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date: 15 June 2021

Gunning, Sir Robert, first baronetfree


Gunning, Sir Robert, first baronetfree

  • J. M. Rigg
  • , revised by R. D. E. Eagles

Gunning, Sir Robert, first baronet (1731–1816), diplomatist, was born on 8 June 1731, the eldest son of Robert Gunning (d. 1750) and Catherine (d. 1782), daughter of John Edwards. He was descended from Richard Gunning, an uncle of Peter Gunning, bishop of Ely, who settled in Ireland in the time of James I. On 27 March 1752 he married Elizabeth, daughter of John Harrison of Grantham, who died only a few weeks later, on 14 April 1752. He subsequently married, on St Valentine's day 1757, Anne (d. 1770), only daughter of Robert Sutton of Scofton, Nottinghamshire, and Anne Throckmorton. They had three children, George William, Charlotte Margaret, and Barbara Evelyn Isabella.

Gunning entered the diplomatic service, and on 23 November 1765 was appointed minister-resident at Copenhagen, where he arrived in early March 1766. His instructions were to assist the envoy-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary, Walter Titley, and on Titley's death (27 February 1768) Gunning succeeded to his post. On 13 April 1771 he was appointed envoy-extraordinary to the court of Prussia, but he never took up the position in Berlin.

Gunning finally left Copenhagen in June 1771 and in May 1772 was appointed envoy-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary to the court of Russia, where he arrived on 18 June. His brief was to offer the services of the British government as mediator between Russia and the Porte, with a view to effecting a peace treaty, and to support Catherine the Great's policies in Poland, but to attempt to secure toleration for the Greek church and other dissident religious bodies. He proved to be a favourite of the empress, who frequently admitted him to private audiences, and on one occasion ordered through him four copies of Kennicott's edition of the Old Testament in Hebrew. The tact, zeal, and discretion with which he discharged his duties were highly appreciated by George III, who, unsolicited, nominated him a knight of the Bath on 2 June 1773, and requested the empress to invest him with the insignia of the order. She consented, and selected 9 July, the anniversary of her own accession, for the ceremony, and when it was over gave him the gold-hilted sword set with diamonds with which she had knighted him.

In the summer of 1775 Gunning was instructed to sound the Russian foreign minister, Panin, as to the possibility of obtaining Russian troops for service in North America. Gunning received encouraging replies from Panin, and afterwards from the empress herself, and negotiations were opened for a contingent of 20,000 fully equipped (except for field pieces) Russian infantry to be placed under the command of a British general, and transported in British ships to Canada. A pretext for rupturing the negotiations was found in the demand of the British government that the principal officers of the Russian contingent should take the oath of allegiance to the British crown, but Gunning's conduct in the affair was much praised by Lord Suffolk, secretary of state for the north. In the following November Gunning sought and obtained his recall on account of ill health, and had left St Petersburg by February 1776. He was rewarded with a baronetcy on 3 September 1778, and was installed knight of the Bath on 19 May 1779. He died at his seat at Horton, near Northampton, on 22 September 1816.


  • D. B. Horn, ed., British diplomatic representatives, 1689–1789, CS, 3rd ser., 46 (1932)
  • N. H. Nicolas, History of the orders of knighthood of the British empire, 3 (1842)
  • GM, 1st ser., 22 (1752), 143
  • GM, 1st ser., 27 (1757), 141
  • GM, 1st ser., 35 (1765), 539
  • GM, 1st ser., 41 (1771), 572
  • GM, 1st ser., 60 (1790), 83
  • GM, 1st ser., 86/2 (1816), 465–6


  • BL, corresp. and MSS, Egerton MSS 2680–2706
  • HMC, Parc. MSS, X report, 400
  • BL, letters to Sir Robert Murray Keith, Add. MSS 35504–35508, passim
  • HMC, III report, 250
  • NRA priv. coll., letters to Lord Cathcart


  • G. Romney, oils, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada
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