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Hebrides News

Death of Hebridean crofting prince        24/6/12

A prince who preferred to live in a Hebridean croft house than a castle has died.

Former Queen’s herald Count Robin de la Lanne Mirrlees who resided in Great Bernera, Lewis, passed away aged 87 years on Saturday night.

The French-born, Oxford-educated aristocrat - impersonated by the fictional James Bond in Ian Fleming’s novel On His Majesty’s Secret Service - died in the Blar Buidhe nursing home in Stornoway.

The former multi-millionaire had been poorly for some time and had suffered two strokes in recent years. His health deteriorated in recent days.

Count Robin Mirrlees, the godson of the 11th Duke of Argyll, was the popular laird of Great Bernera which he bought in 1962. The count had never set eyes on the place before but soon fell in love with its isolation, rugged stunning scenery, and the warmth of the people.

Locals grew extremely fond of the likeable, charming fellow they called Count Robin. He was immensely well liked, supported many local causes and readily released land for community use.  

The Count was born as Robin Ian Evelyn Grinnell-Milne in January 1925 to Captain Duncan Grennell-Milne, a highly decorated RAF WW1 pilot, and Countess Frances de la Lanne. His parents divorced and his French mother later married Scots war hero Major General William Mirrlees.

Incorporating his mother’s married surname, changed his name by deed poll twice, in 1958 and latterly 20 years ago to Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart le Prince de la Lanne-Mirrlees.

Count Mirrlees was educated at the English School of Cairo and later in Paris before studying at  Oxford.  He became a captain in the Royal Artillery serving in India during the Second World War. He was a former herald to the Queen and attended her coronation. The count also held numerous foreign knighthoods.

He was deeply involved in helping writer Ian Fleming with research for his James Bond adventures for the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service book.  Bond’s cover role was based on Mirrlees who was then the heraldic researcher, appointed by the British Sovereign, at the College of Arms in London where he served from 1952 until 1967.

The fictional 007 spy was called Sable Basilisk Pursuivant, a play on Mirrlees’ job title of Rouge Dragon Pursuivant.

In 2005 he took up his royal title of Prince of Incoronata, an Adriatic island archipelago bestowed in the 1960s by the exiled King Peter II of Yugoslavia. Mirrlees was his adjutant and confidant.

When he was 45 years his only marriage, to a nurse half his age, fizzled out after a week.

Great Bernera was never put on the market when Count Robin launched a fire sale of his assets to pay off £2 million of losses he sustained in the Lloyds’ syndicates crash in the 1990s.

He also refused to sell Inchdrewer Castle in Banffshire and at the behest of islanders he withdrew from sale a clutch of unoccupied islands off Great Bernera including Little Bernera.

But other grand properties had to go including a £400,000 chateau in France - his mother’s former home, a flat in Paris and Ratzenegg Castle in Austria.  His prized collection of antiques and paintings were diminished after he auctioned them off.

Crashing prices of farmed salmon due to mass dumping of Norwegian fish also burnt his finances and he was forced to dispose of a his seven-bedroom mansion in Holland Park in London and his Swiss apartment.

Count Robin is survived by his son Patrick de la Lanne, 50 , the mayor of the town of Delmenhort in the north of Germany - from a long-term relationship with a German duchess, Margarethe of Württemberg, and three adult grandchildren.