Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burgoyne, John (1722-1792)

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BURGOYNE, JOHN (1722–1792), dramatist and general, was the only son of, Captain John Burgoyne, a man of fashion, who died in the rules of the king's bench, and grandson of Sir John Burgoyne, bart., of Sutton Park, Bedfordshire. He was educated at Westminster School, where he made friends with Lord Strange, eldest son of the Earl of Derby, who at every important crisis in his life was his faithful friend. Burgoyne became a cornet in the 13th light dragoons in 1740, and purchased a lieutenancy in 1741, when the regiment was stationed at Preston. From Preston he frequently went over to Knowsley to see his old schoolfellow, and his intimacy there culminated in his elopement; with Lady Charlotte Stanley, the sister of Lord Strange, in 1743. The lady's brother was quite content with the match, but her father was so angry that he only gave her a small sum of money, and declared he would never see her again. With this money Burgoyne bought a captaincy in the 13th dragoons, and for three years Captain and Lady Charlotte Burgoyne spent a very pleasant life in London. At the end of that period, however, they were so overwhelmed with debt that he sold his commission, and they retired to live quietly in France on the proceeds of the sale. They settled down in a little cottage near Chanteloup, the seat of Choiseul, and during seven years of exile Captain Burgoyne made himself a master of the French language and literature, and obtained a good insight into contemporary politics and the condition of continental armies. He was meanwhile reconciled to his father-in-law, the eleventh earl of Derby, who subsequently left Lady Charlotte Burgoyne 25,000l. and an annuity of 400l. He returned to England, and by Lord Derby's interest obtained in 1756, on the outbreak of the seven years' war, a captaincy in the llth dragoons, which he exchanged in May 1758 for a captaincy and lieutenant-colonelcy in the Coldstream guards. He now first saw service in the expeditions to Cherbourg and St. Malo in 1758 and 1759, and in the latter year he proposed to the Horse Guards to raise a regiment of light horse. Light cavalry were really unknown in England at this time. Burgoyne had heard much on the continent of the famous Pandours and Cossacks and of the Prussian hussars, and he propounded a scheme for raising two regiments of light horse. They were raised in August 1759 by Lieutenant-colonel Eliott, afterwards Lord Heathfield, and Burgoyne, were approved, and were named the King's Light Dragoons and the Queen's Light Dragoons respectively. After this success he was elected M. P. for Midhurst in 1761, and in 1762 was sent to Portugal as brigadier-general under Count la Lippe Buckeburg, to assist the Portuguese against Spain. The transports anchored in the Tagus on 6 May 1762, and Burgoyne received the command of the outposts. He stormed the town of Valencia d'Alcantara in July, taking three standards and a general, and on 5 Oct. stormed the entrenched camp of Villa Velha, which closed the campaign.

In 1768 he was elected M. P. for Preston, through the Derby influence, with free leave to say what he liked, and began as a candid friend of the ministry. His chief subjects were foreign policy and the war office, and his most successful speeches were against the government on the Falkland Isles in 1771, and on the government of India in 1772. This India motion is the most striking proof of his ability as a statesman, and in his motion for a select committee, on 13 April 1772, he proposed the principle, afterwards incorporated into the India bills of Pitt and Fox, that some government control should be instituted over the proceedings of the East India Company. When the report of the committee was brought up, on 3 May 1773, he made a violent attack on Lord Clive, and brought about his condemnation by the House of Commons, though Wedderburn managed to keep off an impeachment. Burgoyne was a member of all the fashionable clubs, a friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, an amateur actor, and a reckless gambler. In 1774 he wrote a play, the 'Maid of the Oaks,' which was acted at his seat, the Oaks, near Epsom, on the occasion of the marriage of his wife's nephew, then Lord Stanley, to Lady Betty Hamilton. In 1775 Garrick brought it out at Drury Lane, with Mrs. Abington in the chief role. Like Burgoyne's other efforts, the play is rather tedious to read. His political career, though it brought down the anger of Junius, won him favour at court, in spite of occasional flashes of independence, and he was made colonel-commandant of the 16th light dragoons in 1763, governor of Fort William in Scotland in 1768, and major-general in 1772, when his income from these military appointments amounted to 3,500l. a year, on the strength of which he spent considerably more.

