KEELING, John (1586-1649), of Humberton, Hackney, Mdx. and the Inner Temple, London; ?later of Hadleigh, Essex.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Family and Education

bap. 2 Feb. 1586, 2nd s. of Thomas Keeling (d.1617), alderman and tanner of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs. and Thomasine, da. of Robert Sidway of Stonylowe, Staffs.1 educ. Clement’s Inn, I. Temple 1609, called 1618.2 m. 9 Apr. 1618, Elizabeth (d. 12 Jan. 1651), da. of William Croke of Chilton, Bucks., 2s. d. 8 May 1649.3 sig. John Kelinge.

Offices Held

J.p. Essex 1628-c.1633;4 commr. oyer and terminer and gaol delivery, London 1641, 1644-5, sewers 1645.5

Common pleader, London 1640-d.6


Keeling should be distinguished from a Staffordshire namesake who matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford in November 1593 aged 17, and from John Kelyng, who was called as an associate to the bar of the Inner Temple. The latter came from Hertford and was father of John Kelyng†, who became lord chief justice in 1663.7

The Keelings were prominent in Newcastle-under-Lyme from the 1520s. Keeling’s elder brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served as mayor of the borough.8 As a younger son, Keeling himself was destined for a legal career. At the Inner Temple he shared chambers with Alexander Croke, a member of a distinguished legal family.9 The Crokes were to have a profound influence on Keeling’s life and career, as Keeling married Alexander’s sister in April 1618, shortly before he was called to the bar, and seven months later he acquired the reversion of one of the four common pleaders’ places in the City of London on the recommendation of his wife’s uncle, Sir John Croke†, a justice of King’s Bench.10 By 1626 Keeling had settled in Hackney.11

In 1624 Keeling stood for election at Newcastle-under-Lyme, as did two other candidates, Richard Leveson* and Sir Edward Vere*. Despite his local connections he came bottom when the capital burgesses were polled and, despite appealing to the common burgesses, Vere and Leveson were returned. Following a complaint to the privileges’ committee, Vere’s election was nullified and the electorate extended to include all the burgesses, but at the subsequent by-election it was Charles Glemham rather than Keeling who was returned. Keeling again protested, and on 28 May he was given permission to press his petition in the next session, which never transpired.12

In March 1624 Keeling, together with John Simson, a London clergyman, proved the will of Dr. Thomas White. A popular preacher and canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christ Church Oxford and Windsor, White may have come into contact with Keeling through the Crokes, as he appointed George Croke, brother of Sir John, an overseer of his will. At his death in March 1624, White left an estate worth about £15,000.13 A large part of this sum was set aside to found a new institution for London’s clergy, to be called Sion College, but White failed to specify precisely how his bequests were to be funded or what was to become of the remainder of the estate. Keeling and Simson, together with the overseers of the will and a group of White’s poor relations, all claimed part of the residue, and this led to a complex series of legal disputes that continued for the rest of Keeling’s life.14

Elected for Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1625 and 1626, apparently without controversy, Keeling is not mentioned in the Commons’ records for 1625. On 7 Mar. 1626 he reported a bill for annexing the Freeford prebend to the vicarage of St. Mary’s in Lichfield and making St. Mary’s a parish church. This suggests that he may have been the chairman of the committee, which he was entitled to attend as a Staffordshire burgess, but if this was indeed the case it is odd that there is no mention of his presence at either of the two committee meetings for which records survive. Thomas Morton, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, promoted the bill to solve the longstanding problem of financing St. Mary’s, Lichfield, but whether Keeling was connected to Morton is unclear. Morton, like White, stood on the Calvinist wing of the Church of England, suggesting at the very least that Keeling moved in those circles. Keeling is mentioned twice more in the records of the 1626 Parliament: he was given leave of absence for nine days on 25 May, and on 10 June he was appointed to the committee to consider the bill for settling the estate of Sir Richard Bulkeley*.15 Following the dissolution Keeling refused to contribute to the Forced Loan, despite having paid £15 towards the 1625-6 Privy Seal loan, and was therefore summoned before the Privy Council.16

In March 1626 a royal charter confirmed the establishment of Sion College.17 However it was subsequently rescinded, possibly because Laud, who became bishop of London in 1628, believed the college would compromise his authority.18 White had envisaged that the college would play an important role in upholding (Calvinist) doctrine and disciplining the clergy, but such a quasi-Presbyterian foundation was unlikely to have met with Laud’s approval.19 Keeling appears to have concluded that the chances of re-establishing Sion College were slim, and therefore the building which had been purchased to house the institution became part of the residue of White’s estate, to which Keeling believed he had a good claim. Keeling accordingly converted part of the building into a house for himself, and let out the remainder. However, in 1630 Simson succeeded in obtaining a new charter by altering the nature of the foundation, so that it no longer dealt with doctrine or clerical discipline. Instead, the college was to be an educational establishment, with a library and cheap accommodation for young scholars intent on the ministry. Keeling naturally now refused to surrender either the building or the college’s assigned income, for which offence he was prosecuted in Chancery by the overseers of White’s will. Despite pleading that Simson’s plans were contrary to White’s intentions, Keeling was found to have infringed the trust reposed in him as an executor, and in 1631 was ordered to restore the property and income and pay all legal costs. Perhaps influenced by Laud, lord keeper (Sir Thomas) Coventry* also instructed Keeling to disburse money left by White for a lectureship at St. Paul’s and for the rebuilding of the Cathedral, an order which Keeling subsequently claimed amounted to a virtual rewriting of the will.20

