Robert Monro, d.1675
Scottish veteran of the Thirty Years’ War who commanded British forces in Ulster against the Irish Confederates.
The second son of George Monro of Obsdale in Ross-shire, Robert Monro was probably born in the late 1590s. He attended St Andrews University then gained his first military experience in the French army from 1625-6. In August 1626, he enlisted in Sir Donald Mackay’s Scottish regiment in the Danish army. He led a distinguished career and had risen to the rank of lieutenant-colonel by 1629 when he transferred to the Swedish service after Denmark’s withdrawal from the Thirty Years’ War. Monro was commissioned a colonel in 1632. He wrote an account of his campaigns in the European wars: Monro his expedition with the worthy Scots regiment (called Mac-Keyes regiment), which was first published in 1637.
In 1638, Monro returned to Scotland to fight in the Bishops’ Wars. He took command of the first regiment to be raised by the Covenanters and was with Alexander Leslie at the capture of Edinburgh Castle in March 1639. During the Second Bishops’ War (1640), Monro commanded Covenanter forces around Aberdeen where he suppressed the Royalist clans of north-eastern Scotland.
On the outbreak of the Irish Uprising in October 1641, Monro was commissioned major-general to Alexander Leslie, now Earl of Leven, in a Covenanter army sent to protect British interests in Ulster against the insurgents. Monro landed at Carrickfergus in April 1642 with an advance force of 2,500 troops. He quickly secured north-eastern Ulster in a ruthless campaign marked by the indiscriminate killing of Catholics in reprisal for the massacre of Protestants the previous year. Lord Leven was reluctant to lead the army in Ireland and returned to Scotland, leaving Monro in command. In March 1644, the Westminster Parliament appointed him commander-in-chief of all allied British forces in Ireland. However, Monro’s position was complicated by shifting allegiances amongst the British soldiers and civilian population, and his forces were weakened when Scottish troops were withdrawn to deal with the Royalist uprising in Scotland led by the Marquis of Montrose.
During the summer of 1644, Monro advanced south into County Meath with the intention of bringing to battle a Confederate army commanded by the Earl of Castlehaven. However, Castlehaven was reluctant to fight and the summer campaign ended in a stand-off at the Irish stronghold of Charlemont. Continuing troop withdrawals to Scotland further weakened Monro’s army during 1645, and the following year, Owen Roe O’Neill advanced towards Ulster with a revitalised Confederate army. Monro marched to intercept O’Neill but suffered a major defeat at the battle of Benburb in June 1646.
After Benburb, Monro’s forces stubbornly held north-eastern Ulster. He supported theEngagement in 1648 and sent a contingent of Scottish troops from Ulster under the command of his nephew George Monro to support the Engager invasion of England. However, the Ulster Scots were divided over the Engagement and a number of Monro’s officers aided the Parliamentarian commander Colonel Monck, who seized Monro’s headquarters at Carrickfergus in September 1648. Ignominiously taken prisoner in his bed, Monro was sent to London and imprisoned in the Tower until 1653.
Following his release from imprisonment, Monro retired to Comber in County Down, the family estate of his second wife Jean Alexander, daughter of the Earl of Stirling and widow of Viscount Montgomery of the Ards, whom he had married in 1644. Monro died at Comber around 1675.
David Stevenson, Robert Monro, Oxford DNB, 2004
Jane Ohlmeyer, The Civil Wars in Ireland (in The Civil Wars, a military history of England, Scotland and Ireland 1638-60), Oxford 1998