General John Burgoyne (24 February 1722 - 4 August 1792) was a British army officer, dramatist and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1761 to 1792. He saw action in service to the Crown in the Seven Years' War when he participated in numerous battles, most memorably during the Portugal Campaign of 1762.

He is perhaps best known for his pivotal role in the American War of Independence, which garnered him a lot of support back in England. His design of the invasion scheme to split the New England colonies away from the rest was the turning point in the war. Not only did it break the communication lines of the Americans, but it broke the French will to commit troops and funds to the American cause and it greatly demoralised the American troops.

The epithet, "Gentleman Johnny," was earned by his gentlemanly conduct even on the field of battle. Considered by history to be one of the few competent aristocratic British generals who acquired his rank through monetary and political connections rather than ability, Burgoyne has several accounts of living a lavish lifestyle during the Saratoga campaign, combined with his renowned gentlemanly bearing.


Early Life

Family and Education

John Burgoyne was born in Sutton, Bedfordshire, the location of the Burgoyne baronets family home of Sutton Manor, on 24 February 1722. His mother, Anna Maria Burgoyne, was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and his supposed father was an army officer, Captain John Burgoyne, although there were rumours that he might have been an illegitimate son of Lord Bingley, who was his godfather.

From the mere age of ten, Burgoyne attended Westminster School, like many of the army's officers of the time such as Thomas Gage with whom he would later serve. In his childhood, Burgoyne could be described as athletic and outgoing. He enjoyed life at the school where he made numerous important friends; in particular, the Lord James Strange.

In 1737, Burgoyne purchased a commission in the Horse Guards. They were stationed in London and as such, his duties were light, allowing him to make a name for himself within the high society of London. This is where he acquired the nickname "Gentleman Johnny" and became well known for his stylish uniforms and general high living which saw him run up large debts. In 1741, he sold his commission, believed to possibly have been to settle gambling debts.

The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession led to an expansion of the size of the standing British Army. In April 1745, Burgoyne joined the newly-raised 1st Royal Dragoons as a cornet, a commission he did not have to pay for as it was newly created. He was later promoted to Lieutenant in the same month. In 1747, he managed to gather enough money to purchase the rank of Captain. When the end of the war came in 1748, an end came to any further active service.

Elopement with the Lady Charlotte Stanley

His friendship made with the Lord James Strange had its advantages, and one of them was getting to know his acquaintances. One of them was James' sister, the Lady Charlotte Stanley, daughter of Lord Derby, one of the nation's leading politicians. After Lord Derby refused Burgoyne permission to marry Charlotte, they eloped and married without permission in April 1751. Derby, enraged, cut off his daughter's pension. Otherwise unable to support his new wife, Burgoyne sold his commission for a second time and raised £2,600, with which they lived off for the next few years.

In October 1751, John and his new wife travelled to continental Europe, going through France and Italy. While in France, Burgoyne met with and befriended the influential Duc de Choiseul who would later become the Foreign Minister and direct the French policy during the Seven Years' War.

While in Rome, Burgoyne had his portrait painted by the British artist Allan Ramsay. In late 1754, his wife gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth, who later proved to be the couple's only child. With hopes that a granddaughter would decease Lord Derby's opposition to their marriage, they returned to Britain in 1755. Lord Strange interceded on their behalf with Derby, who soon changed his mind and accepted them back into the family. John soon became a favourite of Derby, who used his influence to boost Burgoyne's prospects.

John Burgoyne, 1758

John Burgoyne, painted 1758

Seven Years' War

Shortly after the beginning of the war, he purchased yet another commission in the 11th Dragoons. In 1758, he became Captain and eventually a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Coldstream Guards.

Raids on the French Coast

In the same year, he participated in countless expeditions on the French coast. During this, he was instrumental in introducing light cavalry into the British Army. Two regiments then formed were commanded by George Eliott (later made Lord Heathfield) and Burgoyne. This was a revolutionary step, and Burgoyne was a pioneer in the early development of the British light cavalry. He admired independent thought amongst common soldiers, and encouraged his men to use their own initiative - this was in stark contrast to the established system employed at the time by the British Army.

Portugal Campaign of 1762

In 1762, Burgoyne served as a Brigadier in Portugal, which had just entered the war. He won distinction by leading the cavalry in the capture of Valencia de Alcántara and of Vila Velha de Ródão following the Battle of Valencia de Alcántara, which compensated for the Portuguese defeat at Almeida. This was an instrumental part in repulsing the large Spanish force that was invading Portugal.

In 1768, he was elected to the House of Commons and occupied himself chiefly with his parliamentarian duties, which he was remarkable for his outspokenness and, in particular, for his attacks on the Lord Clive, who was at the time considered the nation's leading soldier. He achieved prominence in 1772 by demanding an investigation on the East India Company alleging widespread corruption by its officials. At the same time, he devoted much attention to the arts.

Early American War of Independence

In the army, he had been promoted to Major-General, and on the outbreak of the American War of Independence, he was appointed to a command, arriving in Boston in May 1775, a few weeks after the first shots of the war had been fired. He participated as part of the garrison during the Siege of Boston, although he did not see action at the Battle of Bunker Hill, in which the British forces were led by William Howe and Henry Clinton. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, he returned to England long before the rest of the garrison, which evacuated the city in March 1776.

In 1776, he was the head of the British reinforcements that sailed up the Saint Lawrence River and relieved Quebec City, which was under siege by the Continental Army. He led forces under General Guy Carleton in the drive that chased the Continental Army from the province of Quebec. Carleton then led the British forces onto Lake Champlain, but was, in Burgoyne's opinion, insufficiently bold when he failed to attempt the capture of Fort Ticonderoga after winning the naval Battle of Valcour Island in October.

Saratoga Campaign

The following year, after convincing the King and his government of Carleton's faults