In the late 1620s Keeling sought to establish himself as an Essex landowner and was said to be spending most of his time in the county, suggesting that he was the ‘John Keelinge’ assessed in 1629 for the subsidy at Hadleigh, in southern Essex. There is no evidence that he purchased any property, but he evidently acquired control of the Essex manors of Bradwell and Beeches, which had been part of White’s estate. In 1628 he was appointed to the Essex bench, and became an active magistrate until his dismissal four years later.21 A grant of arms on 30 Apr. 1632 is further evidence of his rising status.22 Keeling retained possession of the Essex properties after the establishment of the College, but failed to obtain the freehold of Beeches, which he and Simon conveyed in 1632 to trustees. They in turn granted a 200-year lease of the property to Keeling, who agreed to pay £120 p.a. to the college. After Simson’s death in 1633, White’s London property and Simson’s half of Bradwell manor was formally transferred to Keeling, who also purchased further property in London in the early 1630s.23 Keeling fell behind on his rent to Sion College, and at his death it was owed £139.24

Despite his move to Essex, Keeling retained a base in Hackney, where he was sufficiently prominent to play a leading role in setting the rate to pay for the parish’s purveyance composition in 1637.25 In 1640 he finally became one of London’s common pleaders. The official rewards were limited, as the pleaders were paid an annual fee of £5, but they monopolized practice at the bar in the hustings’ and lord mayor’s courts.26

Keeling died on 8 May 1649 at his house in Hackney. In his will, drawn up in 1633, he asked to be buried in the Temple Church. However, on the day of his death he was interred instead in his home parish. The will reveals that Keeling had purchased land in Staffordshire to maintain a lectureship at Blurton.27 None of Keeling’s descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Ben Coates


  • 1. Newcastle-under-Lyme. Par. Reg. Pt. 1. 1563-1705 ed. A.J. Tilson (Staffs. Par. Reg. Soc. 1931), pp. 30, 69; Vis. London. (Harl. Soc. xvii), 25; T. Pape, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, 232.
  • 2. I. Temple database of admiss.
  • 3. GL, W.H. Challen transcripts, xix, Chilton, Bucks. 5; Vis. London. 25; LMA, Hackney par. reg.; Smyth’s Obit. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliv), 27.
  • 4. C231/4, f. 250; ASSI 35/75/2.
  • 5. C181/5, ff. 214v, 244, 247v, 265, 266v.
  • 6. CLRO, Reps. 55, ff. 27v-8.
  • 7. Al. Ox.; CITR, ii. 107; W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 411.
  • 8. Pape, 11-12, 81.
  • 9. CITR, ii, 71.
  • 10. CLRO, Remembrancia VII, f. 2r-v; Reps. 34, f. 4.
  • 11. C54/2676/12.
  • 12. Pape, 265-6; CJ, i. 759a; 714b-715a; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 110v; ‘Pym 1624’, i, f. 55.
  • 13. PROB 11/143, f. 170; Oxford DNB sub White, Thomas; P. Seaver, Puritan Lectureships, 214; C2/Chas.I/H87/34; R. Palmer, ‘Sion College and its Lib. in the City of London’, 2002 Denny lecture for the Worshipful Company of Barbers at the Museum of London, 3.
  • 14. Palmer, 3.
  • 15. Procs. 1626, ii. 69, 151, 214, 217; iii, 329, 414; VCH Staffs. xiv. 139; N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 171.
  • 16. APC, 1626, pp. 343, 358; SP16/44/6; E401/2586, p. 421.
  • 17. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, pp. 224-7.
  • 18. Palmer, 4.
  • 19. PROB 11/143, ff. 167v-8.
  • 20. C2/Chas.I/C116/61; C78/340/20; C2/Chas.I/K17/60. For the payments see GL, ms 2475/1, ff. 4v, 9v, 16.
  • 21. C2/Chas.I/C116/61; Maynard Ltcy. Bk. ed. B.W. Quintrell, ii. 405.
  • 22. E179/112/642; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 142.
  • 23. C2/Chas.I/K10/55; 2/Chas.I/K18/31; 2/Chas.I/K12/48; GL, ms 10529; GL, ms 1847.
  • 24. GL, ms 33445/1, pp. 45, 115.
  • 25. Some Acct. of Monuments in Hackney Church comp. R. Simpson, 99.
  • 26. CLRO, City Cash Acct. 1/4, ff. 38, 156v; Prest, 66.
  • 27. Smyth’s Obit. 27; LMA, Hackney par. reg.; PROB 11/208, ff. 288-9.