Writer, landowner, literary patron, baronet and clan chief; Born May 11, 1922; Died July 29, 2007. SIR Ian Anstruther, who has died aged 85, was the clan chief who held three Fife baronetcies, and who used an enormous inheritance to improve his own life and those of many others. His philanthropy considerably enhanced the places and interests he cared about; and he gave up a diplomatic career to devote his life to writing.

No-one was more surprised in 1960 than Ian Fife Campbell Anstruther when he inherited a sizeable chunk of South Kensington and all the revenues that came with it. The legacy came from his maternal aunt, Joan Campbell, the woman who in the face of a ghastly 14-year parental divorce, brought up Ian from the age of two.

Anstruther busied himself as a patron of the arts, particularly literature, sponsoring a wing of the London Library in 1992 to house some 25,000 rare books, with benefactions to Cambridge University Library and establishing the Anstruther Literary Trust. He undertook this from a position of some knowledge: from 1951, he devoted his life to writing, producing some eight works in the arena of nineteenth-century social and literary history.

Buckinghamshire-born Anstruther, chief of the house of Anstruther, and holder of three Anstruther baronetcies (Anstruther of Balcaskie, Nova Scotia, dating from 1694, Anstruther of Anstruther , 1700, and Anstruther of Anstruther, Great Britain, 1798) was descended from the Norman family of Malherbe, who by 1153 held the barony of Anstruther. Henry de Anstrother rendered homage to Edward I of England in 1296, while Sir James Anstruther became Hereditary Grand Carver to the Sovereign, a Royal sinecure inherited by Sir Ian, as well as the title of Hereditary Master of the Royal Household in Scotland.

He succeeded to the titles five years ago on the death of his cousin Sir Ralph Anstruther, 7th baronet of Balcaskie and treasurer to the Queen Mother. Typically of Ian, he took the impact of the plethora of titles as literary inspiration for his final book, The Baronets' Champion (2006), the story of Sir Richard Broun, maniacal nineteenth-century claimer of baronetcies. It typified his readiness to seize opportunity - in some ways a reflection of his motto Periissem Ni Periissem (I would have perished had I not persisted).

Modesty in all aspects, except cars, was a feature of his life. His varied fleet of an Aston Martin DB5 and a Maserati included a succession of Porsches, few of which he ever drove at more than 50 mph. His self-effacement and denial of personal celebrity created a minor legend, such as the battle by the London Library to gain his consent to allow his name to be recorded as the donor and for the completed extension to be known as Anstruther Wing. The plaque recording his munificence hides behind a bookcase.

His misfortune of a divorce battle between his parents, Douglas and Enid, led to his being raised between Strachur and London. In Argyll, he wore the kilt, attire which ran counter to the strong views of his father, who wrote: "The Anstruthers, as Fifers, have no tartan," adding "Fifers are nae Highland, nae Lowland but fra Fife: mongrels, if you wish, but with the traditional characteristics of that breed'."

Educated at Eton, Ian saw war as the means of effecting a break from his childhood, and in 1939 enlisted in the ranks of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, before transferring to the Royal Corps of Signals, rising from corporal to captain. He took part in the Normandy landings - though it typified Anstruther's life that he broke off from the Army for two years from 1940 to read natural science at New College, Oxford.

A chance meeting in 1946 with Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr, an old family friend then British Ambassador to the United States, led to Anstruther's appointment as Sir Archie's private secretary in Washington, a period he looked back on with affection, where on days off from the embassy, he manned the counter of a charity shop in the back streets of the capital.

Anstruther's ambition was to be a writer, and he made the break with gusto, moving to Paris in 1951. While his Victorian characters tended to endure miserable childhoods, his output reflected the pleasure that burrowing research afforded this gentleman scholar, though his dry wit would constantly surface. Works included an account of Henry Morton Stanley's journey to find Livingstone, I Presume (1963); The Scandal of the Andover Workhouse (1973); a biography of Oscar Browning (1983) and Coventry Patmore's Angel (1992). His personal patronage also brought about Haggerston Press, the publishing house centred on his Barlavington estate he bought in 1956 in the downs of Sussex.

Sir Ian, who died at his Barlington home near Petworth in West Sussex, was married twice. By his first wife, Honor Blake, (dissolved 1963), he had a daughter, and with Susan Walker, he had two sons and three more daughters. He is survived by them all.

His elder son, Sebastian, is in line to inherit the two senior Scottish titles, while younger son Toby is to become the 11th baronet of Anstruther (Great Britain).