Monday 4 August 2014

The Scandalous Elopement of Gentleman Johnny

General John Burgoyne (aka Gentleman Johnny; Sutton, Bedfordshire, England, 24th February 1722 - London, England, 4th August 1792)

John Burgoyne by Joshua Reynolds, 1766
John Burgoyne by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1766

On the anniversary of his death, it is time to learn of a scandalous episode in the life of General John Burgoyne, known to us ladies as Gentleman Johnny. Burgoyne knew his soul mate when he saw her and intended to do something about it, regardless of what her illustrious father might think!

Burgoyne was something of a chap about town in the company of his close friend, Lord James Strange, who happened to have a rather comely sister named Lady Charlotte Stanley. Lady Charlotte was the daughter of Edward Stanley, Lord Derby, and her influential and powerful father had somewhat set ideas of who his daughter should marry, with Gentleman Johnny nowhere in his plans.

Not to be dissuaded, Burgoyne approached Lord Derby and sought his permission to marry Charlotte. Needless to say, the permission was not forthcoming and Derby left the young man in no doubt that he would never consent to such a match. When news of the refusal reached Charlotte she was devastated and she and her beau decided to take matters into their own hands. In spring 1751 the couple eloped and married, no care given to what Lord Derby would or would not agree too. Furious at such scandalous behaviour, Derby cut off his daughter without another penny and Burgoyne sold his commission in the 1st Royal Dragoons and the couple used the money he raised to finance their first few years of married life.

Just six months after their scandalous wedding, the Burgoynes went to the continent where they travelled extensively. In 1754 their only child, Charlotte Elizabeth, was born and the small family returned to England and, they hoped, a warmer welcome from Lord Derby. Happily, the newly-minted grandfather had softened somewhat in the absence of his daughter and was happy to welcome them back into his family. In fact, Burgoyne and his father-in-law eventually became devoted friends and Burgoyne benefited greatly from his illustrious family connections.

The younger Charlotte died at the age of just ten and her mother passed away in 1776, to be buried alongside her child in Westminster Abbey. Years later they would be joined by Gentleman Johnny, his eventful life finally at an end.


Unknown said...

A charming story but tinged by sadness with Charlotte Elizabeth dying so young.

Catherine Curzon said...

A happy for now rather than happy ever after!

Stephen Barker said...

A pity he was not as successful when fighting the Americans.

Catherine Curzon said...

Well, true...

Freier said...

I know Gentleman Johnny only from G B Shaw's Devil's Disciple where he comes out as very charming.