Burgoyne, John

views updated May 14 2018

John Burgoyne

Born February 24, 1723
Sutton, England
Died August 4, 1792
London, England

Military leader, politician, playwright

British general John Burgoyne was best known for leading a failed military campaign against the rebel colonists during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). Back in England, Burgoyne had to defend himself before the British government for his defeat and was stripped of his military rank and privileges. He spent his later years as a politician, a playwright, and a leader of London society.

Burgoyne was born in 1723 in Sutton, England. His mother, Anna Burenstone Burgoyne, the daughter of a very wealthy man, brought a large sum of money to her marriage. It was soon gambled away by her husband, an army captain named John, who spent a good deal of his life in prison for failing to pay his debts. Anna Burgoyne was rather free with her affections, and it was rumored that young John Burgoyne's real father may not have been Anna's husband, but the child's wealthy godfather, Lord Bingley.

In 1740, after attending the strict Westminster School, young John Burgoyne entered the British army as part of the Thirteenth Dragoons. (Dragoons fought on horseback or on foot with short guns called muskets.) In 1741 Burgoyne began his rise through the military ranks by becoming a lieutenant.

Marries and moves to France

During the early 1740s Burgoyne lived in London, England. The young soldier became a frequent visitor to the home of the wealthy Earl of Derby, a man who was an important political figure and the father of one of Burgoyne's school friends. In 1743 the twenty-one-year-old Burgoyne, who had very little money, betrayed the trust of his powerful friend by running away with his daughter, Lady Charlotte, and marrying her. This was considered a very serious offense against the manners and morals of the time.

The earl opposed the marriage and gave his daughter only a small amount of money as a wedding gift. He made it clear the couple would have to support themselves financially. Faced with money problems because of Derby's rejection, Burgoyne resigned from the army in 1746 and took his wife to France, where it was cheaper to live. The handsome and elegant Burgoyne and his highborn wife were welcomed into upper-class French society. Once they had settled in France, money never seemed to be a problem. (It is possible that Burgoyne's mother helped the couple financially.)

Rises through military ranks

In those days, a young Englishman like Burgoyne who wanted to get ahead socially and professionally needed a wealthy patron, someone who could use his influence to help the young man. By the mid-1750s, Lord Derby had come to accept his son-in-law, adopted the role of patron, and managed to have Burgoyne accepted back into the army. In late 1754 Lady Charlotte gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth, the couple's only child.

Burgoyne, by then a captain, got his first taste of warfare when he took part in the Seven Years' War (1754–63) in Europe. The conflict was a struggle between England and France for sea power and political control throughout the world. In America the war—which was won in the end by England—was called the French and Indian War.

Burgoyne performed well in combat and demonstrated unusual talents. Using what he had learned about European armies while living in France, he started the British army's first light horse units, groups of soldiers on horseback who could move quickly from place to place. In 1759 he became a commander of one of the first light horse units. This event proved to be a turning point in his military career.

"Gentleman Johnny"

Burgoyne wrote a code of instructions for his officers in which he opposed the use of harsh training methods that were common at the time. He believed his officers could maintain good discipline by treating the soldiers under their command as "thinking beings." He instructed the officers to develop an "insight into the character of each particular man" and declared there was to be no swearing at soldiers or beating them for breaking minor rules. Burgoyne practiced what he preached, and he earned the loyalty of his men to a greater extent than most other commanding officers of his day. Out of respect and affection, Burgoyne's soldiers came to call him "Gentleman Johnny."

Burgoyne had his officers study mathematics, the handling of horses, and especially French, because the best military instruction papers were written in French. The reforms Burgoyne suggested and used were ahead of their time. Similar practices were not widely adopted by the British military until the early nineteenth century.

Gains victory in Spain; is elected to Parliament

By 1761 Burgoyne was eager to increase his military fame. His efforts were helped by Spain's entrance into the Seven Years' War on the side of France. Spain had no wish to attack Great Britain, but she did want French help in seeking revenge against Portugal for an old insult. In 1762 King Joseph I of Portugal asked for assistance from the British against Spain, and Britain sent 7,000 men, including the unit led by John Burgoyne.

