Sunday, February 25, 2024

Lord of the Bond

The sale of a £400,000 castle owned by a man who was an inspiration for the creation of James Bond’s nom de plume Sir Hilary Bray, Bt and for many elements of 007’s character also


Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees (1925 – 2012) is largely thought of as the man whose persona Ian Fleming “borrowed” to create James Bond’s assumed identity, Sir Hilary Bray, Bt. Now, following on from his death last year, there is an opportunity to buy one of his many properties, Inchdrewer Castle, and the title that goes with it, Baron of Inchdrewer.


Author and officer of arms at the College of Arms in London, de la Lanne-Mirrlees, born Robin Ian Evelyn Grinnell-Milne, was educated at the English School of Cairo, in Paris and at Merton College, Oxford. After undertaking military service, he began his heraldic career in 1952 upon being appointed Rouge Dragon Pursivant of Arms in Ordinary. It was at this time that he changed his name.


Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees (1925 – 2012)
Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees (1925 – 2012)
The setting of Inchdrewer Castle, Banff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, AB45 3TS - One of the many properties owned by Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees
The setting of Inchdrewer Castle, Banff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, AB45 3TS – One of the many properties owned by Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees

In 1958, he adopted the deed poll name of Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart le Comte de la Lanne-Mirrlees and was promoted to the position of Richmond Herald of Arms in Ordinary. It was whilst in this role that he began a correspondence with the author Ian Fleming, whom was doing research for his book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.


Fleming was so taken with Mirrlees that he created Sir Hilary Bray Bt, a genealogist with the College of Arms whose identity Bond assumes to trace the criminal mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the book, in his honour.


Subsequently, the pair agreed to collaborate further and Mirrlees was featured in the novel under the heraldic pseudonym Sable Basilisk Pursuivant. Deeper and hidden links were applied to other characters, one being that Mirrlees claimed descent from an ancient Basque family who were said to be born without earlobes. Blofeld, as Bond fans will recall, had this unusual deformity.


It is for the Bond family motto, “The World is Not Enough”, that Fleming, however, was most grateful to Mirrlees and this indeed is probably his most significant legacy. The Broccoli family are no doubt equally appreciative given that they have built a multimillion pound fortune upon it too.


A “deb’s delight” and “international playboy”, Mirrlees was often seen, just like James Bond, in the company of models and aristocrats. For a time, he dated Fiona Campbell-Walker before she married one of the richest men in Europe, the industrialist and art collector Baron Thyssen.


Mirrlees, himself, was married for only week during his lifetime at the age of 45 – to a nurse half his age – but had a long term relationship with a Duchess Margarethe of Württemberg, a granddaughter of Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria. Together they had a son, Patrick de la Lanne, who in 2006 became the major of Delemenhorst in Lower Saxony.


Mirrlees’ fascination, though, was the nobility of his maternal ancestors. Aside from changing his name, he claimed that King Peter II, to whom he was an honorary aide-de-camp, created him Prince of Incoronata on the Dalmation coast in 1967. Whilst this was disputed by some, with his purchase of Inchdrewer Castle, near Banff in Aberdeenshire in 1963, he was entitled and chose to apply to the Lord Lyon King of Arms to claim the feudal Baron of Inchdrewer title. This was granted to him in 1975.


Inchdrewer Castle exterior
Inchdrewer Castle exterior
The castle is in need of significant renovation
The castle is in need of significant renovation

The 16th century Inchdrewer Castle was in a state of abandonment when Mirrlees purchased it. The castle had been purchased by Sir Walter Ogilvie of Dunlugas (or his son, Sir George) from 1557 and a successor, Lord Banff lived there in 1642 until killed by a fire there in 1713. His ghost is said to haunt the castle to this day but strangely reports state that “no one knows how it manifests”.


In 1746, the castle was attacked by the Duke of Cumberland when hunting for Bonnie Prince Charlie and other notable visitors were said to have subsequently numbered King Edward VII and the Duke of Fife. In the early 1900s, the castle became derelict and on his purchase, Mirrlees truly acquired a ruin.


Working with a firm of local builders, Mirrlees spent the subsequent ten years making Inchdrewer Castle wind and watertight. Some block work, concrete and steel beamed floors and service strips were installed but given that no further construction has occurred since the 1971, it is now in a somewhat perilous state again and listed as “At Risk” on the “Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland”.


A vaulted room illustrates the scale of the project facing a purchaser
A vaulted room illustrates the scale of the project facing a purchaser
A room with breeze block walling illustrates some of the progress that was made by Mirrlees
A room with breeze block walling illustrates some of the progress that was made by Mirrlees
Another derelict room awaits fitting out and decorating
Another derelict room awaits fitting out and decorating

Mirrlees, who also purchased the islands of Great Bernera, Little Bernera and Eilean Chearstaidh in the Outer Hebrides in 1962 and owned Ratzenegg Castle in Austria, apartments in Paris and Switzerland, a villa at Le Toquet and a 7-bedroomed mansion in London’s Holland Park, was unable to complete the renovations of Inchdrewer because “of later financial problems”.


In spite of huge losses at Lloyd’s in the 1990s, Mirrlees refused to sell his Scottish castle and the majority of his islands, however. Instead he auctioned his prized collection of antiques and paintings and sold his London home and some of his foreign properties.


Curiously for someone so fascinated with heraldry, Mirrlees became a Buddhist and described the Prince of Wales as “an absolute disgrace” in 2003. He was well known and respected on Great Bernera, an island with a population of 350, as a “benevolent laird”.


A fellow islander, Rhoda Macleod, said of him:


“He may be a prince, but to us he will always simply be Robin”.


“He’s had two castles in his life, but he must be the only prince who preferred a croft house on Bernera. That says it all”.


“He also must be the only prince who joined a local lottery syndicate – but after Lloyd’s he needed the money”.


Inchdrewer Castle is now for sale with Edinburgh estate agents Ballantynes after the relative who inherited it from Mirrlees, his grandson Cyran, decided to sell. The castle comes with just 0.433 acres of land but enjoys “uninterrupted” views towards Banff and the North Sea. Offers over £400,000 are sought.


Selling agent Rory Ballantyne commented:


“Properties like this are very rare in the market and combining the opportunity to purchase a 16th century castle with its own title makes this a very desirable project for both local and international buyers”.


“The property requires a committed owner to bring it back to its former glory but the hard work of restoring the structure has been completed. Our client also spent a great deal of time and effort in researching the history and original design of the castle and we would be delighted to find a buyer that is willing to take this project forward in a similar fashion”.


For more details about Inchdrewer Castle, contact Rory Ballantyne of Ballantynes in Edinburgh on +44 (0) 131 459 2222 or email [email protected]

The Steeple Times
The Steeple Times
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