Lake, Gerard (1744–1808), British general and MP, was born 27 July 1744, possibly in Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, second son of Launcelot Charles Lake (d. 1751), a Middlesex landowner, and Letitia Lake (née Gumley; d. 1760). Educated at Eton, he was commissioned ensign 9 May 1758 in the 1st Foot Guards. He served in Germany during the seven years war, rising to captain in 1762, and was ADC to Gen. Sir Richard Pierson in Ireland. A gambler and a dandy, he was appointed first equerry to the prince of Wales (1780–96), and became his close friend and gentleman attendant (1796–1808). He served briefly as a lieutenant-colonel under Cornwallis (qv) in America, and in October 1781 led a sortie from Yorktown that inflicted heavy losses on the besiegers. As Westminster MP for Aylesbury (1790–1802), he was loosely attached to the Portlandite whigs, and generally voted according to the prince's wishes, but from 1796 he rarely attended the house. After the outbreak of war with France he commanded the Guards brigade that landed in Holland (1 March 1793) – the first British troops to see action – and in spring and summer 1793 he distinguished himself in engagements at Saint-Amand, Valenciennes, and Lincelles.
After further service on the Continent, he was appointed commander in Ulster in December 1796, and promoted lieutenant-general (January 1797). Alarmed at the growth of the United Irishmen, he began to disarm the province with great vigour and ruthlessness in March 1797. Untroubled by legal restraints or by his troops' violent actions, he managed to seize thousands of arms and to arrest and intimidate many United Irishmen, seriously weakening the movement. He dealt severely with disaffection among his troops, executing four Monaghan militiamen in May 1797 for taking the United oath.
After Sir Ralph Abercromby (qv) had criticised the Irish army's licentiousness, Lake replaced him as commander-in-chief (25 April 1798), despite doubts in Dublin Castle about Lake's political abilities. Unlike Abercromby, Lake was blithely unconcerned at the origins of disaffection and was intent merely on crushing it. He employed with even greater severity the draconian methods he had used in Ulster to break the growing United movement in Leinster: public floggings and torture of suspected rebels became widespread and added to the general atmosphere of terror. His crude methods probably contributed to the outbreak of insurrection (23 May 1798), after which Lake chafed to get away from his duties in Dublin and join the action. On 21 June he led an army of 20,000 men in attacking the main rebel position at Vinegar Hill, Co. Wexford. Although some of his subordinate commanders complained of his ‘extraordinary and contradictory’ orders (quoted in Bartlett, 283), Lake inflicted a crushing defeat on the rebels; rebel casualties were such that even he was appalled by the carnage. He then marched into Wexford town, hanging many suspected rebels and several of the town's leading citizens who had cooperated with the United Irishmen.
Lake was ordered west on 24 August by Cornwallis (who on becoming lord lieutenant had replaced him as commander-in-chief on 20 June) to counter the French force under Humbert (qv) that had landed at Killala, Co. Mayo. On the night of 26 August he arrived at Castlebar, where Gen. John Hely-Hutchinson (qv) had taken up a defensive position with 1,600 troops, mostly Irish militia. The next morning the French attacked and the poorly trained militia panicked and ran. Unable to rally his fleeing troops, Lake ordered a general withdrawal to Tuam, abandoning his supplies, artillery and personal baggage in a retreat so rapid that it was dubbed ‘the races of Castlebar’. Dublin Castle blamed the debacle largely on Hutchinson's inexperience and the militia's unreliability, although a rumour circulated that Lake had drunk too much the night before and was roused with great difficulty at 7 a.m. when the French were already advancing (TCD, MS 3365, f. 56a).
Cornwallis, taking personal charge of the campaign, reached Lake's headquarters at Tuam on 2 September, and divided his army into two corps, the larger commanded by himself, the smaller by Lake. Lake was ordered to shadow and harass Humbert, but to avoid giving battle till certain of victory. Several days of cat and mouse tactics ensued, and Lake showed great tenacity in pursuit of his prey, marching his troops day and night to keep pace with Humbert's rapid and unpredictable moves. On 8 September he forced Humbert into battle near Ballinamuck, Co. Longford. His 5,000-strong force quickly overwhelmed the 850 French regulars and 1,500 Irish levies, and the latter were mercilessly slaughtered.
Lake's remaining career in Ireland was spent in mopping-up operations, mostly in Co. Wicklow, carried out with his usual severity. He was elected MP for Armagh borough (1799–1800), simply to vote for the act of union. In spring 1800 he resigned his Irish positions and went to London to seek a command in India. On 13 October 1800 he was appointed commander-in-chief in India, and promoted full general (29 April 1802). Taking the field in September 1803 with about 8,000 men, he regularly defeated numerically superior French-trained Mahratta forces, capturing Agra and Delhi, and winning a crushing victory at Leswarree (1 November), when he had two horses shot from under him. He had little regard for complex tactical manoeuvring, and usually relied on aggressive frontal assaults. These victories brought all of India between the Ganges and the Jumna under British control, and were attributed by Arthur Wellesley (qv), commanding the army in the Deccan, primarily to Lake's energy and daring. On 13 September 1804 he was made Baron Lake of Delhi and Leswarree. In July 1805 Cornwallis replaced Lake as commander-in-chief to pursue a more peaceful and economical policy. Lake returned to England in February 1807 and on 4 November was promoted viscount. He died in London on 20 February 1808, leaving his family in some financial distress because of his gambling debts.
He married (26 June 1770) Elizabeth Barker; they had three sons and five daughters.