In a daring raid in Spain, Burgoyne's soldiers defeated a group of Spanish soldiers, took over a town, and captured many prisoners. When the military campaign ended three months later, Burgoyne received the praise of his superiors and was promoted to colonel of the Sixteenth Light Dragoons. The appointment was one usually held for life and brought with it many financial benefits.

In 1761, while he was away in Spain, Burgoyne had been elected to Parliament, the British lawmaking body. By 1763 his financial situation had greatly improved, because of his military promotion and his wife's recent inheritance. But in 1764 John and Charlotte Burgoyne faced a personal tragedy when their only child died of unknown causes at age ten. From that point on, Lady Charlotte's health began to worsen.

Votes to keep Stamp Act

After the war Burgoyne turned his attention to his duties in Parliament, where he was honored as a military hero. Two years later England was still saddled with huge debts and, as a result, placed a major tax on the American colonists called the Stamp Act of 1765. It required colonists to pay a tax on all paper items they used; only documents with the official British stamp were considered legal.

Most Americans strongly opposed the Stamp Act and protested against it. In time, riots against the Stamp Act broke out in Boston, Massachusetts. American objections to the Stamp Act were so strong that Parliament finally put the measure up for a vote. Forced to take sides, Burgoyne voted to keep the Stamp Act, but his side lost. When the tax was struck down, American tempers cooled for a while, but over time American opposition to "taxation without representation" in Parliament turned into a struggle for American independence from British rule.

Career advances

In 1766 the Burgoynes traveled around Europe so that John could study the organization of European military groups. When the Burgoynes returned to England, John Burgoyne gambled heavily and enjoyed visiting fashionable clubs and acting in plays, often without Charlotte, who stayed home sick. He returned to Parliament in 1768, where he continued to develop his political skills. Burgoyne served in Parliament off and on from 1761 until a few years before his death in 1792. As a member of the Tory Party, he generally favored keeping the American colonies dependent on Great Britain.

During this time, Burgoyne received several profitable military appointments. In 1769 he became Governor of Fort William in Scotland, a job that required little effort and earned him a substantial amount of money every year. In 1772, when he was appointed major-general in the British army, Burgoyne was earning even more.

Fires of freedom burn in America

In 1772 political conflicts between Great Britain and America were on the rise. The citizens of Boston were becoming very rebellious. Years before, at the time the hated Stamp Act had been struck down, the British had passed a bill saying that Parliament had the right to tax the colonies any way they chose. The British imposed new taxes—first the Townshend Acts in 1767, then the Intolerable Acts in 1774. The colonists were furious. They showed their displeasure by refusing to buy British goods and by tarring and feathering customs officials (a painful procedure in which a person is covered with hot tar and sprinkled with feathers). The British government soon decided it needed to strengthen its armed forces in America.

Although the thousands of soldiers sent to the colonies by England were unable to restore order, their number was great enough to cause problems. When available military housing in Boston could not handle the additional troops, the British government insisted that colonists allow the British soldiers to stay in their homes. This demand was very unpopular and made matters worse. Americans continued to resist Parliament's claim that it had a right to tax them. In 1774 Parliament was discussing whether to remove a tax they had placed on tea, an item widely used by rich and poor Americans alike. Again, John Burgoyne opposed lifting the tax.

Leaves Lady Charlotte to fight in America

In February 1775 Parliament and King George III declared Massachusetts—where most of the colonial uproar was centered—to be in a state of rebellion. Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage was already in Boston, but Parliament did not think he could handle the increasingly dangerous situation there, so, Major-Generals William Howe (see entries), Henry Clinton, and Burgoyne were sent to Boston to support Gage. Burgoyne was not eager to make the trip because of his wife's frail health, and because the war was not popular in England.

In the mid-1770s the British Parliament was divided between those who thought the American colonists should be forced back into line under British rule and those who supported the colonists' desire to gain more freedom. The noted British politician William Pitt see entry the Elder headed the second group. Burgoyne tried to avoid taking sides in the matter so he would not offend important people like Pitt, but it was becoming harder to do because passions were so inflamed.

