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Moncreiffe, Sir (Rupert) Iain Kay, of that ilk, eleventh baronetlocked

(1919–1985)

Sir (Rupert) Iain Kay Moncreiffe of that ilk, eleventh baronet (1919–1985)

by Dudley Reed, 1983

© Dudley Reed; collection National Portrait Gallery, London

Moncreiffe, Sir (Rupert) Iain Kay, of that ilk, eleventh baronet (1919–1985), herald and genealogist, was born on 9 April 1919, in the parish of Hampton Court, Middlesex, the only child of Lieutenant-Commander (Thomas) Gerald Auckland Moncreiffe RN (1886–1922) and his first wife, Hinda, daughter of Frank Meredyth, styled Comte François de Miremont. His father, who had settled in Kenya as a coffee planter before the First World War, died in 1922; his mother left her son's upbringing to nurses and later to uncles, aunts, and elderly relatives in London and Scotland. She remarried in 1923, her new husband being Captain Geoffrey Lionel Smith of Kenya. Moncreiffe was educated at Stowe School, briefly at Heidelberg University, and from 1938 at Christ Church, Oxford, where he read French and history. He served in the Scots Guards throughout the Second World War, saw much active service, attained the rank of captain, and was injured in Italy. After the war he became an attaché in the British embassy in Moscow, but soon returned to study Scots law at Edinburgh University (LLB, 1950), being admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1950. His legal practice was small but his distinction in peerage and related matters enabled him to take silk in 1980.

From an early age Moncreiffe had displayed a strongly genealogical and heraldic cast of mind, which derived in part from the great antiquity of his own family and partly from wide historical interests that took his researches far beyond Scots ancestry and gave him an enviably synchronous view of historical development. These instincts were emphasized by his marriage, in 1946, to Diana Denyse (called Dinan or Puffin) Hay (1926–1978), in her own right countess of Erroll and hereditary lord high constable of Scotland, and later by his inheritance in 1957 from a cousin of the baronetcy of Moncreiffe of that ilk (‘of that ilk’ means ‘of that same place’). His wife was the daughter of Josslyn Victor Hay, twenty-second earl of Erroll (1901–1941), notoriously killed near Nairobi, Kenya. They had two sons and a daughter.

Moncreiffe joined the court of lord Lyon king of arms as Falkland pursuivant in 1952, and became Kintyre pursuivant (in ordinary) from 1953, Unicorn pursuivant from 1955, and Albany herald from 1961. Although the chief office of the Lyon court eluded him, to his disappointment, he was widely recognized as an expert authority. He was appointed CVO in 1980.

Such resounding titles appealed to the popular press, which increasingly came to regard him as an (eminently quotable) super-snob, and he teasingly played up to this designation in an unguarded way that did little justice to his wide view (based on his deep understanding of Scottish clan history) of the importance of individual ancestry and of the universal bonds of tradition and continuity, themes which were well displayed in his writings.

In collaboration with the heraldic artist Don Pottinger, Moncreiffe published Simple Heraldry (1953), a considerable success that was followed by Simple Custom (1954) and Blood Royal (1956). Each was 'cheerfully illustrated', but their lightness of manner disguised a great deal of sound learning that was also shown in later writings, including the excellent The Highland Clans (1967) and many discursive book reviews. Most of his best work, however, remains unpublished, including his Edinburgh University PhD thesis (1958), 'Origins and background of the law of succession of arms and dignities in Scotland'. He gave many expert opinions in peerage cases, and was frequently consulted, formally and informally.

Moncreiffe was a well-known figure in London clubland, and in Edinburgh founded his own club, Puffin's (named after his first wife), as a resort for Scottish country gentlemen. Quite short, with hair latterly almost white and a bristling moustache curved like a tilde, the quietly spoken baronet and chieftain had nothing overbearing in his appearance or manner. His neat little handwriting was described by a friend as 'like the footprints of a wren'. In conversation, as well as in his published work, he relied on a marvellously retentive memory that was unimpaired even by a considerable intake of alcohol. Conviviality that could prostrate others left him in full command of detail and only increased his extraordinary range of allusiveness.

Moncreiffe's first marriage was dissolved in 1964, and in 1966 he married Hermione Patricia, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Douglas Faulkner, Irish Guards, and his wife, Patricia Katherine, later countess of Dundee. He had long lived at Easter Moncreiffe, near Perth, on lands held by his family from time immemorial, but it was at his London flat, 117 Ashley Gardens, Westminster, that he died on 27 February 1985. His elder son, Merlin Sereld Victor Gilbert, twenty-fourth earl of Erroll (b. 1948), succeeded to the baronetcy; to the younger, Peregrine, devolved the style of ‘Moncreiffe of that ilk’, which his father had done so much to enhance in the memory of a wide public. Moncreiffe's wife also survived him.

Sources

  • J. Jolliffe, ed., Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that ilk: an informal portrait (1986)
  • H. Montgomery-Massingberd, ed., Lord of the dance: a Moncreiffe miscellany (1986)
  • personal knowledge (1990)
  • CCI (1985)

Likenesses

  • D. Hill, portrait, 1970, repro. in Montgomery-Massingberd, ed., Lord of the dance, facing p. 49; priv. coll.
  • D. Reed, photograph, 1983, NPG [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£278,938.02: confirmation, 12 June 1985, CCI

J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)
(1876–)