JOHN BURGOYNE, the natural son of Lord Bingley, entered the army at an early age; and, while quartered with his regiment at Preston, married Lady Charlotte Stanley, whose father, the Earl of Derby, was so incensed at the match, that he threatened utterly to discard her; but a reconciliation at length took place, and the earl allowed her £300 a year during his life, and, by his will, bequeathed her a legacy of £25,000. The influence of the family to which Burgoyne had thus become allied, tended materially to accelerate his professional advance. In 1762, he acted as brigadier-general of the British forces which were sent out for the defence of Portugal against France and Spain. An advanced body of the enemy's troops being stationed at Valentia de Alcantara, a town situate on the frontiers, where it was supposed they had collected a quantity of warlike stores, Burgoyne was despatched with orders, if possible, to surprise and storm the place. In this important enterprise, he was completely successful: one of the best regiments in the Spanish service was destroyed, and twenty of the enemy's officers were taken, besides the general who was to have commanded in the meditated invasion of Portugal. Soon afterwards, while posted near a camp at Villa Velha, composed of a considerable body of the French and Spanish cavalry, perceiving, it is said, "that they kept no very soldierly guard," he detached Colonel Lee, with a small force, to fall upon their rear during the night; Burgoyne himself, at the same time, made a feint attack upon another quarter, which prevented them from being relieved by any of their adjacent posts. The whole operation appears to have been conducted with considerable skill; numbers of the enemy being slaughtered, and the remainder completely dispersed, with but a trifling loss on the part of the British. This advantage, obtained at a critical moment, compelled the Spaniards to fall back on their own frontiers, and terminated the campaign.
In 1775, Burgoyne was appointed to a command in America; whence he returned in the following year, and held a long conference with the king on colonial affairs. Resuming his post, in 1777, he addressed a proclamation to the native Indians, in which he invited them to his standard, but deprecated with due severity the cruel practice of scalping. The pompous turgidity of style in which this address was couched, excited the ridicule of the Americans, and procured for General Burgoyne the soubriquet of Chrononhotonthologos. His first operations were successful: he dislodged the enemy from Ticonderago and Mount Independence, and took one hundred and twenty-eight pieces of cannon, all their armed vessels and batteries, as well as a considerable part of their baggage, ammunition, provisions, and military stores. But his subsequent career was truly disastrous: his troops suffered much from bad roads, inclement weather, and a scarcity of provisions; the Indians, who had previously assisted him, deserted; and the Americans, under General Gates, surrounded him with a superior force, to which, although victorious in two engagements, he was, at length, compelled to capitulate, at Saratoga, with the whole of his army. This event, which rendered him equally odious to ministers and the people, was, for some time, the leading topic of the press; and numberless lampoons appeared, in which the general's conduct was most severely satirised. The punsters of the day, taking advantage of the American general's name, amused themselves unmercifully at Burgoyne's expense; but of all their effusions, which, for the most part, were virulent rather than pointed, the following harmless epigram, poor as it is, appears to have been one of the best:
Burgoyne, unconscious of impending fate,
Could cut his way thro' woods, but not thro' Gates.
Returning to this country on his parole, in May, 1778, the opposition, fearing that he would take part with ministers, and accuse those politicians, who were violently adverse to the American war, of having contributed, by their speeches in parliament, if not, as it is added, by other modes of encouragement, to the success of the enemy at Saratoga, Fox was dispatched to meet him on his road to town, for the purpose of inducing him to attribute his disaster to the misconduct of those in office. A long interview accordingly took place between them at Hounslow; and Fox is said to have achieved his object by insisting, that ministers could not support the general without inculpating themselves; that the king was strongly prejudiced against him; that the party in power would not be able to retain office for more than twelve months; and by promising Burgoyne the protection of his party against government, and honourable employment whenever the opposition should return to power.
On his arrival in London, the prediction of Fox was so far verified, that the king refused to see him; and he in vain solicited a court-martial. An unsuccessful attempt was soon afterwards made by some of his friends to obtain a parliamentary investigation of his conduct. On this occasion, ministers took advantage of some disturbance in the gallery, which was excessively crowded, to move that strangers should withdraw. Burgoyne, who was member for Preston, strongly objected to such a proceeding, as it might, perhaps, defeat the object of his friends; who, as well as himself, were desirous of exposing every particular, bearing on his capitulation at Saratoga, to the people. The motion was, however, carried; and the order for excluding strangers was so rigidly enforced, that the speaker sent his own son out of the house; but Garrick, by consent of all parties, obtained permission to remain!
The surrender of Burgoyne was brought in different shapes under the notice of parliament, on many subsequent occasions; but the general never could obtain the inquiry which he most ardently and pertinaciously sought to procure. In 1779, he was dismissed the service, for refusing to return to America, pursuant to the terms of his convention; by which, in this particular, it seems, he did not think himself bound in honour to abide. Three years afterwards, he was, however, restored to his rank in the army, appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland, and sworn in of the privy-council of that kingdom. He died suddenly, of a fit of the gout, at his house in Hertford street, on the 4th of August, 1792; and his remains were interred in the cloisters of Westminster abbey.
It would, perhaps, be rash to pronounce a positive opinion on the merits of Burgoyne, as a commander. He boldly courted a scrutiny into the causes which led to his surrender at Saratoga, which ministers refused, because, as it has been insinuated, such a proceeding might expose the absurd imprudence and inefficiency of their own measures with regard to the American war. Prior to the capitulation, his military career, as well in America as Portugal, had been rather brilliant: his misfortune was precisely similar to that which befel Cornwallis; but, unlike the latter, Burgoyne was not allowed an opportunity of redeeming his reputation.
In parliament, he was a frequent and fluent, but neither a sound nor an impressive speaker. While in employment, he appears to have been a staunch advocate for the American war; which, however, he severely reprobated, from the time that he ceased to hold a command. At the present day, he is better known as a dramatist than as a senator or a military man. His comic opera, entitled The Lord of the Manor, partly taken from the French, has become a stock-piece; and a noble and fastidious critic describes his comedy of The Heiress, as being the most genteel production, of its class, in the English language. Both works undoubtedly possess considerable merit. Besides some fugitive pieces, and two or three pamphlets in defence of his public conduct, he was also the author of Richard Coeur de Lion, a musical romance; and The Maid of the Oaks, an occasional vaudeville, composed, and performed at the Oaks, in honour of Lord Derby's marriage with Lady Elizabeth Hamilton.
By Junius he is described (it does not appear whether truly or otherwise) as sitting down, for the remainder of his life, infamous, and contented with the money received from the Duke of Grafton, for the sale of a patent place in the customs; as drawing a regular and splendid subsistence from play; as taking his stand at a gaming table, and watching, with the soberest attention, for a fair opportunity of engaging a drunken young nobleman at picquet.