Burgoyne disappoints Gage

In May 1775 Burgoyne arrived in Boston with Howe and Clinton. Massachusetts was in a condition of extreme disorder, and to Gage's disappointment, Burgoyne proved to be of very little help. Parliament ordered Gage to proclaim martial law, under which military authorities ruled over regular citizens. Before doing as ordered, Gage made one last attempt to bring the colonists back into line. In a move that proved to be a big mistake, he called on Burgoyne to write a manifesto, a public declaration to the Americans describing what the British planned to do and why.

In the manifesto Burgoyne referred to the colonists as an "infatuated multitude" (people who are completely carried away by unreasoning passion) and cautioned them that such a "preposterous parade" as themselves could never hold back the British army. In the document the British offered free pardons to all colonists who would return home peaceably. But Burgoyne's choice of words angered the Americans and failed to persuade the majority of them to part company with their leaders, who were pushing for complete independence from Britain. In fact, his manifesto may have helped to increase the Americans' determination to stand up for their rights.

Meanwhile, life in Boston was proving to be very boring for British soldiers, who were both idle and unwelcome. To lessen his boredom, Burgoyne wrote a humorous play called "The Siege of Boston," which was presented in 1776 at Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Proposes new methods of warfare

Burgoyne noticed that the American fighting style involved moving quickly from one site to another, firing from hiding places behind trees or stone walls. He believed that to beat the Americans, British soldiers would have to abandon the European style of warfare, in which orderly lines of soldiers fired carefully controlled volleys (successions of shots).

Burgoyne proposed that British soldiers use movable cannons; cannon fire would then be followed by swarms of well-trained soldiers on foot. This was a new approach for the British and showed Burgoyne to be an innovative thinker.

Serves under Carleton; wife dies

In March 1776 British soldiers under General Howe were defeated in Boston by troops led by George Washington see entry. Trying to avoid total disaster in America, King George III then appointed General Burgoyne to serve as second in command to General Guy Carleton in Canada. Carleton's troops were defending the city of Quebec from attacks by colonists who wanted to make the area of Quebec part of the United States.

In May Burgoyne arrived in Canada with British soldiers he had rounded up on a 1775 trip home to England. He was joined there by German soldiers hired by King George III after a sufficient number of British volunteers could not be found. Shortly after Burgoyne's arrival in Canada his soldiers drove the weak American forces out of the city of Quebec and nearby areas. In October 1776 Burgoyne helped chase rebels westward to Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in New York.

Burgoyne's military concerns were overshadowed for a time by his own personal loss. On June 5, 1776, Charlotte, his wife of twenty-five years, died. Burgoyne was grief-stricken at her passing.

"Burgoyne's Offensive"

As the Revolutionary War was heating up, Burgoyne suggested a strategy that history refers to as "Burgoyne's Offensive," though some historians claim other men had proposed the same plan as early as 1775. Burgoyne proposed taking control of the Hudson River in northern New York State to prevent the Americans from moving men and supplies across the river to a place where British soldiers were fighting. According to the plan, troops traveling southward from Canada would meet in Albany, New York, with troops coming northward from New York City.

Burgoyne's strategy was approved by George III, but he did not receive the manpower he had requested. In March 1777 Burgoyne was placed in command of an invasion force that was only half the size he said he needed. Further trouble loomed when there was poor coordination between his efforts and those of Generals Clinton and Howe. From June through October 1777 Burgoyne and his men, numbering about 9,000, fought a series of battles called the Saratoga campaign.

Burgoyne captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York on July 6, but soon ran into serious problems brought on by his shortage of troops, overconfidence, the large numbers of the American enemy, and assorted errors. Disaster for the British was the result. Outnumbered, surrounded, and short of supplies, Burgoyne finally surrendered to American general Horatio Gates on October 17, 1777. This American victory is widely recognized as the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

Faces punishment; turns to politics and writing

In 1778 Burgoyne returned to England, where he faced harsh criticism for losing at Saratoga. A government committee formed to investigate his failures in America found him guilty of disobedience and neglect of duty, although he defended himself by arguing that he did not have enough supplies and men. King George III punished Burgoyne by taking away some of his military duties. This cut his income in half and ended his rise in the military. While trying to recover from the disappointment, he began courting a young singer named Susan Caulfield. He never married his companion, but she bore him four children. In the years that followed, Burgoyne continued to be active in politics and was known for his efforts to improve the treatment of soldiers.

