Sir Ralph Anstruther

Major Sir Ralph Hugo Anstruther of that Ilk, 7th baronet of Balcaskie and 12th baronet of Anstruther, Treasurer Emeritus to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Born: 13 June, 1921, in London

Died: 19 May, 2002, at Pittenweem, Fife, aged 80

SIR Ralph Anstruther was one of two men of Fife who held appointments in the household of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. He was Treasurer, while his fellow laird, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, was Lord Chamberlain.

A courtier in the 19th-century mould, noted even among his fellow courtiers for his outstanding discretion, Sir Ralph pursued economic policies within the household that were firmly of the 21st century, with frugality the watchword.

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Discreet he ever was, but the fact that the Queen Mother’s residence maintained both style and a sense of fun was aided by his influence. Her courtiers lunched with her, kept her informed of interesting news and gathered together every afternoon for tea.

As an equerry who outlived her, Sir Ralph also became a personal friend of the Queen Mother, she being his annual guest at Watten Mains, his Caithness shooting lodge, and Balcaskie, his hereditary home three miles west of Anstruther.

His appearance in later years of a moustachioed, well-groomed figure in tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses belied the lithe, dashing six-footer of military service, who as a career officer won the Military Cross in North Africa in 1943, and was mentioned in dispatches in the Malayan campaign in 1950.

Ralph Hugo Anstruther was born in London. He never knew his father, Captain Robert Anstruther, MC - a month after Ralph’s birth, his father died from the effect of wounds received in the First World War. At the age of 13, he succeeded his grandfather as 7th baronet of Balcaskie.

Balcaskie had been the family home since 1698, but his mother, Madge, disliked the place. Thus, the boy Ralph spent most of his childhood at Scotney, a splendid moated castle in Kent. Perhaps it was childhood deprivation of the place he always referred to as "home" which inspired his lifelong love of Balcaskie. In later life, he moved his mother there, where in 1992 she died at the age of 95.

Educated at Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge, he was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards in 1941, being posted to the 2nd Battalion and landing in Algiers in 1942. Regimental history relates that "the cheerful courage and leadership of Sir Ralph did much to inspire the guardsmen".

He was a man who bonded easily and cheerfully, who blended informality with dignity and ceremonial. All his life he had a reputation for having astonishing recall of names and people, keeping up correspondence with his old regiment and maintaining a keen and active interest in the progress of his subordinates and their families in their civilian lives.

On retirement from the army in 1959, he was appointed equerry and assistant private secretary to the Queen Mother, being installed as Treasurer in 1961.

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His private generosity was as legendary as his professional frugality. He never stinted in his hospitality, but in his Royal role he saw to it that expense was pared to the minimum. Bulk buying was the order of the day, as was his personal supervision of his employer’s European travels, where hotels were eschewed in favour of private houses. His own domestic life was characterised by the same economic austerity he took to the affairs of the Queen Mother’s household. He was an enthusiastic jam-maker, and jars of his own make graced various Royal breakfast tables.

A keen genealogist, Sir Ralph was himself a shining example for the craft. He could trace his lineage back to William de Candela, an 1100 lord of the feudal barony of Anstruther, one of the few at the time to adopt his surname from his lands rather than the noble name he already possessed. The notion of public service was early taken up by the family, and various of the line were benefactors to the abbeys of Balmerino and Dryburgh. Through the family of his mother Marguerite de Burgh, he could trace his ancestry back to Sir William de Burgh in Ireland in 1308, and thus a connection to Elizabeth de Burgh, second wife of King Robert Bruce.

He inherited the baronetcy of his cousin, Sir Windham Carmichael-Anstruther, 11th baronet of Anstruther and head of the arms and name, in 1980. With the title came the title of Hereditary Carver to the Queen, an honour granted to the family in 1585 by King James VI, as well as Hereditary Master of the Royal Household in Scotland.

The crest of his coat-of-arms shows two hands grasping a pole-axe, with a Latin motto translated as "I had perished unless I gone through it".

This reference is taken up by Sir Walter Scott, who in his 12th note to Waverley wrote: "One of that ancient race, finding that an antagonist with whom he had a friendly meeting, was determined to take the opportunity of assassinating him, preventing the hazard by dashing his brains out with a battle-axe. Two sturdy arms brandishing such a weapon form the usual crest of the family with the above motto".

Always active locally, Sir Ralph was made a Deputy Lieutenant for Fife in 1960 and for Caithness five years later. A member of the Royal Company of Archers (the Queen’s Bodyguard in Scotland), he was appointed CVO in 1967, KCVO in 1976 and elevated to GCVO in 1992.

On his retirement in 1998, he was appointed Treasurer Emeritus to the Queen Mother.

His funeral is at St John’s, Pittenweem, today.

He never married, and his heir to both baronetcies is his cousin, the author Ian Anstruther, born in 1922.