In September 1774 Burgoyne was sent out to America to reinforce General Gage. It was with the utmost reluctance that Burgoyne consented to leave his invalid wife (see his curious private memorandum on his appointment in Fonblanque's Political and Military Episodes, 120-35). He arrived at Boston in May 1775, and at once heard the news of the skirmish at Lexington. From the moment of his arrival Burgoyne was chafed by his forced inaction, and he bitterly complains that, owing to the number of generals and brigadiers, he had nothing to do. He occupied himself in a correspondence with the American general Lee, who had served with him in Portugal, and in writing home letters of bitter complaint. He witnessed the battle of Bunker's Hill, and returned home in disgust in November 1775. It was then determined to attack the colonists at once in the south, in New England, and in Canada. Burgoyne was attached to Sir Guy Carleton, the commander-in-chief in Canada, as second in command. He reached Canada in June 1776, the very month in which Lady Charlotte Burgoyne died, and found Carleton in command of 12,000 men. With him Burgoyne advanced, and, after a naval battle with a newly built flotilla on Lake Champlain, occupied Crown Point and reconnoitred Ticonderoga. Disgusted at Carleton's inaction, Burgoyne returned home, and at the request of the prime minister drew up a plan of campaign for the next year. He proposed that an army of 12,000 men, accompanied by 2,000 Canadians as guides and pioneers, and 1,000 Indians as scouts, should advance from Canada, take Ticonderoga, and then advance for two hundred miles through the forests to Albany in the state of New York, where a junction should be formed with a division from the army of Sir William Howe. His energy impressed the king and the ministry, and he returned to America in the spring of 1777 with supreme command of a force to make this march. On his arrival he soon found that his army would not consist of the 12,000 soldiers he had expected, and he eventually started, after issuing a bombastic proclamation, with only 6,400 soldiers and 649 Indians, from the Three Rivers in May 1777. The army was far too small, and not well found in stores and ammunition; but it was full of enthusiasm, and he was well supported by his officers. His advance was at first successful, and after reoccupying Crown Point he took Ticonderoga on 6 July, after six days' siege. The king wished to confer the order of the Bath on Burgoyne; and when Lord Derby refused this on his behalf, he insisted on promoting him lieutenant-general on 29 Aug. 1777. Burgoyne slowly moved forward after too much delay. He failed in his attack on a small American force at Bennington, and then crossed the Hudson. But difficulties accumulated; Arnold cut off his retreat, and Schuyler, with 16,000 men, blocked his advance. He was disheartened by the news that the force under Clinton had not stirred; yet he determined to keep on advancing. Schuyler continued to retreat before him, until he was superseded by Gates, who believed the time was come to stand at bay. Accordingly, on 24 Sept., Burgoyne found the American army, of nearly 20,000 men, strongly entrenched on Behmus' Heights, and immediately attacked it, though his own troops were reduced to 5,000 men. The attack was futile, and he had to attempt to retreat. But the American general would not allow him to escape; he harassed every mile of his retreat, and at last surrounded him at Saratoga. All Burgoyne's provisions and ammunition were expended, and he found himself obliged to surrender to Gates on 17 Oct. 1777.

