Burke’s Peerage is foremost a genealogical publisher, which first published books by John Burke in London in 1826, recording the genealogy and heraldry of the peerage, baronetage, knightage and landed gentry of the United Kingdom, the historical families of Ireland as well as those of 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 expanded to provide broader genealogical publications (including online) becoming a premium brand.
Burke’s Peerage has provided authoritative genealogical records of historical families for more than 189 years. Its records were originally compiled by members of the Burke family and added to by others to build a unique collection of books of genealogical and heraldic interest.
Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage was established in 1826 by John Burke (1786–1848), who pioneered the narrative style which has become the trademark of Burke’s publications 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 grandson, 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 Burke’s Peerage to Sir Henry Mallaby-Deeley, 1st Baronet (1863–1937) and Burke’s 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, which sold it in 1973 to the Holdway Group. The new board included Jeremy Norman (chairman 1974–83), Patrick Anson, 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 under the Burke’s name.
In 1984, Burke’s Peerage board of directors decided to sell the copyright: Burke’s Peerage was acquired by Frederik Jan Gustav Floris, Baron van Pallandt (1934–94) whilst Burke’s Landed Gentry and other titles were sold elsewhere. Burke’s Peerage was then bought by Joseph Goldberg, who reprinted the immediate previous edition. In 1989, ownership was acquired by Brian Morris, who published the 106th edition in 1999, which comprised a thorough updating and revision of the 105th edition (1970). A separate company, which owned the Burke’s name, Burke’s Landed Gentry and other titles, was formed in 1984 with Lady Elizabeth Anson, Merlin Hay, 24th Earl of Erroll 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 from 1984 to 2005. In the 1990s, they briefly licensed the use of the Burke’s name to Halbert’s, an American publishing company which sold books under the name "The World Book of Surnames", which otherwise had no connection with the Burke’s publishing house.
In 2000, the Wills family licensed the right to publish Burke’s Landed Gentry. After a gap of 30 years, in 2001, a 19th edition: Burke’s Landed Gentry of Scotland was published. In 2002 they bought the rights to Burke’s Peerage from Morris Genealogical Books, reuniting both titles under one publisher, Burke’s Peerage and Gentry (UK) Limited, for the first time in several years. They produced a fully updated 107th edition (Peerage and Baronetage) which was published in 2003. In 2013 they sold Burke's Peerage & Baronetage, with all its rights and assets thereby assigned to a newly-formed international company, Burke’s Peerage Limited, whose UK affiliate is Burke’s Peerage (1826) Limited (Company No. 08539019).
The editors include Ashworth P. Burke (1864–1919); Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (1871–1928) of Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland 1912 and Burke’s Landed Gentry 1914; A. Winton Thorpe of Burke’s Peerage and Burke’s Landed Gentry 1921; Alfred Trego Butler, Windsor Herald (1880–1946) of Burke's Peerage 1923–34 and Burke's Landed Gentry 1925; Miss E. M. Swinhoe of Burke’s Peerage 1927–37; Mr J. Smallshaw 1938–40 (although his name is not mentioned in those editions); Charles Harry Clinton Pirie-Gordon of Buthlaw (1883–1969) of Burke’s Landed Gentry 1930–36; John Seymour de Spon, Baron de Spon (1913–98) of Burke’s Peerage 1941–46; Leslie Gilbert Pine (1907–87) of Burke’s Peerage 1946–60; Kenneth Peter Townend (1921–2001) of Burke’s 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 Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage 1989–2004.
Burke’s Peerage Foundation was established on 5 January 2014, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John Bernard Burke, to encourage people to take a greater interest in genealogy. Burke's Foundation was registered as a UK charity (No.1155658) on 5 February 2014 with the object of advancing the education of the British and worldwide public about genealogy, family and heritage.
Appearances in popular culture
Burke’s Peerage continues to make frequent appearances in modern culture, with examples including popular television series as diverse as Downton Abbey, devised by Julian Fellowes, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford; also: Magnum PI, Agatha Christie's Poirot and Ian Fleming's James Bond.
Oscar Wilde famously cited Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage in A Woman of No Importance: "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!" [said Lord Illingworth to his son Gerald Arbuthnot].
- "Burke’s Peerage - The Official Website". www.burkespeerage.com.
- Burke’s Peerage Changes Ownership.
- "Burke’s Peerage Foundation". www.burkespeeragefoundation.org.
- 1155658-Burke’s Peerage Foundation, Charity Commission website ().
- Adams, Tim, www.theguardian.com, Royal engagement: Kate's triumph for Britain's middle classes.
- Script Line: Transcribed Film and TV Scripts extract
- 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.