John Burgoyne was born in Bedfordshire, England on February 22, 1722. He was educated in public school, and by the age of 15 he had entered the military. He eloped with Lady Charlotte Stanley, daughter of the Earl of Derby. At first, the Earl did not approve of the marriage, but eventually warmed to the young Burgoyne, going so far as to purchase a captaincy for his son-in-law. After fighting in the battles of Cherbourg and St. Malo during the Seven Years War, Burgoyne was elected to the House of Commons in 1762. He used his position to criticize the imperialist causes of the British Empire. He also took the time to write a play, which was published in 1774.
Even though he opposed the harsh treatment of the American colonies during the revolution, he was itching to return to the front lines, and joined the suppression effort. On May 25, 1775, he arrived in America with fellow Major Generals Henry Clinton and William Howe. Burgoyne went on to lead reinforcements down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal and drove the Americans out for the remainder of the war.
Burgoyne returned to England and his seat in the House of Commons. While performing his duties, Burgoyne also started drawing up plans for an attack on the Hudson valley that would split the colonies in two. He won approval for his action, and in 1777, he returned to Canada and assembled his troops.
The plan that Burgoyne had drawn up required a three-pronged attack. General Howe would drive a force from New York City up the Hudson Valley, while Burgoyne drove down through the mountains to capture Fort Ticonderoga and rebel staging areas around Lake George, while General St. Leger would attack in the Mohawk valley. All three would arrive around the same time in Albany to attack the large number of troops there.
Right from the beginning, Burgoyne ran into problems. The route that he chose for his troops was directly through the Adirondack Mountains, which greatly slowed his movements. Upon arriving at Fort Ticonderoga, he found that the American garrison had already retreated to Vermont, and the force that he sent to capture them returned basically empty-handed. On arriving in Saratoga for the first time, he discovered that General Howe had taken his forces to Pennsylvania and St. Leger had been turned back at Oswego. The army under Burgoyne was forced to make their assault of Albany without any support.
Rebel forces, now under the command of General Horatio Gates, began to drive the British back. Burgoyne never made it to Albany, being forced to retreat at the Battle of Bennington. His supplies running low, Burgoyne was forced to choose between retreating all the way back to Canada, or risking it all on one last assault on the American army. He chose to go down fighting, and by the time the Battles of Saratoga were over, the British army was forced to surrender.
While most of his troops went off into captivity, John Burgoyne was sent back to England in disgrace. Although the failure of the offensive was not directly his fault, Burgoyne was forced to defend his actions in the court of public opinion. He would never fight again, instead turning to literary pursuits, which resulted in his play The Heiress in 1786. John Burgoyne would go on to father four illegitimate children before dying suddenly in London on June 4, 1792.