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Monro, Robertlocked

(d. 1675?)
  • David Stevenson

Monro, Robert (d. 1675?), army officer, was the second son of George Monro of Obsdale and Catherine Monro, daughter of Andrew Monro of Milntown. His father is said to have died in 1589, but as Robert matriculated at St Andrews University in 1610, and in 1615 was travelling in France to complete his education, it seems likely that he was born in the later 1590s (Monro, 2.75; Mackie). He served in the French army in 1625–6 before enlisting in 1626 under Sir Donald Mackay (later Lord Reay) to fight for the Danes in Germany, being wounded at Stralsund in 1628. By 1629 he had reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and when Denmark withdrew from the Thirty Years' War that year he and 1400 other Scots transferred to the Swedish service. Appointed colonel in 1632, he returned to Scotland the following year to raise recruits, and in 1634 he obtained the support of Charles I and the Scottish privy council for the founding of a hospital for old and wounded soldiers, of which he himself would be master for life. Nothing came of the plan, but Monro's strong sense of the services and sufferings of Scots soldiers abroad led him to commemorate them through an account of the campaigns in which he had taken part: Monro his Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment (called Mac-Keyes Regiment) Levied in August 1626 … Collected and Gathered together at Spare-Houres by Col. Robert Monro … (1637; reissued in 1644 entitled The Scotch Military Discipline, as Learned from the Valiant Swede). Monro has been dismissed as 'a rude soldier' (S. R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, 4 vols., 1893–4, 1.115), but his book reveals a man with a great respect for book-learning. However, his erudition all too often leads to ambiguity and ponderous platitudes.

By May 1637, when Monro received permission to levy a further 800 men to serve the Swedes, his earlier services had been recognized by appointment as a gentleman of Charles I's privy chamber. But though Monro had commented on the Danish king being 'of absolute authority in his Kingdome, as all Christian Kings ought to be' (Monro, 1.86), when the covenanters rebelled against Charles I he showed no hesitation in serving the enemies of absolutism. His regiment was the first unit raised by the covenanters, and he helped in the capture of Edinburgh Castle in March 1639. Later in the same year he was active on the borders, and from May to September 1640 he was based in Aberdeen, taking punitive action against royalists in the north-east of Scotland. He was then sent to command forces in the south-eastern borders, and when the rest of the army was disbanded in August 1641 his regiment was one of four that were retained.

When it was decided to send a Scottish army to Ireland after the Irish rising of October 1641, Monro was appointed its major-general, under the earl of Leven as general. Landing at Carrickfergus on 3 April 1642 with the first regiments of the army (including his own), Monro joined with ‘British’ forces (raised by Ulster protestants) and soon cleared much of co. Down of rebels, in a campaign of skirmishes marked by much indiscriminate killing to revenge alleged Irish atrocities. A garrison was established in Newry, and Monro then moved north, driving the Irish out of Antrim, arresting the earl of Antrim, and garrisoning Coleraine. However, Monro's activities were from the first hampered by problems that were to persist throughout his six years in Ulster. His army was supposed to be paid and supplied by the English parliament, but the latter seldom fulfilled its obligations. Moreover, he faced a conflict of loyalties: was his prime duty to Scotland, to his English paymasters, or to the ‘British’ protestants of Ulster? Already by June 1642 Monro was being blamed for inactivity, and his commitment to attempts to take the strategic Irish stronghold of Charlemont was questioned.

Leven landed in Ireland on 4 August to take up command of the army, which had then reached its full strength of over 10,000 men, but in November he returned to Scotland, leaving Monro to lead a discontented army, many of whose officers were near to mutiny over lack of pay. The year 1643 saw Monro undertaking a number of further expeditions from his base at Carrickfergus, but he again failed to capture Charlemont. Civil war in England was a new restraint on his activities, for both sides considered employing him and his army on the British mainland. The covenanters and parliament contemplated transferring the army to England to fight against the king, while the recapture of the earl of Antrim (who had escaped the previous October) in May 1643 led to the revelation that he had intended to bribe Monro to join his men to an Irish army which would fight for the king in England. In September 1643 the marquess of Ormond, the lord lieutenant of Ireland, signed a cessation or truce with the Irish. The news led Monro to withdraw from a proposed attack on Charlemont, fearing that many of the British commanders in Ulster would obey the truce and refuse to support him.

The plans of covenanters and parliament to employ Monro in England were soon abandoned, for fear of a threat to both Scotland and England from Ireland if his army withdrew. In negotiations on the issue Monro appears to have been forced into a subsidiary role by his army's council of officers, whose priority was redress of their grievances. At first they rejected the idea of leaving Ulster unless they were paid, but when it was decided the army should indeed stay, they switched to threatening to leave unless paid. On 13 February 1644, in spite of Monro's opposition, a meeting of officers decided that the army should return to Scotland immediately, but amid a confusion of orders and counter-orders only three of the ten regiments left Ulster.

