First Foot Guards

General John Burgoyne 
"Gentleman Johnny" 1722-1792
The life and times of a gentleman soldier

His plays
The pub

Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 
Now in the Frick Collection, NYC
Frick Collection

This portrait may have been commissioned by his senior officer, Count La Lippe, as a memento of their Portuguese campaign of 1762. It is presumably the portrait that resulted from a sitting by General Burgoyne noted in Reynolds’ ledger for May of 1766.
Burgoyne’s uniform is that of the 16th Light Dragoons as it was worn until that month. The composition, with the dashing figure silhouetted before a low horizon and cloudy sky, was to become a classic type in Romantic portraiture.

Although he lived to hear of the Yorktown surrender, the Revolution had not ended before Burgoyne died, at age 70. He was buried with hero's honors in Westminster Abbey, where his stone can be seen to this day in the North Cloister under a simple stone. He was born in 1722 in Sutton, in the county of Bedfordshire, baptized at St Margaret's Westminster, and educated at Westminster School, joining the army in 1740 at the age of 15. He served in Portugal during the Seven Years War 1756–1763 (the French and Indian War in America 1754–1760).

Burgoyne was a bon-viveur, gambler and playwright, who served in Parliament, had some successes in the army, but often disagreed with those in command of him. Horace Walpole said that he "had more sail than ballast".

In 1743 he eloped with the 11th Earl of Derby's daughter (Stanley family), and they lived in France for several years to escape enormous debts.

He attained the rank of Major General in 1772, and arrived in Boston in May of that year with Generals William Howe and Henry Clinton, where he was witness to the Battle of Bunker Hill.


Major-General Sir John Burgoyne to Lord Stanley (Burgoyne's nephew)
June 1775

The action of the 17th establishes the ascendancy of the King's troops though opposed by more than treble numbers. It comprised, though in a small compass, almost every branch of military duty and curiosity. Troops landed in the face of the enemy; a fine disposition; a march sustained by a powerful cannonade from moving field artillery, fixed batteries, floating batteries, and broadsides of ships at anchor, all operating separately and well disposed; a deployment from the march to form for the attack of the entrenchments and redoubt; a vigorous defence; a storm with bayonets; a large and fine town set on fire by shells. Whole streets of houses, ships upon the stocks, a number of churches, all sending up volumes of smoke and flame, or falling together in ruin, were capital objects. A prospect of the neighbouring hills, the steeples of Boston, and the masts of such ships as were unemployed in the harbour, all crowded with spectators, friends, and foes, alike in anxious suspense, made a background to the piece. It was great, it was high spirited, and while the animated impression remains, let us quit it.


Frustrated by his lack of authority in Boston, he left for London, where he caused the recall of General Thomas Gage by writing letters of criticism to his superiors.

He was elected to Parliament in 1761 and achieved prominence in 1772 by demanding an investigation of the East India Company.

He persuaded King George and the Prime Minister to let him lead an invasion from Canada. His plan: "My Thoughts for Conducting the War from the Side of Canada" was to be put into execution by Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the Colonies 1775-1782.

Burgoyne detailed an advance of three columns to meet in Albany, New York. He was to lead the main column, moving southward along the Hudson River. A second column under General Barry St. Leger was to serve as a diversionary attack, moving eastward from Canada along the Mohawk River. General Howe was expected to direct the third element of the attack: General Henry Clinton, under the direction of Howe, would move northward along the Hudson River and link up with Burgoyne in Albany. Through this campaign, Burgoyne hoped to isolate New England from the other rebellious colonies. On paper it was the perfect plan, and Burgoyne was confident of its success. When he left London, he wrote in a betting book at a smart London club "John Burgoyne pony (fifty guineas) that he will be home victorious from America by Christmas Day, 1777." Indeed, Burgoyne was to return, but loaded with calumny.


The plan started successfully, with British victories at Ticonderoga and Hubbardton. Burgoyne's army continually pushed back the Americans southward along the Hudson River with only minor casualties. The Battle of Bennington marked the first real American victory, when General John Stark led the American militia to victory against a British supply expedition.

Regarding the Americans contempt after defeating them in the north, Burgoyne pushed down with 7000 men from Ticonderoga with troops made up of Regulars, German troops, Loyalists who fled to Canada, and Indian allies.

However, the roads were no more than crude trails, and the undergrowth was dense, so the going was rough and slow, and he was impeded by Gates' men who felled huge trees across the creeks and brooks, damming them and flooding the low-lying ground, and destroying crops in his path.


General Philip Schuyler detached 1000 men under the command of Major General Benedict Arnold to move west and attack St. Leger's eastward advance along the Mohawk River. Arnold returned triumphant after this battle at Oriskany, in time to serve in the Battle of Saratoga.

