MUNRO, Robert (1684-1746), of Foulis, Ross.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 24 Aug. 1684, 1st s. of Sir Robert Munro, 5th Bt., MP [S], of Foulis by Jean, da. of John Forbes of Culloden, Inverness, MP [S].  educ. ?Edinburgh Univ.  m. c.1712, Mary, da. of Edward Seymour II*, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 1da. d.v.psuc. fa. as 6th Bt. 11 Sept. 1729.1

Offices Held

Ent. army c.1706, a.d.c. to Lt.-Gen. Hon. Charles Rosse* 1709, capt. 1 Ft. (R. Scots) 1710–?1712, lt.-col. indep. coy. of ft. Dec. 1714–1716, lt.-col. 42 Ft. 1739–45, col. 37 Ft. 1745–d.; gov. Inverness Aug. 1715–16; commr. forfeited estates [S] 1716–25.2

?Burgess, Edinburgh 1713.3


Tradition imposed a heavy burden on the young Munro, to which in due course he was to prove equal. His family was ‘among the most ancient and honourable’ in the north of Scotland, and noted for its ‘brave, martial and heroic spirit’. Early converts to Presbyterianism, the Munros of Foulis had fought in defence of the Reformation on the continental battlefields of the Thirty Years War, and nearer home in the armies of the Covenant. Indeed, a combination of zeal and corpulence had earned his grandfather, the 4th baronet, the nickname of ‘the Presbyterian mortar-piece’. In his father’s case, blindness had precluded a military career. Nevertheless, the 5th baronet had been able to bear public witness to the ‘Kirk principles’ with which he had been imbued. ‘A pious and benevolent man’, according to the English Nonconformist divine Philip Doddridge, Sir Robert was an elder in the kirk at Kiltearn, served as a representative in the synod of Ross-shire and Sutherland, and took a leading part in encouraging the ‘plantation’ of Presbyterian ministers across his county. Politically he regarded himself as a staunch Whig, and in the bitter factional conflict in Ross-shire between 1704 and 1710 gave close and untiring support to the self-styled Presbyterian interest headed by Lord Ross, in the struggle to secure control over parliamentary elections and over local government from their episcopalian and Catholic enemies, the clan Mackenzie. Sir Robert mobilized his dependants (including his son and heir) to vote for Lord Ross’s candidate at the general election of 1708, and was one of a ‘club’ of Ross’s friends who in 1708 and 1709 mounted a campaign to monopolize the county commission of the peace. However, he was by no means the most violent or implacable of Ross’s partisans, his mother’s descent from the Mackenzies of Coul giving him a foot in both camps, and he was anxious that Presbyterians and episcopalians should ‘live amicably together’ where possible.4

The Member himself seems always to have been destined for a military career. According to Doddridge’s account, which was evidently based on information from the family, young Robert entered the army in about 1705, after a spell at university (probably in Edinburgh). The date of his first commission seems, however, to have been slightly later than this, for in October 1706 he was encouraging his cousin John Forbes* to pursue plans to intercede with the Duke of Argyll on his behalf for some preferment. It was his family’s association with the Ross interest that was eventually to bring significant advancement. In the 1709 campaign Munro accompanied Lord Ross’s brother, Lieutenant-General Hon. Charles Rosse*, on the continental campaign, and by November was able to report that ‘by Lieutenant-General Rosse’s friendship for me and interest with the Duke of Marlborough [John Churchill†] I have got a company in the Earl of Orkney’s regiment and the Duke’s promise to provide further for me on occasion’. Locally he was also recommended by Lord Ross for appointment to the Ross-shire commission of the peace. In return Munro attended the county by-election early in March 1710, along with his father, to cast a vote for the lieutenant-general, who was now the Ross nominee, before speeding down to Greenwich where he embarked again for Flanders.5

Munro was returned for Tain Burghs after a contest in 1710, his principal support coming from the Ross interest at Tain and the Sutherland interest at Dornoch. He was listed, apparently in error, both as a ‘Tory patriot’ who opposed the continuance of the war and as a ‘worthy patriot’ who exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. One plausible explanation was that at Westminster Lieutenant-General Rosse ran with the Tories, and it may have been assumed by the compilers of these lists that Munro followed his patron. In fact Munro had made no real impression on the parliamentary record before leaving England in March 1711 to join his regiment, and when he resumed his Commons seat in the following December he aligned himself publicly with the Whigs, voting on 7 Dec. in favour of the motion for ‘No Peace without Spain’. On 7 Feb. 1712 he cast his vote according to family tradition and his own principles, against the bill of toleration for episcopalians in Scotland, explaining that

there was not any of us that voted against the bill but were ready to give our consents to a toleration that would not distract our country and run us into confusion, which I heartily wish may not be some people’s design, more than any regard they have to the Church of England’s service, as this must unavoidably do if providence don’t prevent it.