Burgoyne spent most of his later life both attending and writing plays. In November 1774 his play Maid of the Oaks was produced in London and enjoyed moderate success. His humorous 1780 musical play The Lord of the Manor, which centered on life in the army, enhanced Burgoyne's writing reputation. His play The Heiress, produced in 1786, was witty and proved very popular. He followed this triumph in late 1786 by adapting an opera for the stage about the English king, Richard the Lionhearted (1157–1199), which was not very successful.

On August 4, 1792, shortly after returning home from a play, sixty-nine-year-old Burgoyne died, with Susan Caulfield at his bedside. Examining his career, historians agree that Burgoyne was more successful as an author than he had been as a soldier.

For More Information

Boatner, Mark M. "Burgoyne, John" and "Burgoyne's Offensive" in Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York: David McKay, 1994, pp. 130–43.

Dorson, Richard M. America Rebels: Narratives of the Patriots. New York: Pantheon, 1953.

Hudleston, F. J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1927.

Lunt, James. John Burgoyne of Saratoga. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975.

Tharp, Louise Hall. The Baroness and the General. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.

Maid of the Oaks

John Burgoyne's play Maid of the Oaks was presented in London in 1774. The project actually began as a masque, written and produced by Burgoyne to celebrate the marriage of his nephew, then Lord Stanley, to Lady Betty Hamilton. (A masque was a type of entertainment popular in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that featured lavish costumes, music, and dancing.)

Burgoyne spared no expense to ensure the success of the presentation for the young couple. He had a splendid ballroom erected in the garden of a mansion, and all the guests were to come costumed as famous characters from history. According to F. J. Hudleston in his biography Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, there was "an orangerie [a place where orange trees are grown], a concealed band of music, [young lovers] in fancy dress playing [a bowling game], shepherdesses swinging, with shrieks of apprehension and [swirling] petticoats … archery, dancing, and [maidens] kicking at a [tambourine] suspended from a tree." John Burgoyne served as the master of ceremonies.

With the help of famed producer David Garrick, Burgoyne revised the plot and the dialogue and the play was presented at London's famous Drury Lane Theatre on November 5, 1774. The plot, in the words of Burgoyne biographer James Lunt, centered on "a woman-about-town outwitting the gentlemen intent on her virtue, but there were one or two good songs, and a [fancy ball] to round off the performance." According to Lunt, the play "was given a respectable reception."

Burgoyne, John

views updated May 18 2018

Burgoyne, John

BURGOYNE, JOHN. (1723–1792). British general, politician, and playwright. Born at Westminster on 4 February 1723, Burgoyne was educated at Westminster School and was commissioned into the third troop of Horse Guards in 1737. He sold out in 1741 but finally became a cornet in the First Dragoons in 1747. He became a lieutenant in 1745 and a captain in 1747. In 1751 he eloped with his friend's sister, Lady Charlotte Stanley, daughter of the earl of Derby. Burgoyne again sold his commission and traveled in France and Italy with his wife until 1755. The following year, reconciled with Lord Derby, he bought a commission in the Eleventh Dragoons. After distinguished service at St. Malo in 1758, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and ordered to recruit the new Sixteenth Dragoons, one of the two light horse formations whose creation he had championed. In 1762, as a local brigadier general, he demonstrated exceptional light cavalry skills with a fifty-mile march culminating in a dawn charge at Valencia d'Alcantara. The city fell, a Spanish regiment was annihilated, and booty and numerous of prisoners were taken. More importantly, he secured the Tagus Valley, thus saving Lisbon from Spanish attack. Burgoyne ended the Seven Years' War as a full colonel and with recognition as a capable commander. "Gentleman Johnny" was also very popular among his men and wrote a manual for officers. In the late 1760s he made a tour of inspection of European armies and argued strongly for the creation of a superior British cavalry arm. In 1769 he became governor of Fort William in Scotland and a major general in 1772.