At the Battle of Freeman's Farm (First Battle of Saratoga 19 September 1777), the new commander of the Northern Department of the American army, General Horatio Gates, lost an indecisive battle. American forces lost ground to the Burgoyne. Disagreements led to argument between Gates and Arnold, and Gates relieved Arnold of command as a result. This incident soured Arnold, with consequences that are well known.

In the Battle of Bemis Heights (Second battle of Saratoga 7 October 1777) Burgoyne desperately attacked rebel defenses with his tired, demoralized army. However Gates' defensive tactics insured a tactical victory.

Arnold saw an opportunity to seize the offensive while Burgoyne was vulnerable and led a bold counterattack that severely mauled the British forces.

In a letter to his nieces:
Albany, 20 October 1777

There are few situations in a military life exposed to more personal hazard than I have lately undergone. I have been surrounded with enemies, ill-treated by pretended friends, abandoned by a considerable part of my own army, totally unassisted by Sir William Howe.... Under perpetual fire, and exhausted with laborious days, and 16 almost sleepless nights, without change of clothes, or other covering than the sky. I have been with my army within the jaws of famine; shot through my hat and waistcoat, my nearest friends killed round me; and from these combined misfortunes and escapes, I imagine I am reserved to stand a war with ministers who will always lay the blame upon the employed who miscarries.

In all these complicated anxieties, believe me, my dear girls, my heart has a large space filled with you; and I will bring it home, when God shall permit, as replete with affection as when I left you.

His letter belies the fact that he was also traveling with thirty carts of personal belongings, a supply of wine and a his pretty Loyalist mistress.

However, he had been assured of Howe's support.

Genl Burgoyne

New York
July 17th, 1777

Dear Sir,
I have received yours of the 2d inst on the 15th, have since heard from the Rebel Army of your being in possession of Ticonderoga, which is a great Event carried without loss.

I have rec'd your two letters viz. Quebec your last of the 14th of May, & shall observe the contents. There is a report of a messenger of yours to me having been taken, & the letter discover'd in a double wooded canteen, you will know of any consequence; nothing of it has --- to us. I will observe in writing to you, as you propose in your letters to me. Washington is waiting our motions here, & has detached Sullivan with about 2500 men, as I learn, to Albany. My intention is for Pensilvania where I expect to meet Washington, but if he goes to the Northw'd and you can keep him at Bay, be assured I shall soon be after him to relieve you. After your arrival in Albany, movements of the Enemy will guide yours; but my wishes are that the Enemy be drove out of this Province before any operation takes place in Conecticut.

Sir Hen'y Clinton remains in the command here, & will act as occurrences may direct.

Putnam is in the Highlands with about 4000 men.

Success be ever with you.



Henry Clinton to John Burgoyne
10 August1777

You will have heard, Dr Sir I doubt not long before this can have reached you that Sir W. Howe is gone from hence. The Rebels imagine that he is gone to the Eastward. By this time however he has filled Chesapeak bay with surprize and terror.

Washington marched the greater part of the Rebels to Philadelphia in order to oppose Sir Wm's. army. I hear he is now returned upon finding none of our troops landed but am not sure of this, great part of his troops are returned for certain. I am sure this countermarching must be ruin to them. I am left to command here, half of my force may I am sure defend everything here with much safety.
I shall therefore send Sir W. 4 or 5 Bat'ns.

I have too small a force to invade the New England provinces; they are too weak to make any effectual efforts against me and you do not want any diversion in your favour. I can, therefore very well spare him 1500 men. I shall try some thing certainly towards the close of the year, not till then at any rate. It may be of use to inform you that report says all yields to you. I own to you that I think the business will quickly be over now. Sr. W's move just at this time has been capital. Washingtons have been the worst he could take in every respect.

Sincerely give you much joy on your success
and am with great Sincerity your --



Howe had written to Germain that his main effort in 1777 was the capture of Philadelphia. In return, Germain had in fact not provided orders for Howe outlining his new role in support of Burgoyne: a serious error which set in train the surrender of Burgoyne's forces at Saratoga.

In the first Battle at Saratoga, referred to by historians as Freeman's Farm, the British lost two men for every one American casualty. In terms of ground gained both sides fought to a draw. The second battle known as Bemis Heights, British losses were four to one, and the rebels' victory was overwhelming.

Exhausting his food and ammunition and receiving no aid from Howe (who chose to fight in Pennsylvania) or St. Leger (who was defeated at Oriskany and withdrew westward), Burgoyne had to surrender to Gates' greatly superior forces north of Saratoga Springs on 17 October 1777.

"The fortunes of war have made me your prisoner," said Burgoyne as he handed over his sword to Horatio Gates. "I shall always be ready to testify that it was through no fault of your excellency," Gates replied.