Having already lost his company by the end of the year (according to Doddridge because ministers had taken exception to his ‘inflexible opposition’), Munro had nothing to lose by joining the Scottish opposition to the malt tax during the 1713 session, or endorsing its sequel, the motion in the Lords for a dissolution of the Union. He remained in opposition for the remainder of the session, voting on 4 and 18 June against the French commerce bill.6

Re-elected in 1713, Munro was listed by Lord Polwarth as a ‘Hanoverian’, i.e. as a Whig, and showed his partisan loyalties in privately offering to secure a Scottish seat for James Stanhope*, since England was ‘so degenerate as not to regard so much virtue and honour as Mr Stanhope has’. Back in London from January 1714, when he communicated to Forbes his anxiety about the Queen’s ill-health and about ‘the great arrangement [that] is making at Brest’, he was more active than ever in the ensuing parliamentary session. Having voted on 18 Mar. against the expulsion of Richard Steele, in April he twice acted as a teller on election cases, on both occasions supporting the Whig side. On 12 May he voted for the Whig wrecking amendment to extend the schism bill to cover Catholic education.7

One of the signatories to the proclamation of King George I at St. James’s, Munro was admitted in the early days of the new regime as a dining companion of prominent English Whigs of the calibre of William Cadogan* and James Craggs I*, and was able to obtain for himself a commission in one of the new Highland companies. The Forbeses seem to have brought him into the orbit of the Duke of Argyll, with whose clients Munro seems to have co-operated during the general election of 1715. Munro was noted as a Whig in the Worsley list. A connexion with Argyll may help to explain the fact that despite his vehement anti-Jacobitism, and loyal services against the Fifteen, his military career came to a halt in 1716, when he exchanged his commission, and the governorship of Inverness Castle, for a place on the commission of forfeited estates. Certainly by 1719, when he was able to refer in a letter to Rosse of their ‘union in principles as well as interest’, he had evidently identified himself with the Argathelian faction in Parliament; and his over-vigorous involvement in the 1722 election in support of his cousin Forbes and against the Squadrone incurred a legal prosecution. While his father shared in the benefits of Argyll’s political restoration in 1725 with appointment to a local office, Munro himself did not, and by 1732 he had broken with the Forbeses and even begun to oppose them at elections. In the meantime he had in his capacity as forfeitures commissioner exerted himself to assist in the promotion of Presbyterianism in the Highlands, procuring the erection of new parishes and the provision from the confiscated estates of suitable stipends for ministers; an instance of the piety for which in retrospect he came to be renowned.8

Though at odds with Argyll’s supporters, if not with Argyll and Ilay themselves, Munro remained loyal to administration in the Commons, and was eventually rewarded by Walpole (Robert II*) in 1739, when he was recommissioned in the newly formed Highland regiment which came to be known as the Black Watch. His attachment to Walpole rather than to the Argyll interest brought down the wrath of Lord Ilay and in the 1741 election Munro at last forfeited his parliamentary seat in the Northern district to one of Ilay’s creatures. He did, however, enjoy a belated share of military glory. Despite age and obesity he distinguished himself with his regiment at Fontenoy, and was afforded the opportunity of a hero’s death at Falkirk, 17 Jan. 1746, killed in the battle or, as one story had it, butchered by Jacobite troops shortly afterwards, together with his brother, a doctor, who was at that moment dressing Munro’s wounds. According to Doddridge, ‘his face was so cut and mangled by these savages, after he fell, that it could scarce be known’. But the ranks of his enemies could not forbear to salute his courage, and his body was buried by the Jacobites in the parish churchyard. Thus ended a life which, according to his funerary monument, had been ‘honourably spent in the field and in the British Parliament for the liberty and religion of his native country’.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. A. Mackenzie, Hist. Munros of Foulis, 118, 137–8; Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 155; Hoare, Wilts. Frustfield, 51.
  • 2. P. Doddridge, Life of Col. James Gardiner (1747), 233; NLS, ms 1391, f. 293; 1392, f. 72; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxi. 694; More Culloden Pprs. ed. Warrand, ii. 54, 149.
  • 3. Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 144.
  • 4. Mackenzie, 87–88, 91–93, 100–1; Doddridge, 221–2, 226–7, 229, 232; Wodrow, Analecta, iii. 315; NLS, ms 1391, ff. 288, 290, 308, 310; SRO, Balnagown Castle mss GD129/box 29/106/14, Ross. electoral ct. mins. 26 June 1708; GD129/box 30/116, Ross. poll 26 June 1708; Cromartie mss GD305 addit./bdle. 12, Kenneth Mackenzie to [Cromarty], 29 June 1708; GD305/1/159/7–8, 25–28, 121, representations, memorials and misc. pprs.; 160/92, ‘Answers to the new representation’, Sept. 1709; 165/242, petition, n.d.; 168/23–25, 89, representations, memorials and misc. pprs.; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, p. 31; Cromartie Corresp. ii. 24.
  • 5. Doddridge, 233; More Culloden Pprs. ii. 7–8; NLS, ms 1391, f. 293; 1392, ff. 72–74; Cromartie mss GD305/1/164/253, ‘The Ld. Ross his list of justices, Feb. 1708–9’; GD305/1/168/21, procs. Ross-shire electoral ct. 3 Mar. 1710.
  • 6. NLS, ms 1392, ff. 78–80; Doddridge, 233; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 157; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 243; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’, [23] May 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 69.
  • 7. SRO, Breadalbane mss GD112/39/269/14, Duncan Toshach to Ld. Glenorchy, 8 Sept. 1713; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U159O/C9/33, Munro to Walpole, 29 Oct. 1713; More Culloden Pprs. 36.
  • 8. Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 117; More Culloden Pprs. ii. 40, 50, 220; iii. 75, 87, 89, 92; Mackenzie, 96–100, 118, 120, 127; W. MacGill, Old Ross-shire and Scotland, i. 379; Add. 61632, f. 213; Balnagown Castle mss GD129/box 7/11/39, Ross-shire election petition, 1722; SRO, Rose of Kilravock mss, box 21, Munro to Hugh Rose II*, 12 June [1725].
  • 9. More Culloden Pprs. iii. 89; iv. 201; Doddridge, 241, 243–4; Mackenzie, 135.