He was also active in politics. In 1761 he had been returned for Midhurst in Sussex. With a deep respect for parliamentary supremacy and convinced that basic liberties were not at stake, he supported both the Stamp Act and the Declaratory Act. With the death of his patron in 1768, he lost Midhurst but contested Preston in Lord Derby's interest. The seat had generally returned Tories, not administration Whigs like Burgoyne, and the election was a violent one. Burgoyne went canvassing with a pair of pistols, the Tory mayor rejected over 600 of his votes on the grounds that they were not cast by freemen, and Burgoyne was only seated after appealing to Parliament itself. He was also fined one thousand pounds for his armed campaigning. In 1772 he chaired a committee that investigated Robert Clive's Indian fortune and two years later supported the Coercive Acts. Appealing for a military role in America, in 1775 he became the junior of the three major generals appointed to support Thomas Gage at Boston.

The characteristics Burgoyne would exhibit in America were already evident when he left London. He was essentially a cavalry man, addicted to danger, drama, and dash. His runaway marriage, his addiction to reckless gambling, amateur acting, and efforts as a playwright—his debut, The Maid of the Oaks, had appeared in 1774—all pointed in the same direction. When he reached Boston with the others in May 1775, Gage asked him to compose a last appeal to the rebellious colonists: the result was a florid, overwritten epistle to "the deluded multitude," which probably did no good at all. Here was an officer for dramatic postures, not to mention bold schemes and risks, on a scale that only Charles Lord Cornwallis could rival. He was not a man in tune with William Howe and Henry Clinton's penchant for method and caution.


Boston meant an uncongenially passive role for Burgoyne: even at Bunker Hill, his participation was limited to providing artillery fire from across the water at Copp's Hill. He filled in the time by writing numerous letters home criticizing Gage and writing a farce, The Siege of Boston. At last he successfully applied for home leave and on reaching London in November presented Lord George Germain, the new secretary of state, with a memorandum entitled "Reflections on the War in America." In this document he urged the seizure of New York City and an advance overland to Albany from Quebec via Lake Champlain. The idea was to isolate New England, still supposed to be the real seat of the rebellion, and to interrupt the American movement of supplies and men to and from the middle colonies. The underlying agenda was, of course, to provide Burgoyne with a glamorous independent command.

The New York City part of the idea was sound and appealed to Germain's own thinking. The city was centrally placed, had a good harbor, and gave access to a major inland waterway, the Hudson River. The Canada-Lake Champlain end of the scheme, however, had just a spurious plausibility that could have convinced only someone who had never been there. Canada had to have serious reinforcements in any case to see off the American siege of Quebec. From there they might as well be used to invade New York along the line used, in reverse, by Abercromby and Amherst during the Seven Years' War. Looked at on a large-scale map, it appeared simple. Such an analysis, however, took insufficient account of the physical difficulties of the route or of the ease with which it could be blocked, at least temporarily, by enemy forts, troops, and flotillas. Finally, it failed to appreciate the fact that the main American communications could be more easily severed by securing the Hudson through a modest advance from New York City.

The immediate need was to reinforce Sir Guy Carleton against the American invasion that had confined him to Quebec. Germain, unaware that the real danger had passed, sent Burgoyne with ten thousand troops embarked in fifteen ships. They arrived in the St. Lawrence opposite Quebec in fifteen ships on 5 May 1776, enabling Carleton to lead a reconnaissance in force that routed the few remaining besiegers. Burgoyne served under Carleton in the expulsion of American forces from Canada, culminating in the destruction of the American flotilla at Valcour Island on Lake Champlain on 11-13 October. Carleton now judged it too late in the season to attack Ticonderoga and prudently withdrew from Crown Point. Disappointed, Burgoyne again returned to Britain to press his ideas on the ministry.

