Burke, John Bernard (DNB01)

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BURKE, Sir JOHN BERNARD (1814–1892), genealogist and Ulster king-at-arms, born in London on 5 Jan. 1814, was the second son of John Burke [q. v.] by his wife and cousin, Mary (d. 1846), daughter of Bernard O'Reilly of Ballymorris, co. Longford. His elder brother Peter is separately noticed. John Bernard was educated at an academy in Chelsea kept by Robert Archibald Armstrong [q. v.], and then, being a Roman catholic, at Caen College, Normandy, where he distinguished himself in Greek composition, Latin poetry, and mathematics. On 30 Dec. 1835 he entered as a student at the Middle Temple, where he was called to the bar on 25 Jan. 1839. At the bar he acquired a good practice in peerage and genealogical cases, and his leisure from 1840 onwards he occupied in assisting his father in the publication of his genealogical works, which he continued on his own account after his father's death in 1848.

In December 1853 Burke was appointed Ulster king-of-arms in Ireland in succession to Sir William Betham [q. v.], and on 22 Feb. 1854 he was knighted. In 1855 he succeeded Earl Stanhope as keeper of the state papers in Ireland. In this capacity he did good work in arranging the chaotic manuscripts in Bermingham Tower, and in 1866 he was sent by government to Paris to study and report on the French record system. His voluminous report led to the passing of the Record Act in that year and to various reforms in the methods of preserving state papers. In 1862 he was created honorary LL.D. of Dublin University, in 1868 he was made C.B., and in 1874 he became a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland. He continued to perform his duties as Ulster king-of-arms and knight-attendant upon the order of St. Patrick until his death on 12 Dec. 1892 at his residence, Tullamaine House, in Upper Leeson Street, Dublin. He was buried on the 15th in the family vault in Westland-row Roman catholic chapel, Dublin (Freeman's Journal, 16 Dec. 1892).

Burke married, on 8 Jan. 1856, Barbara Frances, second daughter of James MacEvoy of Tobertynan, co. Meath, and by her, who died on 15 Jan. 1887, had issue one daughter and seven sons, of whom the eldest, Henry Farnham Burke, F.S.A., is Somerset herald; and the fourth, Ashworth Peter Burke, has continued editing his father's works. Burke's best-known work was done on fresh editions of his father's books; the 'Peerage' was annually re-edited under his supervision from 1847 to his death. Various improvements and greater detail were gradually introduced into the work, but it continued to be marred to some extent by the readiness with which doubtful pedigrees were accepted and unpleasing facts in family histories excluded (cf. Round, Peerage and Family History, 1901, passim). The same criticism applies to the 'Landed Gentry,' which he edited from its third edition (1843 and 1849, 2 vols.) to the seventh edition in 1886; the eighth edition was completed by his sons and appeared in 1894 (see Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vi. 21, 1 55, 235). In 1883 he brought out a revised edition of his father's 'Extinct and Dormant Peerage' (1840 and 1846), and in 1878 and 1883 revised editions of the 'General Armoury of England, Scotland, and Ireland.' Editions of his father's 'Royal Families of England, Scotland, and Wales' appeared in 1855 and 1876, and a supplement to his 'Heraldic Illustrations' in 1851. The more important of Burke's own works were:

  1. 'The Roll of Battle Abbey,' 1848, 16mo.
  2. 'Historic Lands of England,' 1848, 8vo.
  3. 'Anecdotes of the Aristocracy,' 1849-50, 4 vols. 8vo; new and revised edition entitled 'The Romance of the Aristocracy,' London, 1855, 3 vols. 8vo.
  4. 'Visitation of Seats and Arms,' London, 1852-1854, 3 vols. 8vo.
  5. 'Family Romance,' London, 1853, 2 vols. 12mo; 3rd edit. 1860, 8vo.
  6. 'The Book of the Orders of Knighthood,' London, 1858, 8vo.
  7. 'Vicissitudes of Families,' 1st ser. 1859, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1859, and 5th edit. 1861; 2nd ser. two editions in 1861; 3rd ser. 1863; remodelled editions of the whole, 2 vols. 1869, 1883.
  8. 'The Rise of Great Families,' London, 1873, 8vo; another edit. 1882.
  9. 'The Book of Precedence,' London, 1881, 8vo.
  10. 'Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry,' London, 1891, 8vo. Burke also continued from March 1848 to edit the 'Patrician' (1846, &c. 6 vols.), and in 1850 edited the 'St. James's Magazine' (1 vol. only).

[Burke's Works in Brit. Mus. Libr.; Dublin Univ. Mag. 1876, pp. 16-24 (with portrait); Foster's Men at the Bar; Men of the Time, 13th edit.; Times, 14 Dec. 1892; Spectator, 24 Dec. 1892; Freeman's Journal, 14 and 16 Dec. 1892; Dublin Daily Express, 14 and 16 Dec; Burke's Peerage and Landed Gentry, 1899.]

A. F. P.