|History of Burke's Landed Gentry
Burke's Landed Gentry is the fruit of nearly two centuries of hard work by the Burke family, and others since, in building an unparalleled collection of books of genealogical and heraldic interest. This detailed listing of key families and other influential figures in these British islands was first published in 1826. Burke's Landed Gentry is an invaluable historical record for those appearing within it, their wider families, and genealogical researchers worldwide.
Of course, history tends to be a blend of fact and mythology embroidered both wittingly and unwittingly over centuries by word of mouth. "Burke's Peerage", Oscar Wilde once said, "it is the best thing the English have done in fiction." Nevertheless, it has proved indispensable for research among historical families.
Part of Burke's Peerage early success lay in the literary style adopted by John Burke, the title's founder. A Londoner despite his Irish name and origins, John Burke made the material he used about the nation's great families, which was based on work by many earlier authorities, more readable than it had ever been before.
John Burke's son, Bernard, creator of the Landed Gentry, was also a talented writer. He had a particular flair for flowery phraseology which appealed to the "Gothick phantasy" side of the Victorian character. Bernard was a prodigiously hard worker whose enormous output allowed little time for the meticulous checking of modern genealogy. His usual account of the antiquity of any family was that an ancestor "came in with the Conqueror". Had this always been the case, then we could well believe the legend that Harold fainted on seeing the size of the Norman army at Hastings!
But such speculation eminently suited the Victorian taste; hence the immense popularity of such works as Bernard Burke's Anecdotes of the Aristocracy, and those of his elder brother Peter Burke, a barrister and author of Celebrated Trials connected with the Aristocracy and, the bestseller of them all, Vicissitudes of Families, a collection of stories tracing the fall of titled and important families.
Sir Bernard Burke, as he became, was appointed Ulster King of Arms, and it is his arms that were used on Burke's Peerage publications of his day. By the end of the nineteenth century, genealogy became a more exact science and far more attention was paid to factual detail. Burke's Peerage publications acquired a reputation for scholarly rigour which made them the first choice for research.
Although, they also retained their more general interest. Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Chairman of the group in the early 1980s, penned family accounts that were just as gripping as the Victorian fantasies, albeit more accurate in their details.
The last of the Burke family to be directly involved in the publications was Bernard's son, Sir Henry Farnham Burke, who became Garter Principal King of Arms.