Prince Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart de La Lanne Mirrlees died last Saturday at the age of 87, and while I cannot say the news comes as a surprise -- his health had been failing for some time -- I am tremendously saddened by it.
Robin lived a rich and varied life. He served in the Royal Artillery in India during World War Two, rising to the rank of captain, and was later the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant at the College of Arms and as such attended the queen at her coronation. He was a horseman and fox-hunter. He restored a stone circle and a castle. He bought a group of islands in the Outer Hebrides, making him the Laird of Bernara. Ian Fleming had James Bond use Robin's C of A position as a cover in one novel, and the related correspondence between the two men was published in an edition of six copies, making it one of the rarest items of Bondabilia in existence. He was also, as the Telegraph put it, "a well-known debs' delight." He fathered a son out of wedlock with Duchess Margarethe of Wurttemberg, and was known for the many glamorous woman he squired about. In 2003, feuding with Prince Charles, he assumed the title of Prince of Coronata (prior to this he used the title of Count) given to him by the King of Yugoslavia, to prove that there was nothing special about being a prince. He was a devout Buddhist.
His aunt was the great fantasist Hope Mirrlees.
It was in the last capacity that I made his acquaintance. When I was working on Hope-in-the-Mist: the Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Career of Hope Mirrlees, I wrote asking for information about his aunt and Robin called me from Great Bernara to talk about her for well over an hour. Though we never met fact to face, we exchanged dozens of letters. One of them, committing memories of Hope Mirrlees to paper, I obtained his permission to have published in the New York Review of Science Fiction as "My Aunt, Hope Mirrlees."
Robin was just a bit of a flake. He urged me to rewrite Lud-in-the-Mist as a musical, a la Cats. He send me a photograph of his mother, taken by Man Ray, with a note to please return it when I was done looking at it. He despised Bertrand Russell but emphatically stated that "Tom Eliot was a true gentleman -- in every sense of the word!" He had tremendous enthusiasm for all things he deemed meritorious.
He accomplished a great deal in his life, and he had a lot of fun as well.
And he's almost certainly the highest-ranking noble ever to be published in NYRSF.
You can read about him here. Or here.
And I have a family story Robin once told me . . .
Robin Mirrlees' mother, Hope's sister-in-law Frances de La Lanne Mirrlees, was a strikingly beautiful and of course aristocratic woman. One of her many friends was Ian Fleming. Who one day told her that he was writing a novel.
"Oh, Ian," she said. "Don't write a novel. You haven't the brains for it."