Burgoyne at once obtained leave from General Washington in a most courteous letter (Fonblanque, p. 214) to return to England, and had to face a storm of disapprobation. In the House of Commons he found no friends but Charles James Fox and his immediate supporters, and on 26 May 1778 had to answer a motion by Mr. Vyner, 'to condemn the state and condition of the army which surrendered at Saratoga,' in which he asked why Burgoyne had been allowed to return to England. He defended himself in an able speech, which he afterwards published; but a select committee to examine the state of the army was appointed by a large majority. He had also to meet the anonymous attacks of the public press, and published his 'State of the Expedition from Canada, as laid before the House of Commons by Lieutenant-general Burgoyne and verified by Evidence,' in which he proved that his army was one-half the size he had demanded, and in every way badly provided. The attacks on him continued; and after pretending to order him to return to America as a prisoner of war, which he refused to do, the king deprived him of the command of the 16th light dragoons and of his government of Fort William, and he was thus left with only his pay as a general officer. This conduct threw him more and more into the hands of the opposition. His support was warmly received. Fox and Sheridan insisted that he was an ill-used man, whose defeat was due to the incapacity of the ministry; and when the whigs returned to power under Lord Rockingham, Burgoyne, on 7 June 1782, was made commander-in-chief in Ireland, and a privy councillor there, and colonel of the 4th regiment. He went out of power with Fox on the fall of the coalition ministry in December 1783, and helped with his pen to turn Pitt's administration into ridicule. He contributed to the 'Rolliad' and the 'Probationary Odes,' and wrote nearly the whole of the witty but bitter and scurrilous 'Westminster Guide.' But the friends of Fox had commenced a long period of exclusion from office, and Burgoyne withdrew more and more from politics and confined himself to the literary and social life, in which he shone, and made practically his last political appearance as a manager of the impeachment of Warren Hastings in 1787.

His love for the stage and his success with the 'Maid of the Oaks' turned his mind especially to dramatic writing, and in 1780 was produced the comic opera, 'The Lord of the Manor,' for which he wrote the libretto, founded on Marmontel's 'Sylvain,' Jackson of Exeter writing the music. This was followed by his translation of Sédaine's libretto to Grétry's opera, 'Richard Cœur-de-Lion,' in 1785, and by his comedy, 'The Heiress,' in 1786. In this play, which was written at Knowsley and dedicated to Lord Derby, Miss Farren made her great success and charmed the heart of Lord Derby, who afterwards married her. Burgoyne himself had formed a connection with Susan Caulfield, a popular singer, by whom he had four children between 1782 and 1788, who were brought up by Lord Derby. 'The Heiress' had a marvellous success, went through ten editions in a year, was translated into French, German, Italian, and Spanish, and is to be found in Villemain's 'Chefs d'œuvres du Théâtre Étranger.' Of it Horace Walpole says, 'Burgoyne's battles and speeches will be forgotten; but his delicious comedy of the "Heiress" still continues the delight of the stage, and one of the most pleasing domestic compositions.' The idea of the 'Heiress' was taken from Mrs. Lennox's novel 'Henrietta' (Fonblanque, pp. 401-6). Burgoyne did not long survive this last success; and after being present at the Haymarket Theatre in good health on 3 June 1792, he died suddenly next day at his house in Halford Street, Mayfair. and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 13 Aug.

[For life: Political and Military Episodes derived from the Life and Correspondence of the Right Hon. John Burgoyne, General, Statesman, and Dramatist, by E. B. de Fonblanque, 1875. For works: The Dramatic and Poetical Works of the late Lieutenant-general John Burgoyne, 2 vols. 1808. For American campaigns: Ordinary histories of the United States; Creasy's Decisive Battles of the World; Max von Eelking's Das Leben des Generals Reidesel, Leipzig, 1856; the Orderly Book of Lieutenant-general John Burgoyne, edited by E. B. O'Callaghan, M. D., Albany, N.Y., 1860; Lieutenant-general John Burgoyne and the Convention of Saratoga, by Charles Deane, Worcester, N.Y., 1878; also the following contemporary tracts: The Substance of General Burgoyne's Speeches on Mr. Vyner's Motion, 26 May, and Mr. Hutt's, 28 May 1778, with an Appendix containing General Washington's Letter to General Burgoyne, 1778; A Letter from Lieutenant-general Burgoyne to his Constituents, upon his late Resignation, with Correspondence between him and the Secretaries of War relative to his Return to America, 1779; A State of the Expedition from Canada, as laid before the House of Commons and verified by Evidence, 1779; Remarks on General Burgoyne's State of the Expedition from Canada, 1780.]

H. M. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.43
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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341 i 5 Burgoyne, John (1722-1792): for 1768 read 1769