Boyd, Robert (1805–31), soldier and revolutionary, was born 7 December 1805 in Templemore, Co. Londonderry, the son of Archibald Boyd (d. c.1827), city treasurer, and his wife Annie (née MacNeil); he had three (possibly four) brothers and a sister. Educated at the Free Grammar School (renamed Foyle College in 1814), he enlisted as a cadet in the East India Company's military service, and on 13 October 1824 was commissioned ensign in the 65th regiment of native infantry of the Bengal Army. Arriving in India in April 1825, he was promoted lieutenant that month, but nothing else is recorded of his time there.
Boyd returned from India on his father's death, taking furlough on 27 June 1827. After possibly spending some time in Greece, he was in London by November 1829. Widely-read and a devotee of romantic poetry, he was introduced to some of the Cambridge Apostles by his cousin (by marriage) John Sterling (1806–44), proprietor and editor of the Athenaeum. An informal debating society with romantic leanings, the group included Richard Chenevix Trench (qv), Alfred Tennyson, and several liberal Spanish exiles then congregating in London, centred around General José María Torrijos (1791–1831). Together they sought to restore the liberal 'Cádiz constitution' (1812) by landing small guerrilla forces around the Spanish periphery to converge on Madrid, but they lacked the funding to raise and equip forces. Boyd used a portion of his inheritance of at least £4,000 to buy an old brig and stock it with arms, but it was seized in July 1830 the night before embarking from Deal, Kent.
Valued by the conspirators more for his decision to sink his entire inheritance into the expedition than for his military experience, Boyd was promised command of a calvary regiment upon the anticipated defeat of King Ferdinand VII, and travelled with Torrijos to Gibraltar, via Paris and Marseilles, arriving on 5 September 1830. Various plans to land at Cádiz or procure cannon from Tangier evaporated. As successive attempts at insurrection failed, Torrijos prevaricated as Boyd's funds dwindled. Receiving word that he must report to London for service or face expulsion from the service, Boyd resigned his commission on 9 November 1831.
With pressure mounting from the Gibraltar authorities, who were uncomfortable with the rebels' objectives, Boyd and Torrijos were encouraged by messages from the local commander in Málaga, and sailed for the city on 30 November 1831. Undermined by spies within their party of fifty-one troops, they were forced into port at Fuengirola by two Spanish ships. After a brief and ineffective show of resistance, they surrendered on 5 December to forces under General González Moreno, governor of Málaga. Moreno and Torrijos had in their youth served together as pages to Charles IV of Spain; Moreno, by feigning interest in joining the rebellion, had drawn Torrijos into a trap.
Transferred to the Capuchin friary in Málaga for their final evening, Boyd and Torrijos (alongside their men) were executed by firing squad early in the morning of 11 December 1831 on San Andrés beach. Boyd's body, claimed by the British consul in Málaga, was the first to be interred in the recently established English protestant cemetery there; his grave is marked with the red hand of Ulster. As Boyd was a British subject, there was considerable controversy surrounding the legitimacy of his execution. When Moreno accompanied Don Carlos, brother of Ferdinand VII, to London in summer 1834 seeking asylum, the issue was raised in parliament and in the pages of The Times.
In his Life of John Sterling (1851), Thomas Carlyle, despite never having met Boyd, magnified his actions and contributed to a minor cult of a romantic hero. There is a memorial to Boyd in St Augustine's church, Derry, and he is listed on the obelisk memorial (1842) to the Torrijos landing in the Plaza de la Merced, Málaga. Boyd is among those depicted in 'The execution by firing squad of Torrijos and his companions on the beach at Málaga' (1887–8), an oil on canvas by Antonio Gisbert Pérez (1834–1902), which hangs in the Prado Museum, Madrid. The executions were emblematic of the conflict between liberal and authoritarian factions in nineteenth-century Spain; the painting was removed from view during the Franco regime and until the restoration of constitutional democracy (1939–78). Calle Robert Boyd in Málaga was named after him (c.2010).