Laird, count, prince and an inspiration for 007;
Born: January 13, 1925; Died: June 23, 2012.
Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees, who has died aged 87, added colour to the fringes of aristocracy in Scotland, and held views such as distaste for the House of Windsor that stood in apparent anathema to his leanings. A learned and outgoing socialite, he numbered Joanna Lumley and the present (13th) Duke and Duchess of Argyll among his many friends.
Yet the fluent linguist, international heraldic figure, one-time Lloyds' "name", property owner and castle restorer was revered in the Western Isles as a benevolent and caring laird, who swapped a Paris flat for a croft, and was known to the 350 islanders on Great Bernera simply as "Robin".
Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart de la Lanne-Mirrlees was born Robin Grinnell-Milne in Cairo, son of Captain Duncan Gribbell-Milne, the decorated First World War pilot, and the Countess Frances de la Lanne. He first changed his name when his mother later married another hero from the same war, Major-General William Mirrlees. His second change of name occurred two decades ago, when he became Robin Ian Evelyn Stuart le Prince de la Lanne-Mirrlees.
A born networker, his connections came early with his godfather being the 11th Duke of Argyll. Educated at the English School of Cairo, in Paris and Merton College, Oxford, he was commissioned in the Royal Artillery and saw war service in India. Learned and passionate about heraldry, his career in the field began in 1952 on his appointment as a junior herald at the College of Arms in London as Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, being promoted to Richmond Herald. In later years, he was a regular figure at Edinburgh meetings of the Heraldry Society of Scotland. In his 15 years at England's centre of heraldry, he corresponded with Ian Fleming, then researching his book On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond's cover role was based on Mirrlees, the fictional spy having the title Sable Basilisk Pursuivant, a monicker suggested by Robin. His own private life proved meat to Ian Fleming, through Robin's liaisons with willing and well-connected socialites. One of his reputed conquests was the 1950s Oban-born model Fiona Campbell-Walter, who later became the third of five wives of the steel magnate Baron Heinrich von Thyssen.
Critics accused "de la Lanne" of overly enjoying what one termed "flummery" – and there is no doubt that he loved titles. That of count came through his mother, while he said that his claim on a princedom emanated in 1967 from the exiled King Peter II of Yugoslavia, his "Prince of Coronata" covering a group of islands off the Dalmatian coast. Further titles followed: in 1975, de la Lanne-Mirrlees was recognised by the Lord Lyon as Baron of Inchdrewer and Laird of Bernera. He was also a Knight of Honour and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta.
In 2005, he began to assert his claim anent his princely title, informing friends, colleagues and associates: "Maybe it will help me find a princess at my age". His only marriage, at 45 to a nurse half his age, lasted less than a week.
In spite of attending the Queen as a herald at her coronation and being in direct descent of Louis Philippe I of France, he changed his mind about the Royal Family, describing Prince Charles as "an absolute disgrace" and accusing the Queen of "not doing her duty". In a reference to his own princely title he remarked: "Any old fool can be a prince, and in my case legitimately", adding "I'm quite a man of the people really".
In this last, every visitor was welcomed at Inchdrewer Castle near Banff, the fortalice he restored in the early 1970s – though he never occupied the place. His purchase sight-unseen in 1962 of Great Bernera off Lewis and his croft home made him an adopted islander greatly liked by all. He refused to raise rents, and willingly donated lands for community activities. Three years ago when in a care home on Great Bernera, he and the only other resident faced being made to move by Western Isles Council. The pair retained their residency through becoming "tenants".
His friendship with Ian Fleming resulted in a jointly-written book Sable Basilisk (1965), centring on James Bond's "genealogy", with 007's coat-of-arms on the cover complete with motto "The World Is Not Enough". In 2005, one of only six copies known to survive came under the auctioneer's hammer.
His personal wealth and much of his property portfolio was hit by the Lloyds crash of the early 1990s, but Count Robin paid off more than £2m in debts after what he described as "a property clear-out". He lost his "exquisite" house in Holland Park, London, as well as a chateau in France, flats in Paris and Switzerland, and Ratzenegg Castle in Austria. Stoical to the last, he joined the National Lottery syndicate on his beloved Bernera.
Count Robin, Prince of Coronata, died in Stornoway after a long period of ill-health, and is survived by 50-year-old Patrick de la Lanne, mayor of the north German town of Delmenhort, his natural son through his long-term relationship with Margarethe, Duchess of Wurttemberg, and three grandchildren.
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