Monro's determination to stay in Ireland was probably in part personal. He had married, first, Jean Maver, daughter of Walter Maver of Maverston (Moray), some time before 1622, but she died early in 1642 (leaving one son and one daughter), and late in 1644 Monro married Jean Alexander (d. 1670), daughter of William Alexander, first earl of Stirling, and widow of the second Viscount Montgomery of the Ards. Leaving Ireland would have meant abandoning the Montgomery family estates in co. Down. But the position of his weakened army was precarious. Several garrisons had to be abandoned, and the attitude of many of the British to the Scots was doubtful, for reluctance to fight the Irish was widespread now that the king had agreed the cessation. The covenanters' invasion of England in January 1644 and the Scots army's imposition of the solemn league and covenant in Ulster further intensified tensions between the Scots army and royalist-inclined British. On 9 March 1644 the English parliament appointed the commander of the army (nominally Leven, in effect Monro) to be its commander-in-chief in Ireland, and in May Monro's officers forced him to assert his authority by seizing Belfast, expelling the British garrison. Most of the British then agreed to continue the war against the Irish, and with their help Monro advanced south into co. Meath in June and July, attempting to bring a new Irish army being formed by the earl of Castlehaven to battle before it was fully prepared. Monro had over 10,000 men under his command, more than on any other campaign, but though he threw the Irish into disarray, he failed to force a decisive encounter. When Castlehaven eventually advanced, in August, Monro compelled him to withdraw to Charlemont, and in spite of great scarcity he maintained his army in the field until mid-October, when Castlehaven finally withdrew.

The 1644 campaign partly restored the flagging reputation of Monro's army, but his ability to confront the Irish was soon further diminished by withdrawals of men to Scotland, to resist the successful royalist rising of the marquess of Montrose. One regiment left about the end of 1644, 1400 more men three months later. In August 1645 Monro was ordered to bring his whole army back to Scotland and become commander of all forces there, but the intervention of the English parliament prevented any more men from being sent to Scotland. With victory now in sight in the English civil war, parliament foresaw future conflict with its Scots allies, and wished to limit the resources Scotland had available for intervention in England. It therefore insisted that Monro remain in Ireland, while simultaneously limiting his influence by revoking the 1644 agreement that he act as parliament's commander-in-chief there.

In 1646 the remnants of Monro's army became increasingly isolated. Pleas to send more men back to Scotland continued to be refused through opposition from the English parliament. Monro advanced yet again towards Charlemont in May, and perhaps the political pressures on him to prove his army's value led him to behave with less than his usual caution, attacking an Irish army under Owen Roe O'Neill at Benburb on 5 June. The result of this, the only pitched battle Monro fought in his six years in Ulster, was decisive defeat, with the loss of perhaps a third of his 6000 or so British and Scottish troops. He sought to blame others for his disastrous attack: 'all our army, both Horse and Foot did earnestly covet fighting, which was impossible for me to gainstand, without being reproached of Cowardice', he explained, and 'for ought I can understand, the Lord of Hosts had a controversie with us to rub shame on our faces … till once we shall be humbled' (J. Rushworth, Historical Collections, 1701, vol. 4, pt 1, 399). After Benburb, Monro's army stubbornly hung on to north-east Ulster, motivated largely by determination to get its arrears paid before leaving. In 1648 he supported the engagement, whereby Scotland agreed to help the now imprisoned Charles I against the English parliament. His officers and men were divided, but in the end the army sent about 2000 men to Scotland to support the engagement under Monro's nephew George Monro. As a result, George Monck seized Carrickfergus for the English parliament on 13 September, aided by dissident officers in Monro's own army. Monro himself was ignominiously captured in 'bed with his ladye' (Two Biographies of William Bedell, ed. E. S. Shuckburgh, 1902, 174), and the remnants of his army disintegrated. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and, when his release was ordered on 31 August 1653, his plight was such that he was given £10 sterling to cover the costs of his return to Scotland. However, the confiscated property of his wife, the dowager Lady Montgomery, and his stepson William Montgomery, third Viscount Montgomery, was restored, and Monro evidently spent the rest of his life in their household at Comber in co. Down. In later years he was described as 'honest, kind Major-general Munro' (Montgomery Manuscripts, 213). His wife died in 1670, and Monro's own death probably followed in 1675.

Monro has often been blamed for his failure to achieve more in Ireland, but considering his problems of supply and the conflicting political pressures that he faced, the fact that he maintained his hold on eastern Ulster in 1642–8 was notable. He was repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to engage the Irish in pitched battle—with the disastrous exception of Benburb—by the Irish tactics of dispersing their forces when he took the offensive, regathering them once he had withdrawn. His best memorial is his Expedition, and the value of this work as a source was recognized by Sir Walter Scott, for he was much influenced by Monro's book in creating the character of Dugald Dalgetty, the battered old mercenary in A Legend of the Wars of Montrose (1819).


  • W. S. Brockington, ‘Robert Monro: professional soldier, military historian and Scotsman’, Scotland and the Thirty Years' War, 1618–1648, ed. S. Murdoch (2001), 216–39
  • D. Stevenson, Scottish covenanters and Irish confederates (1981)
  • R. Monro, Monro his expedition with the worthy Scots regiment (called Mac-Keyes regiment) levied in August 1626 (1637)
  • A. Mackenzie, History of the Munros of Fowlis (1898)
  • Reg. PCS, 1st ser.
  • Reg. PCS, 2nd ser.
  • Reg. PCS, 3rd ser.
  • The Montgomery manuscripts, 1603–1706, ed. G. Hill (1869)
  • E. M. Furgol, A regimental history of the covenanting armies, 1639–1651 (1990)
  • R. W. Munro, The Munro tree: a genealogy and chronology of the Munros of Foulis (1978)
  • J. D. Mackie, ‘Dugald Dalgetty and Scottish soldiers of fortune’, SHR, 12 (1914–15), 221–37, esp. 224n
  • S. Murdoch and A. Grosjean, ‘Scotland, Scandinavia and Northern Europe, 1580–1707’,


  • NL Scot., letters to Sir Robert Gordon
J. H. Burton & others, eds., (1877–1970)
Scottish Historical Review