Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Burnett, George

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BURNETT, GEORGE (1822–1890), historian and heraldic author, born on 9 March 1822, was third son of John Burnett of Kemnay, an estate in Central Aberdeenshire, by Mary, daughter of Charles Stuart of Dunearn. Educated partly in Germany he acquired a taste for art and became a very competent critic both of music and painting, and was for many years musical critic for the ‘Scotsman’ newspaper.

He was called to the Scots bar in 1845, but did not practise much, devoting himself to the literary side of the profession and distinguishing himself specially in the historical and heraldic (particularly the genealogical) branches. The Spalding Club was in its full vigour at the date of Burnett’s early manhood under the learned supervision of John Hill Burton, George Gibb, Joseph Robertson, Cosmo Innes, and its secretary, John Stuart—scholars with all of whom, as well as with W. Forbes Skene, the Celtic historian, Burnett became intimately acquainted. In Scottish genealogy and peerage law he was one of the foremost lawyers of his time. He wrote ‘Popular Genealogists, or the Art of Pedigree Making’ in 1865, ‘The Red Book of Menteith Reviewed’ in 1881, and towards the close of his life a ‘Treatise on Heraldry, British and Foreign,’ which was completed by the Rev. John Woodward in 1891; their joint work is a masterly treatise on that subject. But Burnett’s principal historical work by which he will be long remembered is the edition of the ‘Exchequer Rolls’ from 1264 to 1507 (vols, i–xii.), published under the control of the lord clerk register, which he undertook on the death of John Stuart (1813–1877) [q. v.] and continued between 1881 and 1890, in twelve volumes. The prefaces to these volumes contain indispensable materials for the history of Scotland during the period to which they relate. In 1864 Burnett entered the Lyon office as Lyon depute, and two years later, when the office was reorganised on the death of the Earl of Kinnoull, he became Lyon King of Arms, and ably discharged the duties of the office. He restored it from an honorary and titular office into a working one, and in this was ably seconded by Mr. Stodart, the Lyon clerk, an accomplished genealogist.

Burnett, who received the degree of LL.D. in 1884 from the university of Edinburgh, died on 24 Jan. 1890. He married Alice, youngest daughter of John Alexander Stuart (son of Charles Stuart of Dunearn), and left a son and daughter.

[Private information ; Burke’s Landed Gentry.]

Æ. M.