Magazine article The Spectator

Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, Clan Chiefs and Scottish Feudal Barons

Magazine article The Spectator

Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, Clan Chiefs and Scottish Feudal Barons

Article excerpt

The last of a noble line BURKE'S PEERAGE, BARONETAGE AND KNIGHTAGE, CLAN CHIEFS AND SCOTTISH FEUDAL BARONS edited by Charles Mosley Burke 's Peerage / Boy dell & Brewer, P.O. Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP 12 3 DF, Tel: 01394 610600, £399, pp. 4,500 ISBN 0971196621

The new, 107th edition of Burke's Peerage comes in three massive volumes. It is likely to be the last in printed book format. The previous, 106th edition (1999) was in two volumes, and all the Burke's Peerages before that were single volumes back to No. 1 in 1826. There seems to be a touch of Parkinson's Law in this; the increasing scale and grandeur of the book counterbalancing the decline in the power and prestige of the peerage. The publishers' preface has an elegiac tone. 'This 107th is likely to be the Final Edition in the form as we have known it.' Burke's genealogical future will lie in digitalised data as an On-line accessible subscription service'. Not quite the same thing for most aficionados as browsing in a fat red book, I would have thought.

The publishers see this 'last' edition as a monument to the historic peerages of England, Ireland, Scotland and the United Kingdom. The problem is that whatever this edition is, it is not that. The final line of the title gives the game away, and explains the grossly swollen proportions. This book contains not just peers but 'feudal barons' and Scottish clan chiefs. What are they doing in the historic compendium of the British peerage?

Peerage titles emanate from the Crown. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is still a monarchy and is likely to remain one. The peerage is a legally recognised entity and part of the British Constitution as well as a historically interesting institution. This new Peerage completely ignores this important legal distinction, and includes a peculiar ragtag of aspirant people who, having bought odd fields or plots of Scottish urban wasteland (ingeniously sold to them by imaginative entrepreneurs as mediaeval 'feudal baronies'), call themselves the Something (or Mac Something) of Somewhere. No doubt this confusion is deliberate, to enlarge the likely group of interested purchasers. Their inclusion, as of the Scottish chiefs, is justified on the misty Celtic grounds that they are an 'ancient rank' with references to 'Gaelic Kingdoms', the Picts, the 5th century AD, and all that Ossian stuff. …

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