Burkes Landed Gentry


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The NEW Burke's Landed Gentry

The Heraldic Illustrations

Naturally, for the Baronage magazine, our first interest is in the armorial illustrations at the head of each family's entry. Here we must immediately acknowledge that it would be quite impossible for any commercial enterprise to meet the standards heraldic art deserves. If all the armorial achievements were to be printed in colour the production costs would put the price of such books as the Burke's series beyond reach, and even if an artistic rendering in black and white were to be printed for every family, the final price would still be beyond the reach of most potential buyers.

The chosen solution was to use the drawings featured in the 18th edition of the Landed Gentry, and the 1970 edition of the Peerage & Baronetage, at the same scale. This decision has produced a wide range of quality and, regrettably, a few mistakes. It also missed the opportunity to use the additional space the wider page format gives, and many of the more complex achievements, such as that of the Gordon-Lennox Dukes of Richmond and Gordon, are cramped to the point of unreadability. Occasionally, as with Hunter of Hunterston, greyscale is used instead of line art and the result is a smudge.
There are more serious criticisms. Readers are entitled to believe the book's heraldry to be reliable but, for example, the 1970 incorrect portrayal of the arms of the Edmonstone baronets is unchanged. Both the illustration and the blazon are wrong. Or three crescents within a double tressure flory-counterflory Gules are the arms of Seton. The arms of Edmonstone are ~ Or an annulet Gules stoned Azure between three crescents within a double tressure flory-counterflory of the Second. The New Burke's Peerage & Baronetage also erred with the arms of Edmonstone.
Page make-up has treated some illustrations carelessly. Prain of Mugdrum and Thomson of Corstorphine, for example, were intended to feature the arms with the shield couché, but the shields are shown near to the vertical, so that the helms and crests appear to be falling off the sinister corner of the shield. The result is curiously inelegant. On another page a couché shield is truly vertical and the incongruous result is made even more absurd by the arms, which are incorrect, not matching the blazon, which is given correctly.
Overall the presentation of the heraldry is helped significantly by the presence of a prefatory essay from the pen of Elizabeth Roads, Carrick Pursuivant, Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records at Lyon Office. This is a very good introduction to readers who have little experience of the importance of heraldry to Scottish families and institutions.

The Lineages

Other prefatory essays include an insight into how Scots see themselves, and a survey of the feudal system which has governed the ownership of property in Scotland and which is now in process of abolition. A Reader's Guide, almost essential for newcomers to Burke's, helps the understanding of the layout, but contains one truly extraordinary error. This discusses the dating differences between "old-style" and "new-style" calendars, and states ~

"....... that until the English calendar reform of the years 1750-53 the year was calculated as beginning in spring ......."

whereas in Scotland the year has begun on 1st January since 1600.

The lineages are, understandably, of rather more importance to the editors than is the heraldry, and for the greater part may be taken on trust as being as accurate as the editors could make them. However, a couple of oddities did jump out of the pages while casually browsing through them. In the Hamilton Dukes of Abercorn history, Lord Claud, the first of the ducal line to receive a peerage title, is described as "1st Baron Paisley" instead of "1st Lord Paisley". Again, in the Douglas Hamilton entry the 1st Marquess of Hamilton is described as "elder brother of 1st Baron Paisley".
There are two factors to consider here. The first is that no Scottish book may be forgiven for the solecism of using Baron as the lowest rank of the Scots Peerage. The lowest rank was Lord of Parliament, abbreviated to "Lord". A baron was a feudal baron, which was not a peerage rank. The second factor is the nature of Lord Paisley's honours. As the lay Abbot of Paisley from late childhood he was already the feudal Lord of Paisley because Paisley at that time was a feudal lordship, which is to say that it was a feudal barony of a higher rank. (A feudal earldom was a feudal barony of an even higher rank.) To state then that Lord Claud (he was the fifth son of the Duke of Chatelherault) "....... had a grant of the whole barony of Paisley with the dignity of Baron Paisley ...... " is thus inaccurate. He had a grant of the whole (feudal) lordship of Paisley with the (peerage) dignity of Lord Paisley.

In Summary

In a work of this size, undertaken a full generation after the previous edition and with the manuscript files of the previous editors unavailable, errors and omissions are unavoidable. Undue emphasis should thus not be laid on the few items discussed above. This production is a monumental achievement and all who can afford its price should consider its purchase. Those who cannot can access it online and download the entries they wish to research. It costs, as mentioned earlier, US$25 for 24 hours, but that is for the first visit. For subsequent 24 hours accesses the price drops to US$15 ~ surely the best bargain for genealogists on the Internet.

Clickable banners have been placed at the head and foot of these pages. Readers who enter the Burke's Landed Gentry pages (in which there is a lot of free material) through these banners will earn a small commission for Baronage, but this possibility has not prejudiced this review. The reality is that even if we had given the book a comparatively bad review we would still have been forced to recommend it because for Scottish research it is uniquely valuable, and its present errors, almost all due to pressure of time, will eventually be corrected online. As it is we can promise that the book and the website will give a lot of pleasure as well as proving to be, together, an unrivalled source of historical knowledge.
© 2001 The Baronage Press Ltd and Pegasus Associates Ltd
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Burkes Landed Gentry