Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burke, John

BURKE, JOHN (1787–1848), genealogist, was the elder son of Peter Burke of Elm Hall, Tipperary, by his first wife, Anne, daughter an coheiress of Matthew Dowdall, M.D., of Mullingar. In accordance with a family arrangement, his younger brother Joseph succeeded to the estate at the father's death on 13 Jan. 1836. John Burke early engaged in literary work in London, but afterwards devoted himself to genealogical studies, and in 1826 he issued a ‘Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom.’ For the first time such a work was arranged alphabetically, and peers and baronets were treated together. The convenience of its method at once gave it great popularity. The ‘Peerage’ was republished at irregular intervals until 1847, when it reached its ninth edition. From that date it has been issued annually. ‘A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerages of England, Ireland, and Scotland, extinct, dormant, and in abeyance,’ was first published by Burke in 1831 (3rd edit. 1846); later editions, prepared by Sir J. B. Burke, appeared in 1866 and 1883. In 1831 Burke also issued what was intended to be the first of a series of annual handbooks, entitled ‘The Official Kalendar for 1831;’ but the series was not continued. Between 1833 and 1838 he published ‘A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland,’ in four 8vo volumes; another edition was issued in 1837-8; and a third edition in two volumes between 1843 and 1849. The title was altered in the later editions to ‘A Dictionary of the Landed Gentry,’ and a supplementary volume appeared in 1844, containing corrigenda and a general index. Burke was also the author of ‘The Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Females, including Beauties of the Courts of George IV and William IV,’ 2 vols. 1833; of ‘A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England,’ 1838 (re-issued 1841 and 1844); of ‘The Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland,’ 1841; of ‘A General Armoury of England, Scotland, and Ireland,’ 1842 (republished in Bohn's series in 1844 as Burke's ‘Encyclopedia of Heraldry,’ and by Sir J. B. Burke in an enlarged form in 1878); of ‘Heraldic Illustrations, comprising the Armorial Bearings of all the Principal Families of the Empire, with Pedigrees and Annotations,’ 1844 (an illuminated supplement appeared in 1851); and of ‘The Royal Families of England, Scotland, and Wales, and the Families descended from them,’ in 5 vols. 1847-51. Burke was also the editor of a short-lived periodical, entitled ‘The Patrician,’ Burke died at Aix-la-Chapelle on 27 March 1848. He married his cousin Mary (d. 1846), second daughter of Bernard O’Reilly of Ballymorris, Longford, by whom he had two sons, Peter [q. v.] and John Bernard. The latter, now known as Sir Bernard Burke, is Ulster king of arms. He greatly assisted his father in his genealogical labours from 1840 onwards, and has throughout his life devoted himself to similar pursuits.

[Burke's Landed Gentry, s. v. ‘Burke of Elm Hall;’ Gent. Mag. 1848, pt. i. 665; Brit, Mus. Cat.]

S. L. L.