A spokesman for Debrett’s told The Telegraph: “After 250 years and 150 editions, we have taken the decision that the 2019 Debrett’s Peerage & Baronetage will be the final printed edition.
“Containing more than 3,000 pages, 40,000 entries and hundreds of bespoke illustrations, each edition of the Peerage & Baronetage take four years and considerable investment to be produced, while our print-runs remain limited. The costs of printing, shipping, storing and distributing such a specialist and heavy book have also continued to increase year-on-year.”
The growth of ancestry search websites has also raised questions over the viability of the print edition, which this year costs £405 for the two-volume 150th anniversary edition.
Debrett’s, which also publishes it’s Guide to Etiquette, the go-to bible of modern manners, said it would continue to chronicle Britain’s hereditary system in a way that would allow online users to search for the history and pedigree of families.
“Depending on the digital model we choose, it is likely that customers will be able to purchase access to read the book and entries digitally in the same way as they would have done when it was printed,” said the spokesman.
As well as providing a guide to the uniquely British hereditary system Debrett’s has over the years chronicled the decline of the aristocracy. In January 1916 it recorded that 800 members of the peerage, baronetage, knightage had been killed in action or died of wounds during the First World War, a blow from which that class never fully recovered.
Admirers of the publication are likely to mourn its passing.
In his column for The Spectator magazine, Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s official biographer, said: “For much longer than anyone can remember, the red volumes of Debrett’s or Burke have been visible in the libraries or drawing-rooms of country houses, and it has often been the case, as it was with Sir Walter, that ‘the page at which the favourite volume always opened’ disclosed the entry for the family in residence.
“Merely by mentioning this, Jane Austen could deftly lead readers into a particular world and introduce us (unfavourably) to the character of Sir Walter.
“No doubt the online Debrett’s will be very useful. But the disappearance of the actual book is a definite cultural moment, and a definite loss.”