Benjamin Keene

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Benjamin Keene

Sir Benjamin Keene (King's Lynn, 1697 - Madrid, 1757) was a British diplomat known for his service as British Ambassador to Spain. He strove to maintain good relations between the two countries, although he was unable to prevent the War of Jenkins' Ear breaking out in 1739 he later successfully kept Spain neutral when the Seven Years' War broke out in 1756. At the height of his powers he wielded enormous influence over events in Spain, and was a confidante of many of the leading Spanish statesmen.

Early life[edit]

Keene was born in King's Lynn, a coastal town in Norfolk. It was the parliamentary constituency of Sir Robert Walpole who rose to become prime minister in 1721. He was acquainted with Keene's family and extended his patronage to the young man. After attending King's Lynn Grammar School and securing a post with the South Sea Company, Keene joined the diplomatic service and swiftly rose to prominence, with Walpole's assistance.

Ambassador to Madrid[edit]

Keene was twice (1729–1739 and 1748–1757) British ambassador to Madrid.

First spell[edit]

During his first mission he was following the advice of Robert Walpole. That mission was interrupted by the War of Jenkin's Ear (1739–1748), so he was forced to return to London, but just after the peace was concluded, he set off again to Spain. He negotiated the Treaty of El Pardo in 1728 and the 1739 Convention of El Pardo in an attempt to prevent war between the two states. In spite of this the War of Jenkins Ear broke out.

Ambassador to Lisbon[edit]

Following his departure from Spain in 1739, Keene was sent to Lisbon as Ambassador to Portugal - while also continuing to function as a de facto Ambassador to Spain. He was involved in peace talks along with the Marquis de Tabernuiga in attempt to end the conflict, but these ultimately broke down. When the war was brought to an end by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Keene returned to Madrid and resumed his former role as Ambassador for a second spell.

Second spell[edit]

Keene was very influential at the Spanish court. He played a major role in outsting the anti-British Marquis of Ensenada and helping the new Spanish minister of Irish descent seize power - Ricardo Wall. In the wake of this, George II conferred the Order of the Garter on Keene, who had the honour presented to him by the Spanish King in a special ceremony. The King was grateful to Keene for exposing Ensenada who had violated the monarch's policy of friendship to Britain. In the wake of this a number of Anglophile ministers came to power, further strengthening the hand of Keene.

Because of this, Spain guided by Wall, stayed out of the Seven Years' War until 1762 - denying France one of their major allies and contributing to the descvisive British victory in that war. He died in Madrid shortly after being relieved of his position due to ill health. He had requested his recall to London on several occasions but he was considered too valuable to British interests for his withdrawal to be considered.

Following his death in 1757 his position was taken by George Hervey, 2nd Earl of Bristol. Bristol struggled to make the same impact as Keene had, and following the accession of a new King in 1759, he was unable to prevent Spain entereing the war on the side of France, and against Britain..

Private life[edit]

Keene was a great connoisseur and an adherent of Spanish theatre, and music.

See also[edit]


  • Richard Lodge The Private Correspondence of Sir Benjamin Keene, in: The English Historical Review, Vol. 49, No. 194 (Apr., 1934), pp. 344–345.
  • Rodger, N.A.M. The Insatiable Earl: A Life of John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, 1718-1792. Harper Collins, 1993.
  • Simms, Brendan. Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire. Penguin Books, 2008.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

ODNBarticle by M. J. Mercer, ‘Keene, Sir Benjamin (1697–1757)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 9 June 2008