Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Keene, Edmund

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KEENE, EDMUND, D.D. (1714–1781), bishop successively of Chester and Ely, third but second surviving son of Charles Keene, and younger brother of Sir Benjamin Keene [q. v.], was born at King's Lynn, Norfolk, in 1714. Through the influence of Sir Robert Walpole, the friend of the family, he was educated at Charterhouse School, and thence admitted at Caius College, Cambridge, in 1730. He graduated B.A. in January 1734, and M.A. in 1737, having been incorporated at Oxford on 14 July 1735. From Michaelmas 1730 to Lady day 1734 he was scholar of Caius, and from Michaelmas 1736 to the same date in 1739 he was one of its junior fellows. In August 1739 he became a fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and on 31 Dec. 1748 was promoted to be master of the college. For the two academical years ending November 1751 he acted as vice-chancellor of the university, and busied himself in the work of reform. A code of 'orders and regulations,' which was proposed to the senate on 11 May 1750, and subsequently became law, provoked an 'Occasional Letter to Dr. Keene,' and many other productions. Having been ordained deacon on 18 July 1736, he held from 1740 to 1770 the rich rectory of Stanhope in Durham, and much improved the house and gardens. In 1743 the church was enlarged, if not improved, by the erection of two galleries, with a new pulpit and reading desk. Horace Walpole says—but his stories cannot always be believed—that Sir Robert, his father, coupled with the acceptance of this living the condition that Keene should marry one of his natural daughters, but that after jilting the lady he satisfied his conscience by presenting her with 600l., a year's income of the benefice. On 22 March 1752 he was consecrated in Ely House Chapel as bishop of Chester, but he did not resign the mastership of his college until 1754. While at Chester he rebuilt the episcopal palace at a cost of 2,200l; George Grenville, in December 1764, proposed that he should accept a transfer to the archiepiscopal see of Armagh, but Keene replied that the diocese of Ely was the object of his ambition, and on 22 Jan. 1771 he had the good fortune to be confirmed as its bishop. He obtained in 1772 an act of parliament for alienating from the see, in consideration of the payment of 6,500l. and an annuity of 200l., the ancient palace in Holborn, and for purchasing, at a cost of 5,800l., the freehold of a house in Dover Street, Piccadilly, London. The present house on that site was built by him about 1776. He rebuilt in great measure the palace at Ely, and furnished a gallery of portraits of its bishops from the Reformation. Many of Keene's appointments to livings did him much credit, and where there was no resident incumbent he reserved to himself the right of appointing to the curacies, but he did not escape hostile criticism, and the epigrams of Gray were especially severe. According to Cole, the antiquary, Keene was 'as much puffed up with his dignities and fortune as any on the bench,' but was 'most cheerful, generous, and good-tempered' (Addit. MS. 5S47, f. 402). He died at Ely House, Dover Street, London, on 6 July 1781 and at his own desire was buried in Wren's Chapel, Ely Cathedral, a short epitaph being written by himself. He married in May 1753 Mary, only daughter and heiress of Andrews of Edmonton, formerly a linen-draper in Cheapside, and with her received a large fortune. She died on 24 March 1771, aged 48. and was buried in the south side of the choir of Ely Cathedral, Their son, Benjamin Keene, twice M.P. for Cambridge, married in 1780 Mary, only daughter of George Ruck of Swyncombe, Oxford (their descendants being now called Ruck-Keene).

Keene was select preacher at Whitehall Chapel in 1738, and published five sermons. He was the author of a translation of the first book of Theocritus, 'by a Gentleman,' which is inserted in John Whaley's' Poems' (1745), pp. 133-49. The original edition of Bentham's 'Ely' was dedicated to him, and to it was prefixed a plate of his arms. There is a portrait of him at Stanhope rectory.

[Richards's King's Lynn, ii. 1074-5; Bishop Newton's Life, 1182, i. 86-7; Foster's Oxford Reg.; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. viii. 635-6; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, iv. 322-4, 721, viii. 611, 619; Grenville Papers, iv. 534; Walpole's Letters, ii. 318-19; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge. iv. 278-83; Wordsworth's Social Life at Universities, pp. 64-75, 617-30; Egglestone's Stanhope, pp. S3-S, 83; Bentham's Ely, 2nd ed. p. vi, and Addenda, pp. 11-12, 21; Gray's Works, ed. Gosse. i. 146-1, iii. 201, 265; Corresp. of Gray and Nichols, p. 185; Mag. 1776 p. 191, 1781 pp. 343-4, 1785 p. 305; Ely Episcopal Records, by A. Gibbons, 1891; Napier's Swyncombe, pp. 219-20, 238; information from John Venn, F.R.S., of Caius College, Cambridge.]

W. P. C.