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PARENTAGE AND CHILDHOOD
DMUND BURKE was the second son of Richard Burke, attorney
at-law, and Mary Nagle, daughter of Patrick Nagle of Ballyduff in the county of Cork. He was born in his father's house on Arran Quay, Dublin. No record of his birth or baptism has been discovered as yet. It is possible that he was privately baptised, as was not uncommon in Ireland at the period. He is described in the Matriculation Register of Trinity College, Dublin, as natus Dubliniï, and this may be taken as an authentic statement that Dublin was the city of his birth, supported as it is by his own letter of 25th February, 1767, to the Lord Mayor of Dublin acknowledging the honour done to him by his "native city" in conferring its freedom upon him. Notwithstanding careful investigation and long discussion, the precise house on Arran Quay in which he was born cannot be satisfactorily identified. Sir Joseph Napier, after comparing an old survey of Dublin, dated 1750, which is in Trinity College Library, with the Municipal Applotment books, was convinced the house was that which was numbered 12, Arran Quay in 1862, but other evidence seems to preponderate in favour of the house numbered 33 in 1897, which was recently demolished to clear a site for a branch of the National Bank1.
There can be no doubt that he was born on the 1st January, O.S. In a letter to Lord Rockingham, dated 12th January, 1775, he adds in a postscript, “My birthday—I need not say how long ago." The 12th January, after the change of the calendar, corresponded to 1st January, O.S. There has been, however, as great a controversy as to the exact year of his birth as exists in regard to the exact house in which he was born. Some fix 1st January, 1728, some 1st January, 1729, some 1st January, 1730, O.S. Prior states it was 1st January, 1730, O.S., adding, "Some have thought it to be 1728 from the entry in the Trinity College Matriculation Book; but as the former was stated by his family, and the age 68 is noted on the tablet to his memory, we perhaps have no right to disturb his own and their belief." There is, however, no evidence to support this assumption of what Burke's
1 See Sir Joseph Napier's lecture on Edmund Burke, Appendix (Dublin, 1862), and The Irish Builder, vol. 39, pp. 239-40; vol. 40, pp. 7-8 and 29.
2 Prior's Life of Burke, 5th ed. (1854), p. 4.
own or his family's belief was as to the year of his birth; neither he nor they made any recorded statement in reference to it. The following facts lead to the conclusion that the 1st January, 1729, O.S., was the correct date. His parents, Richard Burke and Mary Nagle, were married in the end of 1724. There were several children of the marriage, but all of them died in infancy, with the exception of Garret, the eldest son, Juliana, the only surviving daughter, Edmund and Richard. The marriage licence bond, dated 21st October, 1724, entered into by Garret Nagle, on behalf of the bride, and Richard Burke, the bridegroom, prior to the marriage, is amongst the records of the Diocese of Cloyne, deposited in the Public Record Office, Dublin1. It was in the following terms:
Marriage Licence Bond, 1724, Diocese of Cloyne. Noverint Universi per presentes nos Richard Bourke de Shanballyduff in Comit' Corc' gen' & Garret Nagle de ead gen' teneri & firmiter Obligari Reverendo in Christo patri Domino Domino Carolo Providentia Divina Clonensia Episcopo 2 in quingentis libris ster. bonae & legalis monetae Angliae solvendis eidem Domino Episcopo aut suo Attornato Haeredibus vel Successoribus suis ad quam quidem solutionem & fideliter faciendam obligamus & nos utrumque nostrum Haeredes Executores & Administratores nostros & utriusque nostrum per se pro toto & in solido firmiter per Praesentes sigillis nostris sigillat. Datum vicesimo primo die mensis 8bris Anno Domini 1724.
The condition of the Obligation is such, That if at all times hereafter, there shall not appear any Canonical Let or Impediment, but that the above-bounden Mr Richard Bourke may solemnize Matrimony with Mrs Mary Nagle of the Parish of Monanimy and that there is no Precontract of Marriage of either of the said parties with any other, nor Suit depending in any Court concerning the same, and that the consent of the Parents and Friends of both parties, be thereunto first had and obtained. And lastly that the said Matrimony be publickly solemnized according to the Canons of the Church of Ireland, that then this present Obligation to be void, and no effect, or else to remain in full Force and Vertue in Law.
Signed, Sealed and Delivered
for the use of the said Lord
Bishop in the presence of
RICHD. BURKE (seal)
It will be noted that the name is spelled Bourke in the body of the bond, but it is signed Richard Burke. The name is spelled indifferently Burke, Bourke, and Burk in several parochial register
1 Now destroyed.
2 Charles Crow, D.D., Bishop of Cloyne (1702–26).
entries, and also in the books of Trinity College, Dublin. The original will, dated 4th November, 1767, of Richard Burke is in the Record Office, Dublin; the testator signs as Burke, and the name is thus spelled in the body of the will, while Edmund, his son, who was a witness, signs his name (quite exceptionally) as Edmd. Bourke. The handwriting of this signature is undoubtedly Edmund Burke's1.
