Gunning, Robert (DNB00)

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GUNNING, Sir ROBERT (1731–1816), diplomatist, born 8 June 1731 (Foster, Baronetage), was eldest son of Robert Gunning, by Catherine, daughter of John Edwards. He was descended from Richard Gunning, an uncle of Peter Gunning, bishop of Ely [q. v.], who settled in Ireland in the time of James I. He entered the diplomatic service, and on 23 Nov. 1765 was appointed minister resident at the court of Denmark, where he arrived in April of the following year (Eg. MS. 2706, f. 1). His instructions were to assist the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, Walter Titley, and to keep the British government well informed of passing events. He seems to have performed his duties with regularity, tact, and ability, and on the death of Titley (27 Feb. 1768) he succeeded to the post of envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary. On 13 April 1771 he was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the court of Prussia, but did not leave Copenhagen until the end of June, reaching Berlin in the following month. On 13 Dec. he was transferred with the same rank to the court of Russia, where he arrived early in the following June, and was received in the most distinguished manner by the empress. His instructions, dated 28 May 1772, directed him to offer the services of the British government as mediator between Russia and the Porte, with a view to effecting a treaty of peace, and to support the policy of the empress in Poland, but to attempt to secure toleration for the Greek church and other dissident religious bodies. He was also instructed at a later date to solicit the intervention of the empress on behalf of the city of Dantzig in its quarrel with the king of Prussia, who was accused of levying exorbitant dues for the use of Dantzig harbour, which, on the partition of Poland, had been ceded to him without the city's. Gunning made repeated representations to the Russian foreign ministers on the subject, but met with none but evasive answers. By the empress herself Gunning was uniformly treated with marked distinction. When he dined with her she would address the greater part of her conversation to him, and she frequently admitted him to private audiences. On one occasion she condescended to order through him four copies of Kennicott's edition of the Old Testament in Hebrew, for which he gave his cheque on his bankers (ib. 2704, f. 152b; private letter of 14-25 June 1773). The tact, zeal, and discretion with which he discharged his delicate duties were also 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 (ib. 2704, ff. 156b, 163b, 164). In the summer of 1775 he was instructed to sound the Russian foreign minister, Panin, as to the possibility of obtaining Russian troops in case of necessity for service in North America. Gunning received encouraging replies from Panin, and afterwards from the empress herself (ib. 2705, ff. 155b, 160, 165). A regular negotiation was soon afterwards opened for a contingent of twenty thousand disciplined Russian infantry completely equipped (except their field pieces), to be furnished by the empress, and placed under the command of an English general, and transported in English ships to Canada, for service against the revolted states. A pretext for rupturing the negotiation was found in the demand of the British government that the principal officers of the contingent should take the oath of allegiance to the British crown. Gunning's conduct in the affair was much praised by Lord Suffolk (ib. 2703, letter dated 1 Sept. 1775). In the following November he sought and obtained his recall on account of ill-health. He was rewarded with a baronetcy on 17 Oct. 1778, and was installed knight of the Bath on 19 May 1779. He died at his seat at Horton, near Northampton, on 22 Sept. 1816. Gunning married: (1) 27 March 1752, Elizabeth, daughter of John Harrison of Grantham, by whom he had no issue; (2) in 1757, Anne, daughter of Robert Sutton of Scofton, Nottinghamshire, by whom he had issue George William, who succeeded to the title; Charlotte Margaret, maid of honour to Queen Charlotte, who married, on 6 Jan. 1790, the Hon. Stephen Digby; and Barbara Evelyn Isabella, who married in 1795 Major-general Ross.

[Eg. MSS. 2696-2706; Parl. Papers, Hist. MSS. Comm. Gunning Papers, 10 Rep. App. p. 400; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. App. 248-50; Gent. Mag. 1752 p.l43, 1757 p. 141, 1765 p.539, 1771 p. 572, 1790 pt. i. 83, 1816 pt. ii. 465-6 ; Nicolas's Hist. of British Knighthood, vol. iii.; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. vi. 153; Haydn's Dignities, p. 80; Burke's Baronetage; Foster's Baronetage.]

J. M. R.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.143
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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349 i 8 Gunning, Sir Robert: for xliv. 400 read 10 Rep. App. p. 400