Terms of an honorable surrender were worked out after protracted negotiations. Burgoyne officially surrendered on October 17 
(First four articles only are reproduced here):


Between Lieutenant-General Burgoyne and Major General Gates

Article I
The troops under Lieutenant-general Burgoyne, to march out of their camp with the honours of war, and the artillery of the entrenchments, to the verge of the river where the old fort stood, where the arms and artillery are to be left; the arms to be piled by word of command from their own officers.

Article II
A free passage to be granted to the army under Lieutenant-general Burgoyne to Great Britain, on condition of not serving again in North America during the present contest; and the port of Boston is assigned for the entry of transports to receive the troops, whenever General Howe shall so order.

Article III
Should any cartel take place, by which the army under General Burgoyne, or any part of it, may be exchanged, the foregoing article to be void as far as such exchange shall be made.

Article IV
The army under Lieutenant-general Burgoyne, to march to Massachusetts Bay, by the easiest, most expeditious, and convenient route; and to be quartered in, near, or as convenient as possible to Boston, that the march of the troops may not be delayed, when transports arrive to receive them.

There are more articles, but not all of such relevance

Saratoga was the turning point in the American War of Independence, giving the French the impetus to invest money and materiel in the revolutionary state. Britain's loss at Saratoga proved disastrous, signaling to the European powers that the rebels were capable of defeating the English on their own. More than any other event, it proved to be decisive in determining the final outcome of the War.

The Trumbull painting

This painting shows Burgoyne attended by General Phillips, and followed by other officers, arriving at the tent of General Gates where some of the officers of the American army are gathered. In the background, artistically organized behind the heads of the surrounding figures is a line of unarmed British troops. Trumbull planned this picture as early as 1786, but it was not executed until sometime after April 1790.

Paroled along with his troops, Burgoyne returned to England, he returned to London, and was severely criticized for his surrender. Such criticism was not always inevitable: Cornwallis was well received in London after Yorktown, and went on to an illustrious career in the government service.

Briefly he re-entered politics, and was appointed Commander in Chief 
for Ireland 1782-83.

After 1783 he devoted himself to literary and social life. His first play, Maid of the Oaks (1774), enjoyed some success, and his last play, The Heiress (1786), 
proved quite popular.

As is appropriate for a bon-viveur, a man named after a wine-producing region of France, and for English tastes in booze, there is a pub named for him:

The artistic works of Burgoyne

On returning from Boston he wrote an opera in 1780, in 1774 he published the play The Maid of the Oaks, a cheerful comedy of country life and in 1786 a financially and artistically successful play, The Heiress. It cleverly combined the features of a comedy of manners and those of a comedy of pathos, and was preferred by some critics even to Sheridan's The School for Scandal.

Burgoyne figures as a character in George Bernard Shaw's play The Devil's Disciple (1900), about a clever twist of personal circumstances set amidst the American Revolution. It contrasts private motives of greed and acquisitiveness against aspirations for liberty, independence and self-sacrifice.

Books on Burgoyne

A new publication:
General Burgoyne's Saratoga Campaign, June-October 1777
by Stuart Murray

7" x 10"; 128 pages; Numerous illustrations and maps; Index.
ISBN 1-884592-03-1 Paperback: $14.95.

Burgoyne's point of view as the campaign progresses is expressed from dispatches to Lord George Germain, British Colonial Secretary, addresses to his army, and exchanges with friends and fellow officers. Maps, sketches, engravings, and contemporary portraits depict the Lake Champlain-Hudson River Valley corridor from St.-Jean's to Saratoga; General Burgoyne, individual uniformed soldiers, the Baron and Baroness von Riedesel, and the death and burial of Simon Fraser. Index

Billias, George Athan. "John Burgoyne: Ambitious General." George Washington's Generals and Opponents: Their Exploits and Leadership. New York: De Capo Press, 1994, pp. 142-92.
De Fonblanque, Edward Barrington. Political and Military Episodes in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Derived from the life and correspondence of the Right Hon. John Burgoyne, general, statesman, dramatist.. London: Macmillan and co., 1876
Dictionary of National Biography. 63 vols. London, 1885-1901. Vol. VII, pp. 340-342.
Gerson, Noel Bertram. The man who lost America: a biography of Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne. New York: Dial Press, 1973.
Howson, Gerald. Burgoyne of Saratoga: a biography. New York: Times Books, c1979.
Hudleston, Francis Josiah Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne. London: J. Cope, 1928.
Lunt, James D. John Burgoyne of Saratoga. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne & Horatio Gates. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, c1990.
Paine, Lauran. Gentleman Johnny: the life of General John Burgoyne. London: Hale, 1973.

An interesting article on Sir William Howe


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