His memorandum to Lord North, "Thoughts for Conducting the War on the Side of Canada," called for no less than eight thousand regulars and German mercenaries, two thousand Canadian laborers, and at least one thousand Indians. His own objective was to be either Albany or, preferably, Rhode Island via the Connecticut River. He also wanted St. Leger to provide a diversion on the Mohawk River. The orders actually sent out to both Howe and Burgoyne, however, made it perfectly clear that Burgoyne was to expect no direct help from Howe unless Washington himself moved against Burgoyne and that his objective was to be Albany, not Rhode Island or the Connecticut River. He was not given as many troops as he wanted—7,251 British and German regulars—and he was allowed to recruit only 150 Canadian workmen and 500 Indians. None of this caused Burgoyne, or anyone else, the least anxiety before he left London in March 1777. Everyone on the British side underestimated the numbers and effectiveness of the rebel militia that could be brought to bear in the upper Hudson wilderness. In Canada he found that Carleton had assembled a powerful flotilla on Lake Champlain but had not found adequate numbers of horses and wagons, a critical shortcoming for an army needing to draw almost all its supplies from Canada. Recruitment of Indians, Canadians, and Loyalists had been disappointing. Even now it did not occur to Burgoyne that he might have bitten off more than he could chew.

At Saratoga on 7 October 1777 he found himself engulfed by American forces totaling over thirteen thousand and compelled to surrender. His opponent, Horatio Gates, agreed that the British army should be repatriated on condition that it did not serve again in North America.


Although the Continental Congress failed to honor this convention, Burgoyne was allowed to go home on parole, where he met a barrage of criticism. When he arrived on 13 May 1778, the king refused either to see him or give him a court-martial. He lost his colonelcy of the Sixteenth Dragoons and the Fort William governorship; in Parliament, questions were raised about the surrendered army, and it was suggested that Burgoyne should be sent back as a prisoner of war. His only supporters were the handful of Foxites, with their near-paranoid suspicion of executive power and urgent wish to embarrass the ministry.

Only now did Burgoyne begin to argue that he had absolutely inflexible instructions to reach Albany—so that the decision to persist rather than to retreat in good time had not been his to make—and had been given only half the troops he asked for. He also blamed Carleton for not supporting him properly and Howe for inattention to orders. He put this case quite ably to a parliamentary inquiry in 1779 and published it in State of the Expedition from Canada in 1780.

There is no doubt that Burgoyne was to some extent the author of his own misfortunes. There was something of the dashing cavalryman and gambler about his handling of the enterprise from beginning to end. A cautious, methodical general might have waited for more horses and better wagons, whereas Burgoyne was in the field within six weeks of arriving in Canada. Where a prudent commander might have withdrawn, Burgoyne crossed the Hudson. His attempts to shift the blame onto others are deeply unappealing. Yet the basic strategic decision belonged to Germain and the ministry and would probably have been taken even without Burgoyne's lobbying. He was certainly not the only candidate for the command. Carleton was slow to find land transport and resigned out of pique at not being given the command in June 1777. Howe's decision not to push up the Hudson was his alone. The actual balance of blame is unclear, and pursuit of it is probably futile. More important was the near-universal underestimate of the scale of the rebellion and the decision to fight a backwoods campaign far from British naval support.


The experience drove Burgoyne's politics in a liberal direction. The soldier who had championed the Coercive Acts and itched to draw his sword against the rebels now joined Fox and Sheridan in opposition to the war. In 1782 the former champion of Westminster's supremacy voted for the Rockingham ministry's grant of legislative independence to the Irish Parliament. His reward was to be made commander in chief and privy councillor in Ireland (as well as a colonelcy), a post he kept under the Fox-North coalition but resigned after the younger Pitt came to power in December 1783. He used his pen to satirize the Pitt administration and, in keeping with his earlier attack on Clive and the East India Company corruption, in 1788 he took part in the prosecution of Warren Hastings. Later still he was to welcome the French Revolution.


