Bernard Burke was born in London, England on the 5th of January 1814. His father, John Burke (1787 - 1848), was also a genealogist, and in 1826 issued a Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom. This work, generally known as Burke's Peerage, has been issued annually since 1847.
He was educated in London and in France.
While practising as a barrister Bernard Burke assisted his father in his genealogical work "Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom", and in 1848 took control of his publications. In 1853 he was appointed Ulster king-at-arms; in 1854 he was knighted; and in 1855 he became keeper of the state papers in Ireland. After having devoted his life to genealogical studies he died in Dublin on the 12th of December 1892. In addition to editing Burke's Peerage from 1847 to his death, Burke brought out several editions of a companion volume, Burke's Landed Gentry, which was first published between 1833 and 1838. In 1866 and 1883 he published editions of his father's Dictionary of the Peerages of England, Scotland and Ireland, extinct, dormant and in abeyance (earlier editions, 1831, 1840, 1846); in 1855 and 1876 editions of his Royal Families of England, Scotland and Wales (1st edition, 1847-1851); and in 1878 and 1883 enlarged editions of his Encyclopaedia of Heraldry, or General Armoury of England, Scotland and Ireland. Burke's own works include The Roll of Battle Abbey (1848); The Romance of the Aristocracy (1855); Vicissitudes of Families (1883 and several earlier editions); and The Rise of Great Families (1882). He was succeeded as editor of Burke's Peerage and Landed Gentry by his fourth son, Ashworth Peter Burke.