Monro (Munro), Robert (d. c.1680), army officer, was the son of George Monro of Obsdale, Ross-shire, northern Scotland, and his wife Catherine (née Monro). After some time at the University of St Andrews, he began his military career in French service and in 1626 was commissioned as a lieutenant in a Scottish regiment raised for the service of Denmark. In 1629, by now a lieutenant-colonel, he secured the transfer of the regiment and other Scottish units to the service of Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden. In 1637 he published Monro his expedition with the worthy Scots regiment (called MacKeyes regiment) . . ., combining a detailed account of military service with a bookish treatment of the arts of war; a second edition appeared in 1644 under the title The Scotch military discipline learnd from the valiant Swede. In 1639 he was named to command the first regiment raised by the covenanting regime in Scotland; with the prospect of renewed hostilities in March 1640 he was again commissioned to raise a regiment and dispatched to secure north-east Scotland. At the outbreak of the Irish rising in October 1641 his regiment was earmarked as part of the army offered by Edinburgh to aid in suppression of the rising, with Monro awarded the rank of major-general.
Monro and his regiment arrived in Ulster in April 1642. His commander, Alexander Leslie, made only one brief appearance in Ireland, in 1642, leaving Monro in effective command of the Scottish army until 1648, with his headquarters at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. In June 1642 chaplains and elders of the Scottish regiments gathered in the first meeting of a presbytery in Ulster, inviting participation from local protestant forces and neighbouring parishes, thus launching Monro's reputation as one ‘very instrumental for promoting presbyterial government’ (Adair, 150) in Ireland. Two short but effective campaigns in 1642 established his army's dominance in east Ulster, and despite tensions with the local protestant forces most of Ulster was secured by their combined actions during the campaigning seasons of 1642–3.
Following the death (1642) of his first wife, Jean, daughter of Walter Maver (with whom he had one son and one daughter), Monro married Jean, Viscountess Montgomery, widow of Viscount Montgomery of the Ards. The cessation negotiated between Charles I and the confederate catholics in September 1643 was opposed by the English parliamentarians, paymasters of Monro's army, and by the Edinburgh regime. In response he was appointed to the chief command of the local protestant ‘British’ forces as well as the Scottish army, and it was resolved that they continue the war and subscribe the Solemn League and Covenant, duly sworn by Monro and his regiment in April 1644. Some of the commanders of the local British forces proved reluctant and when they assembled in Belfast he moved to seize the town, which he suspected was being fortified against him, on 14 May 1644, without bloodshed. Popular pressure, the example of the Scottish army, and the promise of aid from the English parliament eventually led most of the local forces to accept the covenant and Monro's command. In July 1644 he responded to a request of the Ulster presbytery with an order ‘that the whole army’ and all the inhabitants of Antrim and Down ‘give all obedience to the presbitrie’ and its discipline (Carte MS 11, f. 582).
1644 saw Monro undertake his most extensive and most successful expedition in Ireland, leading 10,000 Scottish and local British troops as far south as Co. Longford and Co. Meath. He subsequently held off the large-scale confederate expedition mounted against Ulster under the earl of Castlehaven (qv). Alongside chronic shortages of pay and supplies, he endured the loss of numbers of troops, withdrawn back to Scotland. As relations between the covenanting regime and its English parliamentary allies grew strained, Westminster resolved to end his command over the British forces in December 1645. In the following summer he engaged in his one major battle in Ireland, and went down to defeat at Benburb (5 June) at the hands of Owen Roe O'Neill (qv), perhaps losing one-third to one-half of his troops, and leaving his army reduced to around 3,000 men. In early 1648 he lent his support to the Engagement negotiated between the defeated king and one faction of the covenanting movement, dispatching almost 2,000 troops under his nephew and son-in-law George Monro (qv) to assist the Engagers in their invasion of England. With the defeat of the expedition, and his own army seriously depleted, he was left in a considerably weakened position and in September 1648 George Monck (qv), appointed by Westminster to command the British forces in east Ulster, seized Carrickfergus, capturing Monro in ‘bed with his ladye’ (Stevenson, 263) and sending him a prisoner to London. He remained a prisoner in the Tower until August 1653. After his release he returned to Ulster, he and his wife regaining possession of her property there. He continued to reside in the province after her death in 1670, and may have died about 1680.
Sir Walter Scott drew on Monro's writing for his A legend of the wars of Montrose and there are some echoes of Monro in his character Dugald Dalgetty. The historical Monro has attracted more positive assessments, whether in evaluating the sincerity of his political loyalties and religious convictions, or in recognising in his published work a valuable account of military life during the Thirty Years War and an insight into the values of a ‘conscientious and thoughtful’ (Stevenson, Scottish covenanters, 83) Scottish professional soldier. Though Monro was hardly an inspired general, the army under his command had proved crucial in ensuring the survival of the Ulster plantation and with it the Scottish presence in Ireland, and his most enduring legacy may well lie in his sponsorship of the rise of presbyterianism in Ulster.