KEENE, Whitshed (?1731-1822), of Richmond, Surr. and Hawthorn Hill, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



16 Nov. 1768 - Jan. 1774
22 Jan. 1774 - 30 Sept. 1774
1774 - 1818

Family and Education

b. ?1731 in Ireland, o.s. of Capt. Gilbert Keene by Alice, da. of Thomas Whitshed of Dublin, serjt.-at-law. educ. Trinity, Dublin, BA 1750. m. 1 Aug. 1771, Elizabeth Legge, da. of George, Visct. Lewisham, sis. of William, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, issue (?1da. surv.).

Offices Held

Lt. 5 Ft. 1754, capt. 1756, maj. 1762, to serve as lt.-col., later as col. in Portuguese army; ret. 1768.

Sec. to ld. chamberlain 1772-Mar. 1782; member of Board of Trade Jan. 1774-June 1777; surveyor-gen. of Board of Works Jan. 1779-Mar. 1782; sec. to ld. chamberlain and ld. of Admiralty Apr.-Dec. 1783.


A former creature of Lord North’s who had gone into the political wilderness with him, Keene continued to sit for the remainder of his long parliamentary life on the interest of the earls of Powis, who could count on his loyalty1 and ensured his return in the only contest he faced, in 1802. He was little known in his constituency and rumoured there to pay £2,000 or £3,000 for his seat. On 12 Apr. 1791, he voted with opposition, as usual, on Grey’s Oczakov motion, but was listed ‘doubtful’, the same month, on Test Act repeal. He veered to administration with his patron the 5th Earl, whom he kept informed on the political scene in 1793, being one of those present at Windham’s house on 10 and 17 Feb.2 While giving a general support to Pitt’s government henceforward, he was capable of acting independently on occasion. He voted with the minority for Fitzpatrick’s motion on behalf of Lafayette, 17 Mar. 1794, and against the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796. On 28 Feb. 1797 he supported Sheridan’s motion on the Bank stoppage and on 3 Mar. moved for some honour to be bestowed on Admiral Sir John Jervis*, but withdrew the motion under pressure from Pitt. On 22 Mar. he moved for statistics of immigrants and prisoners of war, who were multiplying apace. He opposed the inland navigation duty bill, 3 July, as ‘a deadly blow to the spirit of enterprise’. On 22 Jan. and 28 Feb. 1800 he supported Tierney’s motions for a call of the House and against the restoration of the French monarchy.

Keene did not oppose Addington’s ministry, though he was dissatisfied with events in the Carnatic and moved for information on developments there, 3 and 9 Feb. 1803. On 18 May he proposed an amendment to the clergy residence bill to prevent large-scale farming by the clergy. On 11 Apr. 1804 he spoke on the Irish militia bill; as one who had supported the Union, an Irishman who ‘had spent forty years of his life in this country’, he was strongly in favour of the Irish militia coming over in increased numbers: at least one third of the men of the southern provinces were ‘men of dissolute and riotous disposition’ for whom military exploits would be an outlet, and ‘when heated by whisky and prejudiced by local ignorance and bad connexions, they would have an opportunity of witnessing in this country, the happy effects of sobriety, industry and subordination to the laws’. He added to this, in a speech of 17 Mar. 1806, a proposal that Irish sea fencibles should be raised for service in Britain: if 10,000 were raised they would, by their fertility, add 50,000 or 60,000 to the population.

On Pitt’s return to power in 1804, Keene’s support seems at first to have been in doubt, then counted on, but again questioned after he appeared in the minority on Giles’s motion for the continuation of the commission of naval inquiry, 1 Mar. 1805. During the Grenville administration, he moved for information and spoke several times on Indian affairs, of which he claimed to have made a special study, and defended the regime of the Marquess Wellesley, which, he claimed, had made Indian stock as good an investment as ever, 10 July 1806. While he wished all charges against Wellesley to be dropped, 26 Jan. 1807, he was in favour of a rigorous examination of the claims made by the creditors of the nawab of the Carnatic, suspecting them of exaggerating their demands, 20 May 1806. On 9 Apr. 1807 he explained that he could not support Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the ‘Talents’, as he could not consent to Catholic relief. He voted with the new ministers.3

Keene went on to support subsequent administrations. On 3 Aug. 1807 he proposed the embodiment of a quarter of the militia in the regular army. He continued to defend Wellesley’s conduct in India against its critics, 9 Mar., 1 June 1808. On 20 Mar. 1809 he stated that had the Duke of York not resigned his command of the army, he would have been obliged to censure his conduct. Some of Keene’s constituents had ‘asserted that he divided with Wardle on one of his motions ... for the purpose of obtaining a share of ... popular applause’, but the falsity of this was exposed.4 The Whigs were understandably ‘doubtful’ of Keene in their list of 1810 and he opposed Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812. In 1812 he stood up as an admirer of Wellington, advocating greater honours for him than ministers proposed, 20 Feb., 27 Apr., 7 Dec.

Keene was listed a government supporter in 1812, but he had reservations on some subjects: he was a reluctant supporter of the gold coin bill, 8 Dec. 1812. On 8 Apr. 1813 he was chairman of the committee of the whole House on and subsequently a select committeeman and critic (‘in a low tone of voice’) of the renewal of the East India Company charter, if it involved open trade and the introduction of missionaries into India, 28 June; at the report stage, he registered his ‘solemn protest’ against the latter measure, 12 July. He opposed Catholic relief, 24 May 1813. On the other hand, he warmly supported the militia volunteers bill, 15 Nov. 1813, and the navy estimates, 14 Nov. 1814. He seconded the vote of thanks to Wellington, 24 Mar. 1814, and still found the rewards proposed for him inadequate, 26 June 1815, particularly at a time when the Duke of Cumberland was being offered a grant-in-aid merely on the occasion of his marriage, 28 June. He opposed that grant on three occasions in the division lobby and twice verbally. He opposed the corn bill, 1 Mar. 1815, but preferred the direct property tax to indirect taxation, 18 Mar. 1816. After this he made no mark in the House, of which he had been Father for some years and from which he retired in 1818. He died 27 Feb. 1822, aged 90.5

Starting off as the perfect political lackey, Keene, having thereby obtained security in the world, was able to forget the snares of office and build up a reputation for independence and respectability, which secured him the ear of the House in later life, though Creevey, for one, thought him a quiz. Writing to Whitbread, 30 Jan. 1814, when the affairs of Drury Lane Theatre were being reorganized, he commented on Keene’s part in the transaction:

I congratulate you upon the apparently great success of your new actor at Drury Lane, Whitshed Keene; I always thought his appearance highly dramatic and his disposition for turning a penny has been long known, so in the drooping nature of your affairs, his appearance will be a great godsend I hope both to your concern and him.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. For Keene’s applications for patronage on their behalf, see PRO 30/8/149; Add. 38253, f. 363; 28254, ff. 14, 15.
  • 2. Add. 37873, ff. 201-2; NLS mss 11196, ff. 93, 97.
  • 3. Morning Chron. 13 June 1807.
  • 4. NLW, Glansevern mss 2203.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1822), i. 278.
  • 6. Whitbread mss, W1/414.