Garret was probably the first-born child of the marriage. His baptismal certificate cannot be discovered and the date of his birth is not known. Juliana was baptised in Castletown-Roche parish church, and her baptism is entered on the first page of the parish register, which is in the Public Record Office, Dublin. The left margin of the entry has frayed away through the effects of time, and the entry reads now as follows:
The next entry in the register is a baptism of the year 17292. Richard Burke, Edmund's father, in his will dated 4th November, 1761, directed that he should be buried "privately and therefore decently in St James' churchyard, Dublin, as near the place where my children are buried as may be guessed." The visitation returns of the register of St James' parish covering the years 1724 to 1729 still exist in the Record Office, Dublin3. The following entries of burials appear in them: "25th April 1728 James Burke." "1728-1729. 7 March Edmund Bourke." The register of burials preserved in St James' Church does not begin until 1743, but the earlier visitation returns were authenticated by the signatures of the vicar and church
1 See the will, post p. 405. The original is now destroyed.
2 In the note of the entry of Juliana's baptism made by A. P. I. Samuels in 1912, as taken by him from the Parish Register in the Record Office, the date appears as "Jan. ye ist." From an inspection of the same entry made by me with Mr Herbert Wood, Deputy Keeper of the Records, in March 1922, the first page of the Register appeared to have crumbled away slightly on the edging; and it was not possible then to say from the fragment of the letter preceding "ye Ist" whether the month was January. There is no question as to the year being 1728, O.S. A mere fragment remaining appeared to be the end of the letter "n." This register has escaped destruction, fortunately. (A. W. s.)
wardens. There was therefore an Edmund Burke buried in St James' churchyard on 7th March, 1728–9, O.S. In the Register of Baptisms of St Michan's New Parish', which embraced Arran Quay, appears on the 18th December, 1733, the baptism of "Richard s. of Richd. Bourke Gent. & Mary." On "June 1st 1735, Mary D. of Richd Burk Attorney & Mary."
"Oct. 19th 1737 Mary D. of Richd. Burk Attorney & Mary." Evidently the Mary born in 1735 had died before the second Mary was christened, 19th October, 1737.
On "July 25th 1739 Elizabeth dr. of Richard Burk Atty & Mary" was baptised, and on 14th October, 1741, "Francis Dr. of Richd. Burke Atty & Mary-Aaron Quay.” and “1744 July 19th Ellen Dr. of Richard Burke Atty & Mary-Aron Quay."
No entry has been discovered of the baptism of the Edmund Burke who was buried in St James' churchyard on 7th March, 1728-9. The visitation returns of the burial entries in the parish register do not record anything more than the names of the persons buried. From the early deaths of so many of the children of Richard and Mary Burke it is clear that several of them must have been weaklings at the time of their birth, and it is probable that need compelled them to be baptised at home. Private baptism, however, was by no means unusual in Ireland down to the middle of the nineteenth century. The first baptismal entry as yet found of any of the children (except Juliana) is that of Richard, younger brother of Edmund, who was baptised in St Michan's, Dublin, on 8th December, 1733. If (as is probable) the Edmund Burke buried in St James' churchyard on 7th March, 1728-9, was one of the children of Richard and Mary Burke who died in infancy, then it is also probable that the next boy born was christened Edmund in fond consolation, just as we find a girl was baptised in the name of Mary on 9th October, 1737, in loving memory, doubtless, of the Mary who had been christened in St Michan's on the 1st June, 1735, and faded away in infancy.
The entry of Edmund Burke's matriculation as it appears in the books of Trinity College, Dublin, under the date 14th April, 1743, describes him as "annum agens 16." It is essential to understand, however, that the year 1743 in the register is not the Calendar year, but the Academic year, which, in the eighteenth century, began in Dublin University on 9th July, and ended on the same day in the succeeding year. The calendar date of his matriculation was 14th April, 1 Now destroyed.
1744 A.D. Burke was then "going on" (agens) sixteen, and his previous birthday was his fifteenth, i.e. 1st January, 1743, O.S. Therefore his first birthday was 1st January, 1729, O.S.
The memorial tablet in Beaconsfield Church states that he died 9th July, 1797, aged 68 years. This would also give the year 1729 as the year of his birth. The existing evidence therefore establishes that Edmund Burke was born 1st January, 1729, O.S.
Richard Burke, Edmund's father, was an attorney of His Majesty's Court of Exchequer in Ireland. Attorneys admitted by the judges of any one of the Superior Courts of Common Law could, by special retainer, act in any of the other courts, becoming "Solicitors" therein1. Edmund Burke was enrolled as a student of the Middle Temple. The entry is 23rd April, 1747, “Mr Edmundus Burke, filius secundus Ricardi Burke de civitate Dublin, unius Attornatorum Curiae Scaccariae Domini Regis in Regno Hiberniae2." Edmund Burke, writing to his friend Rd. Shackleton on 28th October, 1766, describes his father as always practising in the Superior Courts and never in the County Courts, and states that
"he was for many years not only in the first rank, but the very first man of his profession in point of practice and credit, until, by giving way to a retired and splenetic humour, he did in a manner voluntarily contract his practice."
Richard Burke was a member of the Established Church, Mary Nagle, his wife, was a Roman Catholic. The Nagles of Ballyduff were of the kin of Sir Richard Nagle, Attorney-General and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons under James II. A David Nagle appears in the parish register of Castletown-Roche as attending a vestry meeting in the parish church on 18th April, 1727, but it was an assessment meeting, and as a cesspayer and owner of property he may possibly have taken part in it, though a Roman Catholic. The family were unquestionably Roman Catholics, and Mary Nagle, after her marriage to Richard Burke, remained constant to that creed. It was not until 1733, eight years after the marriage of Burke's parents,
1 See Howard's Pleas of the Exchequer in Ireland.
? It was necessary, from the time of Henry VIII down to the year 1885, for any student intending to be called to the Irish Bar to join not only the King's Inns but also one of the Inns of Court in London and eat dinners there. Burke's entry in the Temple therefore does not throw any light on the question whether he was intended for the English or Irish Bar. By the Statute 48 & 49 Vic. c. 20 (1885), persons seeking to be admitted to the Irish Bar shall not be required to keep any terms commons, or enter their names in any of the Inns of Court in London. They may, however, at their option keep four of the required terms of commons in one of the English Inns.