English general and dramatist Burgoyne entered the army at an early age. In 1743, he made a runaway marriage with a daughter of the earl of Derby, but soon had to sell his commission to meet his debts, after which he lived abroad for seven years. By Lord Derby's interest, Burgoyne was then reinstated at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War. In 1758, he became captain and lieutenant-colonel in the foot guards. In 1758-59, he participated in expeditions made against the French coast, and in the latter year he was instrumental in introducing light cavalry into the British army. The two regiments then formed were commanded by Eliott (afterwards Lord Heathfield) and Burgoyne.
In 1761, Burgoyne sat in parliament for Midhurst, and in the following year he served as brigadier-general in Portugal, winning particular distinction by his capture of Valencia d'Alcantara and of Villa Velha. In 1768 he became M.P. for Preston, and for the next few years he occupied himself chiefly with his parliamentary duties, in which he was remarkable for his general outspokenness and, in particular, for his attacks on Lord Clive. At the same time, he devoted much attention to art and drama (his first play, "The Maid of the Oaks", being produced by Garrick in 1775), and gambled recklessly. In the army, he had by this time become a major-general, and on the outbreak of the American War of Independence he was appointed to a command.
In 1777, Burgoyne was at the head of the British reinforcements designed for the invasion of the colonies from Canada. In this disastrous expedition, he gained possession of Ticonderoga (for which he was made a lieutenant-general) and Fort Edward; but, pushing on, was detached from his communications with Canada, and hemmed in by a superior force at Saratoga. On October 17, his troops, about 3,500 in number, laid down their arms. The success was the greatest the colonists had yet gained, and it proved the turning-point in the war. The indignation in England against Burgoyne was great, but perhaps unjust.
Burgoyne returned at once, with the leave of the American general, to defend his conduct, and demanded, but never obtained, a trial. He was deprived of his regiment and a governorship which he held. In 1782, however, when his political friends came into office, he was restored to his rank, given a colonelcy, and made commander-in-chief in Ireland and a privy councillor. After the fall of the Rockingham government in 1783, he withdrew more and more into private life, his last public service being his participation in the impeachment of Warren Hastings. Burgoyne died in London on Aug. 4, 1792, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
In Burgoyne's latter years, he was principally occupied in literary and dramatic work. His comedy, "The Heiress", which appeared in 1786, ran through 10 editions within a year, and was translated into
several foreign tongues.
Burgoyne died suddenly on June 4, 1792. Burgoyne, whose wife died in June 1776 during his absence in Canada, had several natural children (born between 1782-88) by Susan Caulfield, an opera singer, one of whom became Field Marshal Sir J. F. Burgoyne. "His Dramatic and Poetical Works" appeared in two volumes in 1808.