kingdom, the historical families of Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations, the Imperial, Royal and Mediatised families of Europe and Latin America, the Presidential and distinguished families of the United States, the ruling families of Africa and the Middle East and other prominent families worldwide.
Burke’s Peerage has provided authoritative genealogical records of historical families for over 188 years. Its records were originally compiled by members of the Burke family and added to by others to build a collection of books of genealogical and heraldic interest.
Burke’s Peerage was established in 1826 by John Burke (1786–1848). He pioneered the narrative style which has become the trademark of Burke’s Peerage and a recognised model for written genealogies. He was also the progenitor of a dynasty of genealogists and heralds. His son Sir John Bernard Burke (1814–92) was Ulster King of Arms 1853–92. And his son Sir Henry Farnham Burke (1859–1930) was Garter Principal King of Arms 1919–30. After his death, ownership passed through a variety of people, including the Peerage to Sir Henry Mallaby-Deeley, 1st Baronet (1863–1937) and the Landed Gentry to Arthur Maundy Gregory (1877–1941). The titles and copyright were reunited by Shaw’s Reference Series, later incorporated in Mercury House Publications, who sold it in 1973 to the Holdway Group. The new board included Jeremy Norman (1947–), Chairman 1974–83, Patrick, 5th Earl of Lichfield (1939–2005), and John Philip Brooke-Little, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms (1927–2006). Entirely new volumes on royal families, country houses of the British Isles and Irish genealogy were published.
In 1984 the board decided to sell the copyright. The Peerage was acquired by Frederik Jan Gustav Floris, Baron van Pallandt (1934–94), the Landed Gentry and other titles were sold elsewhere. The Peerage was then bought by Joseph Goldberg, who reprinted the previous edition. In 1989 ownership was acquired by Brian Morris, who published the 106th Edition in 1999, a thorough updating and revision of the 105th Edition. A separate company, which owned the Burke’s name, the Landed Gentry and other titles, was formed in 1984 with Lady Elizabeth Anson (1941–), Merlin, 24th Earl of Erroll (1948–) and Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk (1919–85) as directors. Burke’s Peerage Partnership was formed out of receivership in 1987 by those associated with the former company, including Harold Brooks-Baker (1933–2005) who was publishing director 1984–2005. In the 1990s, they briefly licensed the use of the Burke’s name to Halbert’s, an American publishing company who sold books under the name The World Book of Surnames, which otherwise had no connection with Burke’s Peerage.
In 2000 the Wills family licensed the right to publish the Landed Gentry. And after a gap of thirty years, in 2001, the 19th edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry of Scotland was published. In 2002 they bought the rights to the Peerage from Morris Genealogical Books, reuniting both titles under one publisher for the first time in several years. Burke’s Peerage and Gentry produced a fully updated 107th Peerage and Baronetage edition which was published in 2003.
The editors include Ashworth P. Burke (1864–1919); Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (1871–1928) of the Landed Gentry of Ireland 1912 and the Landed Gentry 1914; A. Winton Thorpe of the Peerage and the Landed Gentry 1921; Alfred Trego Butler, Windsor Herald (1880–1946) of the Peerage 1923–34 and the Landed Gentry 1925; Miss E. M. Swinhoe of the Peerage 1927–37; Mr J. Smallshaw 1938–40 (although his name is not mentioned in those editions); Charles Harry Clinton Pirrie-Gordon of Buthlaw (1883–1969) of the Landed Gentry 1930–36; John Seymour de Spon, Baron de Spon (1913–98) of the Peerage 1941–46; Leslie Gilbert Pine (1907–87) of the Peerage 1946–60; Kenneth Peter Townend (1921–2001) of the Peerage 1960–71; Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd (1946–2007) was Assistant Editor 1968–71, Editor 1971 and Editorial Director 1972–83; and Charles Gordon Mosley (1948–2013) of Peerage and Baronetage 1989–2004.
In 2013 all rights to Burke’s were reunited under the ownership of Burke’s Peerage Limited, whose chairman is William Bortrick.
Burke's Peerage Foundation
Burke’s Peerage Foundation was established by William Bortrick on 5 January 2014, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John Bernard Burke, to encourage all to take a greater interest in their genealogy. Burke’s Peerage Foundation was registered as a UK charity (No.1155658) on 5 February 2014 with its objects to advance the education of the public in the United Kingdom in the subject of genealogy and personal heritage.
Appearances in popular culture
Burke's Peerage makes frequent appearances in modern culture, examples include popular television series as diverse as Downton Abbey, created by Julian Fellowes; Magnum PI; Agatha Christie's Poirot; and Ian Fleming's James Bond.
‘You should study the Peerage, Gerald. It is the one book a young man about town should know thoroughly, and it is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done’. Lord Illingworth speaking to his son Gerald Arbuthnot in A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde.
- History, Burke's Peerage website
- Burke's Peerage Foundation website
- 1155658-Burke's Peerage Foundation, Charity Commission website (http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk).
- Adams, Tim, Royal engagement: Kate's triumph for Britain's middle classes, www.theguardian.com.
- Dixon, Sara, Downton's creator fights for wife's title, www.express.co.uk.
- Carpenter, Julie, Downton Abbey: Misogyny and the aristocracy, www.express.co.uk.