Last updated: October 8, 2022
The man known as "Gentleman Johnny" to his peers was born in 1722, a descendent of the Lancashire family.
He was educated in his youth at the Westminster School. In 1740, he became a cornet in the 13th Light Dragoons and bought a lieutenant's commission the next year.
In 1743, the young gentleman eloped with Lady Charlotte; sister of a close friend from Westminster and daughter to the Earl of Derby. Her father was not pleased and gave them a small amount of money as a dismissal from the family. With this, Burgoyne purchased a captaincy in the 13th Dragoons. However, after a short while, their money was gone and the commission had to be sold. The couple moved to France just to get by.
After seven years in financial exile Burgoyne had mastered the French language and literature. His father-in-law had also come to see family in a different light and worked to get John a captaincy in the 11th Dragoons. In 1758, Burgoyne trade that for a commission as a captain and Lt. Col. in the Coldstream Guard. Between his military prowess and Lord Derby's influence, Burgoyne became an important part in the British campaign against the French coast during the Seven Years/French and Indian War. He was also the key figure in the formation of the first two British light horse regiments, one of which he was given command in 1759. For the rest of the war he lead these men in a brilliant and just manor earning the nickname "Gentleman Johnny" from his soldiers for his leadership.
During this time he also served in the Parliament and was considered a true politician, helping to bring about reform in the East India Company with the Regulating Act. He was also considered a reckless gambler, an amateur actor, a playwright, but still true to the Tory cause.
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, in 1775, Burgoyne was shipped to Boston with Gen. Wm. Howe and Henry Clinton to help British Gen. Gage assess the situation in the harbor. He became more of a hindrance that a help, however, becoming the over-eager butt of American and British jokes and over-analyzing Gage's tactics to the point of discredit. Before shipping back to England in November 1775 he witnessed the Battle of Bunker/Breed's Hill first hand.
In May 1776, Burgoyne was sent back with just enough men to halt the American invasion force at Quebec. While participating in the Battle of Valcour Island he began to envision the workings of a New York invasion, the Campaign of 1777. His campaign began well early in the summer of 1777 with the hopes that Gen. Howe (already in New York City) and Barry St. Leger (coming from the west through the Mohawk Valley) would be able to successfully divide the colony in half and meet him at Albany, NY. His branch quickly made it to the area of Stillwater, NY by September, never knowing the other two commanders would not be making the rendezvous. After two hard fought battles in the next month, Burgoyne surrendered his army of 6,000 men to the American Gen. Horatio Gates on October 17. After his parole back to England and much controversy he was able to convince his peers that much of the blame lay with others for lack of proper planning and support of his plan.
He was returned to some power throughout the British Empire in the years to follow but began to retreat more into his private life, focusing on the writing and release of his plays. The most famous of these is The Heiress. In 1776, his wife Lady Charlotte died, yet Lord Derby continued to raise four of Burgoyne's children from illegitimate relationships. The eldest of which, Sir John Fox Burgoyne, went to participate in the Battle of New Orleans.
Seemingly healthy the day before, John Burgoyne died on June 4, 1792. On August 13 he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.