Sir Ian Anstruther

Writer, landowner, literary patron, baronet, and clan chief

Born: 11 May 1922, in Buckinghamshire.

Died: 29 July, 2007, at Barlavington, Petworth, West Sussex, aged 85.

SIR Ian Anstruther, the laird who held three Fife baronetcies and headed the house of Anstruther, was a diplomat who forswore a promising career in the Foreign Office to devote his life to writing.

Ian Fife Campbell Anstruther took self-effacement to extremes, pitting his wits against any culture of personal celebrity, while enjoying a life as a reclusive though very wealthy landowner. If outwardly much of his life appeared to have occurred through accident, in reality it owed all to his readiness to seize opportunity. He lived up to his motto of Periissem ni periissem (I would have perished had I not persisted).

Anstruther cared about people and places, possibly the latter to a greater degree. Inheritor of fabulous real estate in London - he owned a sizeable chunk of South Kensington - he went out of his way to maintain and bring prosperity to places he cared about, such as the London Library in St James's Square. In 1992, he personally funded a new wing to house 25,000 of the rarest books. That proved easier than gaining his consent to allow his name to be publicly recorded as the donor, and utmost persuasion was needed to allow the extension to be called the Anstruther Wing - though a plaque recording his munificence remains hidden behind a bookcase. Other benefactions included Cambridge University library and the establishment of the Anstruther Literary Trust.

Anstruther wrote eight books, his burrowing research affording him quiet pleasure, particularly when the subject involved the 19th century. His dry wit was never far from the surface, as in the title of the Earl of Eglinton's tournament in 1839, an event at which the heavens unceasingly remained open, and which he called The Knight And The Umbrella (1963); and his account of Henry Morton Stanley's journey to find Livingstone, I Presume (1963).

From the age of two, the young Anstruther was subject to a bitter 14-year divorce battle between his parents, Douglas and Enid, during which time he was brought up by his aunt, Joan Campbell, in homes in Strachur, Argyll, and London. There exists a picture of the four-year-old future baronet, hand-in-hand in 1926 with the 9th Duke of Argyll, to whom he was distantly related, attending Inveraray Highland Games, little Anstruther neatly turned out in a Campbell kilt.

This was dress which ran counter to the written advice of his father, who, in 1940, 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, Anstruther saw the outbreak of war as the means of effecting a break from his childhood, enlisting in the ranks of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders before transferring to the Royal Corps of Signals, and rising from corporal to captain. He took part in the Normandy landings three days after D-Day - 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 with Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr, a family friend then British ambassador to the United States, led to his becoming a private secretary in Washington for the next four years, a period in his life he always 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.

However, in his overriding wish to write, he gave up diplomatic life, moving to Paris in 1951. His enormous inheritance from his aunt Joan in 1960 then allowed him to live the life of a gentleman scholar.

His Victorian characters tended to have miserable childhoods (as opposed to his own somewhat lonely existence), through which he detailed the cruelty and suffering brought about by the workhouse system. His later works included 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.

The Anstruthers are descendants of 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 King James VI, a royal sinecure inherited by Sir Ian.

In due time, the Anstruther chiefship fell upon Sir Ian's cousin Sir Ralph Anstruther, 7th baronet of Balcaskie, treasurer to the Queen Mother. On Sir Ralph's death five years ago, Sir Ian succeeded in the three Anstruther baronetcies, that of Anstruther of Balcaskie (Nova Scotia) dating from 1694, Anstruther of Anstruther (also Nova Scotia) (1700), and Anstruther of Anstruther (Great Britain) 1798.

He took the impact of this sudden inheritance of a plethora of titles as literary inspiration for his final book, The Baronets' Champion (2006), about a 19th-century claimer and fraudster, Sir Richard Broun.

Sir Ian 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).