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Keeling, Josiah (fl. 1679–1691), conspirator, was a white salter or oilman of East Smithfield, London, in the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate. Although his parentage and birthplace are unknown, Keeling had been concerned in a coalworks in Warwickshire as late as April 1679. He is known to have been married. At the time of the parliaments of 1679–81, his brother John, a smith of St Ann Blackfriars, lived near the whig activist Steven College, the ‘Protestant Joiner’, who was executed for treason in 1681. The Keeling brothers may have been within College's political circle. A Baptist, Josiah was also a parish constable. As the court-inspired harassment of dissenters mounted in 1682, he opposed loyalist JPs who sought to suppress dissenting meetings. When the court intervened in the corporation of London in 1682 to ensure the election of tory sheriffs, Keeling was among those whig citizens who signed petitions in protest. Like more prominent City whigs, he regarded the court's imposition of loyalist sheriffs, and also of a loyalist lord mayor, as an ‘invasion’ of civic rights. Keeling stood bail for the unknown printer of Robert Ferguson's The Second Part of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government (1682). However, by 1683 he was in financial difficulty and had reportedly been expelled from his congregation.

Keeling's actions and beliefs brought him to the attention of the circle of lawyers, dissenters, and Cromwellian officers who were plotting an April 1683 assassination of Charles II and the duke of York. Keeling agreed to participate in an attempt on their lives at Rye House in Hertfordshire [see also ]. His knowledge of the whig underworld of plebeian activists enabled him to assist such plot principals as Robert West and Richard Goodenough in recruiting other men. According to West, Keeling was motivated by his desire to ‘save the city charter and the nation’, but Keeling was also described by one acquaintance as having ‘had always the character of an ambitious man’ (State trials, 9.391, 980). When the initial plan miscarried, Keeling remained in touch with the plot's ringleaders. Goodenough pressed him into service again on 24 April 1683, when Keeling served as a special bailiff in the whig arrest of Lord Mayor Sir William Prichard. The loyalist Prichard had refused to respond to king's bench suits, brought by the London whigs, that challenged the election of the tory sheriffs. Whatever its precise relationship to the Rye House plot, this escapade collapsed after a few hours with the lord mayor's release.

In May and June 1683 West and Goodenough resumed their conspiracy and recruited leaders for a London insurrection. Expected to employ his Wapping contacts on behalf of a rising, Keeling became anxious about the design. ‘If it were a sin in David to cut off the hem of Saul's garment’, he recalled thinking, ‘it was a sin in me much more to kill my king’. His tavern fellows later remembered that a ‘disturbed or distracted’ Keeling had spoken of rewards he might receive from ‘great men’ for discoveries he could make (State trials, 9.535, 974). Becoming suspicious, his fellow conspirators considered murdering Keeling, but they instead sought to retain his allegiance with a loan. Keeling had, however, already commenced the revelations to Secretary of State Sir Leoline Jenkins that initiated the government's unravelling of the plot. Keeling was pardoned and employed as a witness in the treason trials of Thomas Walcott, William Hone, Algernon Sidney, and Charles Bateman. He was eventually awarded £500 and a place in the victualling office on Tower Hill. Named an assistant in the Broderers' Company in the remodelling of the London livery, he also provided the government with additional information about disaffected dissenters in the eastern out-parishes at the time of Monmouth's rebellion. Keeling lost his place during the 1689 parliamentary investigation of the conspiracy trials and turned Jacobite. In 1691 he was fined £500 for drinking James II's health, and he disappears from the historical record thereafter.

Gary S. De Krey


DNB · BL, Middleton MSS, Add. MS 41803 · State trials, vols. 9, 11 · CSP dom., 1683; 1685 · BL, Add. MS 38847 · R. L. Greaves, Secrets of the kingdom: British radicals from the Popish Plot to the revolution of 1688–89 (1992) · N. Luttrell, A brief historical relation of state affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 1 (1857), 266–8, 289, 364–5; 2 (1857), 211, 234, 307, 310 · 3 Oct 1682, CLRO, sessions file 301, recognizance 46 · Burnet’s History of my own time, ed. O. Airy, new edn, 2 (1900), 360 · ward assessment books for six-months tax, 1680, CLRO · R. North, The life of the Lord Keeper North, ed. M. Chan (1995), 99, 101 · R. North, Examen, or, An enquiry into the credit and veracity of a pretended complete history (1740), 378–9


R. White, engraving, 1793, BL, Add. MS 32352, fol. 26 · R. White, line engraving, BM, NPG