Sir Henry Farnham Burke

25 February 2019

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the appointment of Sir Henry Farnham Burke, KCVO, CB, FSA, as Garter King of Arms. Son of Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, and grandson of John Burke, the founder of Burke’s Peerage, Sir Henry inherited the family enthusiasm for genealogy but brought to it a discernment it is said his father lacked. He built up a very large practice and at his death bequeathed to the College of Arms 184 volumes of material relating to his genealogical research cases. Born in 1859, Henry Farnham Burke was appointed to the College of Arms as Rouge Croix Pursuivant in 1880. He was promoted to Somerset Herald in 1887. He became Norroy King of Arms in 1911 and Garter Principal King of Arms by Patent dated 22 January 1919. He died in 1930. In Heralds of England (1967) Sir Anthony Wagner wrote that Burke “had studied all the branches of his profession and was thorough in all he undertook. His character was forcible and his energy and acumen brought him great professional success.”

Burke Sir Henry Farnham 72dpiPortrait of Sir Henry Farnham Burke

Acc 2018 01 pt 2 title pageThis beautiful pedigree book of the de Trafford family contains the genealogy traced by Farnham Burke in 1890 as Somerset Herald, the position he held from 1887 to 1911.

Acc 2018 01 pt 2 achievement comp

College of Arms Ms Acc 2018/1 pt 2

Burke’s working papers were bound into very thick volumes with the title of the office he held at the time stamped onto the spine. This is an example of a volume created when he was Somerset Herald, showing pages containing a draft pedigree, the blazon of his client’s arms, and a questionnaire filled out by the client with information about his own and the immediately preceding generations. Other material gathered might include correspondence, copies of certificates, notes from parish registers, and the occasional photograph. The different sizes of the papers bound, combined with the thickness of the volumes, makes them awkward to handle.

Somerset 93 compCollege of Arms Ms H. F. Burke Collection 93


One of the College’s treasures is the mediaeval volume of painted coats of arms known as ‘Jenyns’ Ordinary’ (after one of its 16th-century owners, William Jenyns, Lancaster Herald). The volume was created in c. 1380 and contains 1,611 coats, mostly shields, but also some banners. This volume is thought to have been purchased by Burke in c. 1880 – 1890 for £4 from a bookseller near the British Museum, and was presented by him to the College during his lifetime.

Jenyns Ordinary f. 3v comp

William Jenyns Ordinary f. 19r compCollege of Arms Ms Jenyns’ Ordinary ff. 3v. and 19r.


Sir Henry Farnham Burke’s practice is thought to be the largest the College had ever had, at the time and possibly since. Besides his genealogical work, this of course including designing arms for new armigers, such as the ‘canting’ arms shown below, granted to Sir Jesse Boot in December 1909.

Grants 79 Boot compCollege of Arms Ms Grants 79 p. 162

The image below shows a detail of a pedigree from the College records shows the ancestry of Edmund Beachamp Tucker, subsequently Edmund Beauchamp Beauchamp, who took the surname and Arms of Beauchamp alone by Royal Licence dated 19 June 1905. Burke conducted much of the genealogical investigations himself and directed others in their searches in regional repositories. His collections of Tucker material from Devon are now of considerable value as many of the originals were destroyed during the Second World War.

Norfolk 23.118College of Arms Ms Norfolk 23/118

The Arms of Beauchamp were therefore exemplified to Edmund Beauchamp Beauchamp by Letters Patent of the Kings of Arms dated 19 August 1905.

Grants 75.213College of Arms Ms Grants 75/213


Sir Henry Farnham Burke took an active part in the arrangements for the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in June 1911. This page from the Order of Service for the ceremony shows him standing in for Clarenceux King of Arms, George Edward Cokayne (author of The Complete Peerage and The Complete Baronetage) who was seriously ill and died two months later. On his death, William Henry Weldon, Norroy King of Arms, became Clarenceux, and Burke was promoted to become Norroy King of Arms.

Coronation George V vol 5 compCollege of Arms Ms Coronation of King George V, vol 5

In this letter to Lord Edmund Talbot, Deputy Earl Marshal during the minority of the hereditary Earl Marshal, a representative of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office outlines arrangements for Henry Farnham Burke to receive his insignia of Office as Garter King of Arms. Farnham Burke, who was also knighted in 1919, held the position until his death in 1930, although his duties were exercised by a deputy during the illness of the last few months of his life.

Acc 2019 01 pt 1 file 3 HFBCollege of Arms Ms Acc 2019/1 pt 1

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