KEENE, Benjamin (c.1697-1757).
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Family and Education
b. c.1697, 1st s. of Charles Keene, mercer, alderman and mayor of King’s Lynn, Norf., by Susan, da. of Edmund Rolfe of Heacham, Norf. educ. Lynn g.s.; Pembroke, Camb. 1713; Leyden. K.B. 1754.
Consul, Madrid 1724; minister, Madrid 1727-39; ld. of Trade 1741-4; paymaster of pensions Jan.-Aug. 1745; envoy, Lisbon 1745-50; ambassador, Madrid 1749-d.
According to the second Lord Hardwicke, ‘Keene’s father and mother were of families which had exercised the principal magistracies of Lynn, and were strongly attached to the Walpole interest ... Lord Townshend, secretary of state, took early notice of his talents’.1 Under these auspices he was sent to Madrid, first as agent for the South Sea Company and then as consul and minister, remaining there till the outbreak of the war with Spain in 1739. On his return he was brought into Parliament and made a commissioner of Trade. Walpole, who had the highest opinion of his abilities, wrote shortly before his fall to the Duke of Devonshire: ‘Mr. Keene is truly so deserving a man, of so precarious a future, and so liable to be made a sacrifice for the sake of his friends upon any change, that I know nothing that I wish more than to see him in some way established’.2 One of his last official acts was to provide for Keene by giving him and Henry Legge for their joint lives equal shares in a reversion of a place in the customs worth £1,200 p.a. Eventually Keene bought out Legge’s interest for £3,500, Legge retaining the reversion.
After Walpole’s fall there was some talk of impeaching Keene for his share in the negotiations for the Spanish convention of 1739. In the event he retained his place till the be