Jumptonavigation Jumptosearch "Burke's"and"Burkes"redirecthere.Forotheruses,seeBurke.Burke'sPeerageLimited">
|Private limited company|
|Predecessor||Burke's Peerage (1826) Limited (2013–2016)|
Burke's Peerage Limited is a British genealogical publisher founded in 1826, when Irish genealogist John Burke began releasing books devoted to the ancestry and heraldry of the peerage, baronetage, knightage and landed gentry of the United Kingdom. His first publication, a Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom, was updated sporadically until 1847, when the company began releasing new editions every year as Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage (often shortened to just Burke's Peerage). Other books followed, including Burke's Landed Gentry, Burke's Colonial Gentry, and Burke's General Armory. In addition to the peerage, Burke's published books on royal families of Europe and Latin America, ruling families of Africa and the Middle East, distinguished families of the United States and historical families of Ireland.
The firm was established in 1826 by John Burke (1786–1848), 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.
From the start, Burke's works suffered from pomposity and carelessness. Readers may have accepted as a minor eccentricity of style the idolisation of medieval figures who were little more than brigands and the ludicrously reverential tone adopted towards otherwise insignificant people who happened to possess a title or were related to a titled person. The major fault of substance, however, was the frequent and evident inaccuracy of the articles. Without much knowledge of history or genealogy, one could see improbabilities and inconsistencies both within articles and between articles. Errors in existing articles remained uncorrected between editions and new errors were added in new articles. A very minor example can be found as late as 1953, where the article on the Baden-Powell barony contained a statement about the relationship of the first baron (died 1941) to the family of the first Earl Nelson (died 1835) which was not supported by the article on the Nelson earldom, because there was no relationship and the statement was untrue. When such carelessness was shown over relatively recent links, what hope had readers of finding accurate guidance over titles with complicated ascents going back to remote medieval times?
Serious scholars have always taken little account of Burke's books, exposing their flaws from time to time. In 1877, the Oxford professor Edward Augustus Freeman attacked in language of almost unexampled scorn, the fables and the fictions in Burke's, where he could readily find a pedigree that was purely mythical – if indeed mythical is not too respectable a name for what must be in many cases the work of deliberate invention …. (and) all but invariably false. As a rule, it is not only false, but impossible … not merely fictions, but exactly that kind of fiction which is, in its beginning, deliberate and interested falsehood. The reputation of the imprint in informed circles was well established by 1893 when Oscar Wilde in the play A Woman of No Importance wrote: "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!" Such barbs had little effect for, writing in 1901, the historian J. Horace Round aimed many blows at the old fables and grotesquely impossible tales still being perpetuated by Burke's. More recent editions have been more scrupulously checked and rewritten for accuracy, notably under the chief editorship, from 1949-59, of L. G. Pine- who was very sceptical regarding many families' claims to antiquity: ('If everybody who claims to have come over with the Conqueror were right, William must have landed with 200,000 men-at-arms instead of about 12,000')- and Hugh Massingberd (1971-83).