Burgoyne also resumed his literary career. The Maid of the Oaks had already been taken up and expanded by David Garrick; and turned into a modest Drury Lane success. He wrote a libretto for an opera and translated another, Richard Coeur de Lion, from the French. Neither was a popular triumph, but a comedy, The Heiress, was received as an incisive representation of contemporary upper-class society. It opened with thirty performances at Drury Lane, ran through ten editions in a year, and remained popular in Britain and Europe for fifty years.

His wife died in February 1776, and he never remarried. However, he began a long affair with a married actress, Susan Caulfield, by whom he had four children between 1782 and 1788. The four were brought up in Lord Derby's household, and the eldest became Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne (1782–1871).

John Burgoyne died suddenly on 4 June 1792, probably from the effects of gout,. and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 13 August.

SEE ALSO Boston Siege; Burgoyne's Offensive; Carleton, Guy; Champlain, Lake; Clinton, Henry; Cornwallis, Charles; Gage, Thomas; Gates, Horatio; Germain, George Sackville; Howe, William; Saratoga Surrender; St. Leger's Expedition.


Bowler, R. A. Logistics and the Failure of the British Army in North America, 1775–1783. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975.

Hargrove, R. J. General John Burgoyne. Newark: Delaware University Press, 1983.

Howson, Gerald. Burgoyne of Saratoga: A Biography. New York: Times Books, 1978.

Mackesy, Piers. The War for America, 1775–1783. London: Longman, 1964.

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990.

                                revised by John Oliphant

John Burgoyne

views updated Jun 27 2018

John Burgoyne

British general and statesman John Burgoyne (1723-1792) is mainly remembered for his disastrous campaign in the American Revolution, which ended in his surrender to the American forces in 1777.

The son of a British army captain, John Burgoyne received his education at Westminster and then went into the military. While still an impecunious junior officer, he eloped with the daughter of Lord Derby. After a brief period of ill will, there emerged a firm friendship between Burgoyne and his influential, noble father-in-law. During Derby's hostility, however, Burgoyne had been so poor that he had sold his commission, fled from his creditors to France, and there studied French literature and Continental military practices. After their reconciliation, Derby's influence enabled Burgoyne to return to military life.

In the Seven Years War (1756-1763), Burgoyne promoted the raising of light cavalry similar to some Continental forces. He drafted elaborate instructions advising his officers to deal with their men as "thinking beings." After action in France, he acquired favorable notice for his leadership of the Anglo-Portuguese forces in 1762. He was then promoted to a regular colonelcy—a mark as much of Derby's power as of Burgoyne's ability.

Burgoyne was long active in politics. He held a seat in the House of Commons from 1761 until his death. Although he occasionally joined the opposition, he generally enjoyed royal favor until 1777. In Commons he spoke frequently and showed considerable interest in the troubles of the East India Company. He received profitable military appointments. While differing on some issues with Lord North, he supported a repressive American policy.

After brief service in America, Burgoyne—visiting home—drew up plans for invading New York from Canada. In March 1777 he was named commander of an invasion force that was about half as strong as he had desired. There was little or no coordination of the efforts to be made between this army and the troops under Sir Henry Clinton and William Howe. Nonetheless, Burgoyne with great confidence—expressed in bombastic fashion—started his campaign with the capture of Ft. Ticonderoga in early July. He soon encountered unexpectedly heavy American resistance. Yet he persisted in moving his troops in a rather leisurely fashion, rather than marching rapidly toward Albany. Inadequate strength, overconfidence, general bumbling, the appearance of large numbers of Americans—all contributed to disaster for the British. Burgoyne belatedly realized that he was surrounded and outnumbered, unable either to advance or retreat. He surrendered at Saratoga on Oct. 17, 1777.

Burgoyne's defeat was followed by his apostasy from Lord North's ministry. Greeted with criticism at home, he replied by blaming others. He lost favor at court and went so far as to resign from military offices which had netted him £3,500 a year. Finding new friends among the supporters of Charles James Fox, he became a kind of opposition martyr, and his fate rose or fell along with the fortunes of Fox. He gained some position in 1782 but remained on the fringes of real power. Though a frequent speaker on military matters in Parliament, he made little impact on political life of the 1780s.

