Celebrities will join the landed gentry as 'Burke's Peerage' heads downmarket

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The definition of nobility is changing. Henceforth, the British aristocracy is to include party-political climbers, television celebrities (not always "A-list") and even foreign nationals.

Burke's Peerage, the aristocracy bible, is going downmarket. For reasons that seem more economic than genealogical, the three-volume reference book documenting details of the hereditary nobility, including the Royal Family, is to extend its scope. For the first time it will include knights and dames of the realm and foreign nationals with honorary titles.

Whether their inclusion will generate more sales to the general public is unclear. It should certainly add to sales among the knights and dames themselves, though, and thus add to Burke's coffers.

There are about 2,000 living knights, diverse enough to change beyond recognition the meaning of the word "aristocrat". The next edition of Burke's Peerage will have to find room for the likes of Sir Jimmy Savile and Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Paul McCartney as well as foreign nationals with honorary titles, such as Bob Geldof, Rudolph Giuliani and George Bush Snr. That poses no problems for Charles Mosley, editor of Burke's Peerage. He said: "We are a commercial publisher. Would that we were a charity with huge subventions from Unesco, the Government and the taxpayer, but unfortunately we are running a business."

Referring to the knights and dames, he said: "If they are good enough for the Queen to honour, they are good enough for Burke's."

The new names will mean an increased price for the three volumes – up from £295 to £350. Mr Mosley insists this remains "jolly good value" at £1 per 6,000 words of genealogical history.

And the knights, British and foreign, would add to the reference book's diversity, he promised. He said: "We will be attempting to include as much lineage as possible. In the case of Bush we can go way, way back to the 17th century and the Red Indian princess Pocahontas."

Burke's Peerage is also in the process of publishing a seven-volume Landed Gentry series for the British Isles. This offshoot will include untitled people who are government leaders or prominent people in the establishment.

Mr Mosley shook up Burke's tradition three years ago when he decided to include details of illegitimate children of the aristocracy for the first time since Burke's was founded in 1826. He said at the time: "With so many children now being born out of wedlock, it would be absurd to ignore the fact."

His latest decision to include knights and dames is of quite a different order; but to dyed-in-the-wool aristocrats it will appear almost as radical.