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Lot #296
John Burgoyne

As "Col: of King's own Regiment," Burgoyne authorizes the purchase of an officer's commission

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Estimate: $2000+
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As "Col: of King's own Regiment," Burgoyne authorizes the purchase of an officer's commission

British army officer, politician, and dramatist (1722-1792) best known for his role in the American Revolution, where he surrendered his army of 5,000 men to American troops on October 17, 1777. Partly-printed DS, signed “J: Burgoyne, Col: of King's own Regiment,” one page, 7.25 x 10.25, no date [but docketed on the reverse, "Rec'd 18 Febr'y 1788"]. Burgoyne endorses a request by Thomas Winckley for the purchase of an ensign commission. The first section of the document reads, in full: "I beg you will be pleased to obtain for me His Majesty's Permission to purchase the Ensigney in the succession to Lieutenant Thomas Russell. In case His Majesty shall be graciously pleased to permit me to purchase I do declare and certify, upon the word and honour of an officer and a gentleman, that will not, either now or at any future time, give, by any means, or in any shape whatever, directly or indirectly, any more than the sum of £400 being the price limited and fixed by His Majesty's regulations, as the full value of the said commission." This is signed below by Thomas Winckley, Colonel of the 4th Regiment of Foot. Burgoyne signs the following endorsement below: "I beg leave to recommend the above, and I verily believe the established regulation with regard to price is intended to be strictly complied with, and that no clandestine bargain subsists between the parties concerned." In fine condition, with clipped corner tips.

The purchase and sale of officer's commissions was standard in the British Army from 1683 to 1871, by which someone could buy their way into an officership rather than being promoted by merit or seniority. Burgoyne himself had purchased his commissions early in his career: in August 1737 he bought a commission in the Horse Guards, a fashionable cavalry regiment, which he sold three years later to settle gambling debts. In 1745 he was able to join the 1st Royal Dragoons as a cornet, a commission he did not have to pay for as it was newly created; by 1747, he had scraped together enough money to purchase a captaincy. In keeping with common practice, these purchases were made primarily to enhance social status rather than out of sincere military aspirations. As an officer in the Revolution, Burgoyne is remembered for leading a lavish lifestyle during the Saratoga campaign and is often cited as a classic example of the marginally competent aristocratic British general who acquired his rank through political connections rather than ability. Despite the Saratoga surrender, his image was rehabilitated when his political friends came into office and he was given the colonelcy of the King's Own Royal Regiment in 1782.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autographs and Artifacts
  • Dates: #541 - Ended December 05, 2018

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