Instead, Burgoyne turned increasingly to literary and social pursuits. He mingled with theater friends and took as his mistress a popular singer. A series of stage successes culminated in The Heiress, a popular triumph after its first performance in 1786. More successful as an author than he had been as a soldier, Burgoyne died in London on June 4, 1792.

Further Reading

The standard, older biography of Burgoyne is E. B. de Fonblanque, Political and Military Episodes Derived from the Life and Correspondence of John Burgoyne (1876). A less substantial biography is Francis J. Hudleston, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne (1927). Howard H. Peckham, The War for Independence: A Military History (1958), provides a general military perspective.

Additional Sources

Glover, Michael, General Burgoyne in Canada and America: scapegoat for a system, London: Gordon & Cremonesi; New York: distributed by Atheneum Publishers, 1976.

Hargrove, Richard J., General John Burgoyne, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983.

Howson, Gerald, Burgoyne of Saratoga: a biography, New York: Times Books, 1979.

Lunt, James D., John Burgoyne of Saratoga, London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1976.

Mintz, Max M., The generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne & Horatio Gates, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Paine, Lauran, Gentleman Johnny: the life of General John Burgoyne, London: Hale, 1973. □

Burgoyne, John

views updated May 23 2018

Burgoyne, John (1723–1792), British Revolutionary War general.Burgoyne was rumored to be the natural son of Lord Bingley. His Seven Years' War exploits in France and Portugal (and his marriage to the Earl of Derby's daughter) propelled him to major general by 1772. Assigned to help Gen. Thomas Gage put down the New England rebellion in 1775, he directed artillery fire from Boston at the Battle of Bunker Hill; he then intrigued against Gage and politicked for command of an army to invade from Canada, isolating New England from the Middle Colonies.

In spring 1777, Burgoyne took command of an expeditionary force of about 8,000, planning to meet a force that was to march north from New York City at Albany. He captured Fort Ticonderoga, but failed to seize supplies at Bennington and lost contact with his Canadian base of supply when he crossed the Hudson (13 September) dismantling the bridge of boats behind him. Burgoyne marched on, hoping to join the forces of Maj. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton. Instead, he confronted Horatio Gates's army at the two Battles of Saratoga, and surrendered on 17 October 1777. Burgoyne was allowed to return to England, where he resumed his seat in Parliament and blamed Secretary of State for the colonies Lord George Germain for his defeat. A commander of unusual humanity, Burgoyne pioneered the employment of light cavalry; as a strategist, he (like many British officers) unwisely underrated American determination.
[See also Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Gerald Howson , Burgoyne of Saratoga, 1979.
Richard J. Hargrove, Jr. , General John Burgoyne, 1983.

Max M. Mintz

Burgoyne, John

views updated Jun 08 2018

Burgoyne, John (1723–92). Soldier and playwright. Of an impecunious Bedfordshire gentry family, Burgoyne was reputed to be the natural son of Lord Bingley. His career began with a runaway marriage to Lady Charlotte Stanley, daughter of the earl of Derby. The following year Burgoyne joined the army, retired in the 1750s, but rejoined at the start of the Seven Years War, serving with distinction in Portugal. In 1761 he was brought into Parliament for Midhurst, transferring in 1768 to Preston, a noisy open borough where the Stanleys had influence. He was fined £1,000 for violent conduct and was lucky to keep his seat. He spoke often in the House, shone in society, wrote verse and plays, and acquired the nickname ‘Gentleman Johnny’. His big chance came with the war against America. The ambitious expedition from Canada down the Hudson valley was his own plan and he was appointed to the command. After a bright start, he was forced to surrender at Saratoga in October 1777. He returned to England to clear his name, declared that he was a scapegoat, and became a vocal member of the opposition. When the Rockinghams took office in 1782 he was made commander-in-chief Ireland, resigning in 1784. He remained an active member of the Commons and in 1786 scored a stage success with The Heiress. Horace Walpole called him ‘General Swagger’ and wrote that ‘he had a half-understanding, which was worse than none’.

J. A. Cannon

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John Burgoyne

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